Strikebreakers Face Harassment and Threats: City seems to be Winning Strike

“Striking sanitation workers protest against strike breakers.” Special Collections Dept., University Libraries, University of Memphis.

March 14, 1968

At the start of the current strike, Mayor Loeb promised striking sanitation workers that, “the garbage is going to be picked up. Bet on it!” It appears that he is making good on his promise. As of the writing of this article, there are 325 workers on the job and the number of garbage trucks picking up garbage every day reached a high of 80, up from a low of 4 garbage trucks and less than 100 workers near the beginning of the strike.

Before the strike, around 185 garbage trucks and 1100 workers picked up garbage throughout the city Monday through Friday. Currently, crews have to pick up garbage 7 days a week to meet demand for trash removal.

Despite the steady hiring of replacement workers, there have still been a number of complaints from citizens that they have been missed during garbage pickups in their area. One complaint dated Feb 28 from a bakery at 1053 Jackson alleges that they haven’t had garbage picked up for “almost 4 weeks now.”

Further, there have been sporadic incidents of violence against replacement workers since the beginning of the strike ranging from anonymous threatening calls to stay away from work to the fire-bombing of a car belonging to a worker who refused to join the picket lines. This comes in spite of the mayor’s campaign promise to maintain law and order.

“Marchers.” Volunteer Voices: The Growth of Democracy in Tennessee. Original Image: Special Collections Dept., University Libraries, University of Memphis.

In some cases, convoys of garbage trucks have been forced to turn back. In one incident, a man with a pistol leapt onto the side of a garbage truck before running away when the truck came to a stop. In another, someone fired a shot at a group of trucks working near the 200 block of South Second Street. Because of these incidents, police have been forced to provide protection for garbage collectors on many routes.

There have also been assaults against striking workers. For example, one man reported being stabbed after attending a meeting of striking employees. He said his assailant muttered something about “worker” before attacking. However, these attacks appear have been less frequent.

Picketing and civil disobedience by strike supporters have been a constant problem for replacement workers since the beginning of the strike. Just this morning, Rev. Malcolm Blackburn, pastor of Clayborn Temple A.M.E. church, was arrested when he and a group of five others lay down in front of the gate to the Democrat Road sanitation installation to prevent garbage trucks from exiting. While a police report dated Feb 26 details an incident where union organizer Peter (Paul) Parker used his car to block the entrance to the Walker Avenue installation.

Despite this, the mayor firmly believes that the number of workers willing to work in spite of the strike will continue to rise. Earlier today, the Memphis Press-Scimitar noted that nearly 136 strikers have returned to their jobs since the start of the work stoppage. While earlier this week, the Commercial Appeal reported the city as being, “on the verge of restoring citywide once-a-week garbage pickup. It is because of news like this that the mayor seems confident that the strikers’ resolve will gradually erode.

When asked for comment, the mayor urged every man currently on strike to remember that “his job is waiting for him.”

Peter Parker- Suspicious Person, February 26 1968. Box 224, Folder 3.Papers of Henry Loeb III. History Department, Memphis Public Libraries, Memphis, TN.
Letter from Clara L. Price, February 28 1968. Box 236, Folder 24A. Papers of Henry Loeb III. History Department, Memphis Public Libraries, Memphis, TN.
Henry Loeb for Mayor, undated 1967. Box 20, Folder 6. Papers of Henry Loeb III. History Department, Memphis Public Libraries, Memphis, TN.
Brown, Charles A. & Porteous, Clark. “31 Show Up to Replace Strikers.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN) Feb. 15, 1968.
Chastain, Wayne. “Non-Striker Tells Police About Threats, Intimidation.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN) Feb. 29, 1968.
Porteous, Clark. “Shot Fired at Garbage Truck; Union President Coming Here.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN) Feb. 17, 1968.
Riker, Jefferson. “Weekly Pickup Seems Likely Despite Strike.” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN) Mar. 12, 1968.
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Unknown. “Employees Report Threats.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN) Feb. 12, 1968.
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Unknown. “Sanitation Worker Stabbed in Both Arms.” Tri-State Defender (Memphis, TN) Feb. 24, 1968.
Unknown. “Negro Ministers Meet with Loeb.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN) Mar. 2, 1968.
Unknown. “Pickets Heckle Workers at Sanitation Station.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN) Mar. 8, 1968.
Unknown. “Six Are Arrested on Charges of Blocking Garbage Trucks.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN) Mar. 14, 1968.
Unknown. “Police Seek Two Who Beat Man.” Memphis Press-Scimitar (Memphis, TN) Mar. 14, 1968.