Today in 1919, Connecticut companies throughout the state were effectively shuttered as thousands of workers across a multitude of different industries joined in a massive regional strike that, within the course of a week, spread from Maine to New York and brought New England commerce to a screeching halt.
Connecticut, like many other states with a highly developed industrial economy, had weathered extreme changes in its labor market during World War I. Women flocked to companies such as Remington Arms in Bridgeport to fill the factory jobs once held by men who had been called to serve overseas in the U.S. military. After peace was declared in November 1918, Connecticut’s economy was once again roiled by rapid changes, including skyrocketing inflation, stagnant wages, a severe drop in federally funded defense contracts, and socioeconomic friction as men returning from Europe wrested factory jobs away from the women who had held them during the conflict.
Tensions came to a head on August 7, as workers throughout the state decided to strike en masse, encouraged by the efforts of union organizers across a variety of industries, demanding wage increases to deal with postwar inflation rates of up to 17%. Textile mill workers in Rockville, auto parts manufacturers in New Haven, truck drivers in Bridgeport, and construction workers in Stafford Springs joined railroad workers along the Connecticut shoreline in walking off the job, leaving managers and superintendents scrambling to mitigate disruptions in production and services. By the end of the day, railroad officials for the New York, New Haven and Hartford announced they would have to curtail both passenger and freight service for the foreseeable future, owing to an estimated 2,200 employees on strike in the city of New Haven alone.
The strike of August 7, 1919 was hardly an isolated event; Connecticut endured dozens of impactful strikes during the tumultuous decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century. However, with several thousand workers acting in unison, it remains one of the largest and most disruptive single-day strikes in state history.
Cecilia Bucki, “The Labor Movement in Connecticut,” Connecticut Explored