Saturday, September 4, 2010

Remember the Hops Strike of 1933 this Labor Day

In September 1933, as the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition was nearing ratification, local hops pickers went on strike.

The strike was not long, nor did it seem to be especially widespread. But by striking at a large hops ranch, strikers effectively increased the season's wage by 50% for all pickers.

(The Oregonian, Sept. 14th)

The walk-out had started on Wednesday, September 13th. Faced with "filthy" sanitary conditions, and increased sorting demands, which had cut daily take-home pay by half, the pickers had had enough.

They organized a strike committee and walked out.

By Thursday afternoon, Louis Lachmund settled.

Peace Prevails Along Hop Front After Growers Offer $1.50 Cwt.

Double Crossing of Wage Agreement Among Growers Alleged


Thirty cents ended a 30-hour strike of 1200 pickers on the McLoughlin [McLaughlin] hop ranch near Independence when Louis Lachmund, owner "played poker" with the crowd Thursday afternoon and by 4 o'clock the yard gang was hard at work attempting to pick sufficient hops to fill one kiln before night.

Lachmund had acceded to six of seven demands presented by the "strike committee," standing pat on refusing to pay the two cents a pound demanded. Leaving an elevated platform in the midst of the throng, Lachmund disappeared but returned a short time.

"I have just learned that several of the yards are paying $1.20 per hundred pounds for picking," Lachmund stated. "The hop growers association agreed to $1 per 100 pounds but they have seen fit to increase this becuase they are afraid of trouble in their yards. Well, I am going to call their offer and raise it to $1.50 per 100 pounds and make them walk the chalk line by going them 30 cents more."
The Horst, Wigrich, and Livesley ranches followed.

Interestingly, the need for sorting appears to have been an unintended consequence of fighting mildew. In order to have more hops, the growers had used "lavish" amounts of fertilizer and increased the number of vines per plant. Rather than merely increasing hop cones, the combination caused wild overgrowth, which aggravated mildew and increased the need for sorting.

Where this fits in a more general history of Willamette Valley labor or even a more specific history of hops picking, we aren't able to say just now. We haven't found any other evidence of strikes at hops yards, and we feel confident in saying they didn't happen often. But pickers might have struck occasionally. If strikes were very rare, it may be relevant that this was early in Roosevelt's first term. We just don't know. We also don't know about organizing. It is interesting that the Oregonian's tone is much more serious and threatened than the Capital Journal's, which is decidedly jocular.

Any readers with interests in the New Deal or Labor history out there?

(Capital Journal Front Page, Sept 15th, 1933. Note the New Deal National Recovery Administration logos!)

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