‘New York’s Hotels on Strike’ by Caroline Nelson from Industrial Worker. Vol. 4 No. 43. January 16, 1913.

Workers strike Sherry’s Hotel in New York City on May 31, 1912.
‘New York’s Hotels on Strike’ by Caroline Nelson from Industrial Worker (Spokane). Vol. 4 No. 43. January 16, 1913.

On New Year’s night a general strike was called in the hotels by the International Hotel Workers’ Union. This union is only a little over a year old. But it is a revolutionary union; formed on industrial lines. It has already put up some stiff fights with the bosses and brought them to terms in most of the fashionable hotels last spring by striking in the midst of banquets without any notice. They got their wages raised and a good many of the most glaring abuses done away with then, but when things quieted down the bosses and head-waiters again started the game of graft and exploitation. There are about a hundred thousand workers in and around New York in that industry. The International Union has about fifteen thousand members. We can understand how difficult it is for them to call a general strike which can be effective. But in the face of this terrible drawback, they called their strike. At first it was rather ineffective, but as the days go by they gain more and more sympathy.

Striking Hotel workers picket Bryant Hall. January, 1913.

In the Hotel Astor there was a fight. Rodney Lackie and Henry Kentor, two strike sympathizers, went to the hotel as dinner guests and in the midst of the dinner hour blew a whistle for the waiters to strike. Two house detectives pounced upon them and tried to beat them up. The doors were then locked so that neither strikers nor guests could get out. The detectives were then arrested for beating up the quests, tater on at midnight a line of pickets closed in on the same hotel as the help were leaving. Some of them tried to gain entrance and were pushed out by detectives. The ever ready police came tearing down the street and arrested nineteen pickets, who were put in jail for disorderly conduct. Alexander Lupo entered the Hotel Martinique and blew the whistle for the waiters to strike. He tried to escape, but was set upon by a house detective and hauled off to jail. The word “strike” was called out in nine different languages. This shows how many different nationalities work together, even in the hotels. These waiters can speak just enough English to serve English customers, but they are mostly French and Italian, with a sprinkling of all other nationalities.

Hotel Astor off Times Square.

Here are their demands: That their places of work and eating shall be in clean and sanitary condition; that their food shall be clean and wholesome; that the lockers where they keep their clothes shall be clean; that they hall have clean towels and a sanitary place to wash; that they shall be paid at least semi-monthly; that they shall not be fined; that they shall have a ten-hour day with one day off a week and extra pay for extra time; the steady waiters demand thirty dollars per month; all captains must be paid ninety dollars a month; extra cooks must have five dollars a day; extra kitchen helpers two and a half dollars for ten hours’ work; that no one shall be compelled to buy their uniforms from any particular firm or employer; these in short are the demands. Modest enough.

Hotel workers strike, 1912.

It Is hard for me to understand why one should have ninety dollars a month and another thirty. Evidently it is the waiters and cooks who demand that these officials be paid so much more than the rank and file. Of course, the waiter is supposed to make about ninety dollars a month, including his tips. But it is hard to understand why the waiters don’t demand to be paid in wages by their bosses. Instead of being compelled to take it like so many dogs from the guests in tips, who fling it at them, like they fling bones to a hungry cur. Until the waiters see fit to do this, the rest of the working class will brand them as cowards and flunkies.

Caroline Nelson.

Personally I spoke to them about it in Pittsburg. In a public talk I suggested to demand in dollars from their bosses what the guests threw at them in quarters. They received this in a manly spirit, but they said, “We are not strong enough to do that, yet you must give us time.”

Another weakness of our fellow workers in the hotel Iidustry is that they proclaim that they don’t belong to the servant class. Of course, such proclamation is idle. The ruling class classify us and give us names according to the work we do. All workers who cook and serve food and personally wait upon anybody in that capacity belongs to the servant class. Having worked in a club for many years, where it was my occasional duty to serve tea, I have classed myself as a servant and a waitress, and publicly asked the hotel workers not to fight shy of the name servant, but to take it up, manly and womanly, rub the mud of it until it shines in bright letters upon the shield of solidarity. I am not sure how they have taken it. I am inclined to believe—not very favorably.

The Industrial Union Bulletin, and the Industrial Worker were newspapers published by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) from 1907 until 1913. First printed in Joliet, Illinois, IUB incorporated The Voice of Labor, the newspaper of the American Labor Union which had joined the IWW, and another IWW affiliate, International Metal Worker.The Trautmann-DeLeon faction issued its weekly from March 1907. Soon after, De Leon would be expelled and Trautmann would continue IUB until March 1909. It was edited by A. S. Edwards. 1909, production moved to Spokane, Washington and became The Industrial Worker, “the voice of revolutionary industrial unionism.”

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