© 2022
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

November 11: Strikes and Martial Law

Ways To Subscribe

1919 was a year of great upheaval. Across the country, the working class rebelled against corporate greed by walking off the job. World War I had been over for only a year, and the world was still reeling from the 1918 flu pandemic. The cost of living had almost doubled. Workers’ pre-war dollars were now worth only 45 cents. Industrialists that grew rich from the war now wanted to cut wages and take away gains made by labor. Countless numbers of American workers went on strike, and conservatives feared a revolution similar to the Bolsheviks’ takeover of Russia.

An estimated one-out-of-five American wage earners went on strike. Some 170,000 textile workers walked off their jobs, and 400,000 coal miners defied a federal court injunction by walking out. In Boston, even the police went on strike. After talks between local union officials and mine owners failed in North Dakota, the state’s miners joined the strike. It led to an immediate fuel shortage, a crisis with winter imminent.

A week into the strike, the Valley City electric light plant, owned by the city, discontinued service to pool halls, dance halls, churches, clubs and lodges, school buildings, bowling alleys, and for store signs and windows. The available coal supply was only sufficient to operate the plant for 10 days.

Minot schools had only a one-week supply. The Mandan Electric Company reported only a 4 or 5 day supply. The price of coal shot up to an astronomical $5 a ton in Dickinson, and in Williston, as some workers crossed the picket line, city commissioners tried to distributed the diggings as fairly as possible.

On this date, Governor Frazier issued an ultimatum to mine operators to grant the union’s demands or he would seize the mines to protect the state from catastrophe. The mine operators refused, so shortly after midnight, Frazier declared martial law. Thirty-four mines were taken over. Frazier put Adjutant General Angus Fraser in charge, with the stipulation that no coal was to leave the state; and there could be no profiteering.

Under martial law, men between 18 and 45 could be called into action to help carry out orders. Those called up were the striking miners, who were now able to dig coal as militiamen. A Fargo Forum article quoted the miners as saying the governor’s action was just what they wanted.

Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content