Strike! How The Furniture Workers Strike of 1911 Changed Grand Rapids
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At the beginning of the 20th century, furniture factories dominated the physical and economic landscape of Grand Rapids. More than 60 factories employed more than 5000 workers making it truly the “furniture capital” of the nation. The workers were asking for a nine-hour day, a 10% raise, and the abolition of pay based on piecework. Factory owners refused to make concessions to any of the demands. In mid-April 1911, growing tensions between furniture manufacturers and factory workers erupted in a city wide strike that affected nearly every company and lasted throughout the summer, bringing much of the city to a standstill for four months.
Gordon Olson comments, “With the first book-length analysis of the 1911 furniture strike, and the subsequent changes it brought to city government, Dr. Jeffrey Kleiman has made a major contribution to the understanding of Grand Rapids history. Many readers will be surprised to learn that such a significant work stoppage took place in Grand Rapids, and that its repercussions are being felt to the present day.”
The Grand Rapids Labor Heritage Society has produced a monument in honor of the workers in the 1911 furniture strike. Named "The Spirit of Solidarity", it is placed on Pearl Street near the entrance to the Ford Museum and on the southern end of Ah-Nab-Awen Park.