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September 7, 1933, Cape Cod Cranberry Workers Strike

During the 1930’s, the unemployment rate for workers of Cape Verdean descent in New England was over 50%, with workers averaging 18 months without a job.  One of the few places Cape Verdeans could find work was in the cranberry bogs of southeastern Massachusetts.  The working conditions were brutal, and workers were often cheated by the foremen.  But with unemployment so high, the cranberry pickers put up with the poor wages and harsh treatment.
On September 7, 1933, the workers finally had enough and began the first agricultural strike in the history of Massachusetts.  They formed the Cape Cod Cranberry Pickers Union, Local No. 1 with the assistance of the New Bedford Central Labor Union. 
Fifteen hundred workers struck the bog owners. Their demands were simple; the right to organize, respect on the job and a living wage.  The owners reacted in the usual way, hiring scab workers and private security forces who violently broke up the picket lines of strikers.
The police assisted in the suppression of the strike, shooting four workers and making mass arrests. 
Within days of the start of the strike, heavy rains ended the harvesting season, and the strike became moot.  The organizers, Daniel McIntosh and Fred Wood, were sentenced to prison for 60 days under trumped up charges.  Their crime was accepting AFL initiation fees of $1 under false pretenses, because the AFL had not yet approved the Cranberry Pickers Union charter.  They were released when the AFL granted the charter.
The workers did not win any of their demands, but they set the stage for further organizing by their courage.  Industrial unions in New England and agricultural workers around North America were inspired by the cranberry workers’ example, leading to innumerable successful organizing drives.

 

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