[Labor Strikes against Black Americans] Notice to all employees of Philadelphia Transportation Company. The Army Can Wait No Longer… [opening lines of broadside]
“ “On Saturday, August 5, President Roosevelt sent 5,000 heavily armed soldiers into Philadelphia to crush the strike by whatever means necessary…”
Unrecorded World War II military directive issued to employees of the Philadelphia Transportation Company on strike in protest against Black employees taking on non-menial jobs. The Philadelphia transit strike of 1944 was the largest racially motivated labor strike of the war.
On August 1, 1944, because of wartime labor shortages, newly trained Black workers of the PTC began to take positions as drivers and conductors, jobs previously reserved for whites. By noon that day, with racial tensions rising, 4,500 white employees of the PTC responded by going out on strike, crippling an essential wartime service.
In response, acting under the provisions of the Smith–Connally Act (War Labor Disputes Act), President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the War Department to take control of the PTC. “On Saturday, August 5, President Roosevelt sent 5,000 heavily armed soldiers into Philadelphia to crush the strike by whatever means necessary. The Army set up encampments in Fairmount Park and brought in ammunition, including machine guns. The troops prepared to conduct pre-enlistment medical evaluations of those PTC workers who refused to report to work. Also on that Saturday, the WMC [War Manpower Commission] issued a statement indicating that any PTC workers who did not report to work on Monday morning…would lose their jobs.”¹
That statement, seen here, was issued by Major General Philip Hayes, U.S. Army War Department Representative, as a broadside with the menacing sub-title—“The Army Can Wait No Longer.” It directed employees of the Philadelphia Transportation Company to return to work on Monday August 7 and threatened the strikers with three specific penalties:
“1. You will be removed from the payroll. 2. If you are between the ages of 18 through 37, your Selective Service occupational deferment will be immediately cancelled. 3. The War Manpower Commission will not issue an availability certificate to you for any other job for the duration of the war.”
The intervention worked. The lead strikers were fired and immediately inducted into the army. A federal Grand Jury was convened on August 8, the judge charging “the jury with determining the hidden racist motives behind the strike.”² Philadelphia, the third largest war production city, was able to return to work and, within a year, over 900 Black drivers and conductors were working for the PTC.
Description: [Labor Strikes against Black Americans] Notice to all employees of Philadelphia Transportation Company. The Army Can Wait No Longer… [opening lines of broadside]
[Philadelphia, August 1944]. Broadside. 14 x 17¾ inches. Creasing; some edge wear and light soiling at top and bottom; Very Good.
Note. 1. Philadelphia transit workers strike against negro workers, 1944 [Global Nonviolent Action database via Swarthmore College] accessed online. 2. Ibid.