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September 1, 2012

Railroad strike in 1922 caused local clashes


The Daily Star

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In what was called the “Great Railroad Strike” of 1922, most Oneonta residents were deep in the labor frustration and tension,   along with the rest of the nation. We didn’t have National Guard troops here, as railroad towns in seven other states did,   but Oneonta saw its fair share of scuffles between strikers, the railroad and strike breakers.
The strike was called July 1, 1922, after the announcement came that railroads would be cutting wages to shop workers by seven   cents an hour. This affected hundreds of jobs in Oneonta, as the Delaware & Hudson Railroad had its building and repair shops   here.
Replacement workers had been brought in to take over the jobs the unionized shop workers had vacated. Temporary barracks were   set up in the D&H rail yards to house the “strike breakers.” Many also stayed at the Wilson House, a hotel that once stood   at the corner of Market Street and Chestnut Street Extension, where the parking garage is today.
The Oneonta Police Department and the D&H Railroad police were keeping an eye on activities in the area, and had their hands   full on Saturday, Aug. 5, 1922.
As the Oneonta Star described it on Monday, “Saturday evening, while two of the special officers sent into the city to guard   D. & H. property were walking along Main street, they were observed, it is said, by some of the striking D. & H. employes   (sic) and were greeted with rather uncomplimentary remarks and there may have been some exchange of epithets. In any event   the number of sympathizers with the strike increased and soon the two the two men decided they best make their way in the   office of the D. & H. police force on Broad street near the Union station, which they did.
“The crowd followed, being augmented as it advanced until it is said to have approximated 200 men and boys when the office   of the D. & H. police was reached. In the crowd were some who are said to have dared the officers to come out and some who   jeered at them. Officer Mel Farone of the regular D. & H. force came down and attempted to remonstrate with the crowd, saying   that the D. & H. police desired no trouble with the men and urged them to depart.
“One man in the crowd, Lawrence Russell, assumed the offensive and replied to Farone and according to the latter made threatening   remarks to him.”
It resulted in Farone striking Russell, but after a brief scuffle the men were separated and Farone went back into his building.   Russell and numerous strike sympathizers then went to the city police and demanded Farone be arrested on the charge of assault.   Police arrested Farone but he gave bail at his appearance at police headquarters, then found at 242 Main St. Upon leaving   headquarters, Farone presented a charge against Russell of disturbing the peace. Russell was then arrested and made bail at   his appearance.
As the Star reported, “The incident resulted in many sensational stories becoming current and no little excitement was caused.”
That wasn’t the end of the strike tensions. The Star reported on Monday, Aug. 22, that the city and D&H police were busy over   the weekend.
“Numerous fights about the streets on Saturday evening and a revolver battle near Duane street last night ... kept the … departments   on the jump.”
Several strikebreakers on Saturday “came uptown. They were forcibly rejected from Dreamland hall and chased for a considerable   distance.” 
An identified strikebreaker was at the 20th Century Lunch, and strike sympathizers exchanged several blows before police arrived   to disperse the fracas. Another fight almost immediately broke out on Broad Street. As for the revolver battle, no one was   identified as hit after some strikers or sympathizers were reportedly throwing stones at some strikebreakers on the job in   the railroad yards.
On Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 4, the local Federated Shop Crafts workers arranged a large parade in Oneonta, which ended in   Neahwa Park. Several speeches were made at the park pavilion afterward.
As was read in the Star, some of the text of a speech read, “We are fighting to retain for the rail workers decent living   wages and working conditions. Therefore this labor day should be wrought with determination on the part of every real workman,   whether organized or not, to help to win this great strike.” Nearly 1,000 marched in the parade.
By Sept. 12 it was reported the replacement workers were leaving Oneonta, as the end of the shop strike was near. The D&H   began hiring again, but rejected almost all who had gone on strike and were re-applying.
Next weekend, as the Daily Star will not publish on Monday: Amusing local news from September 1917.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression   and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column,   write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns   can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.