MOTU@5 | How We Got Here Online Exhibit | We’re Not Dumb Clucks We Want Our 2 Bucks: A look back at transportation strikes

Throughout October, MOTU and the Free Library of Philadelphia will be showcasing unique archival images from Philadelphia’s transportation and utlities history in an on-line exhibit called “How’d we get here?”.  Every and Monday and Wednesday in October we will be showcasing a certain segment of the exhibit (all photographs are from the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Print and Picture Collection).

Last week Wednesday we took a look at historical aviation images and today we’ll be taking a brief look at the history of transportation strikes in Philadelphia by selecting three of our favorite photos from the “We’re not dumb clucks we want 2 bucks” portion of the exhibit.  You can check out all of the historic transportation strike photos online here and in person at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central Branch (1901 Vine Street).

Running transportation systems is hard work. It takes more than 20,000 workers to make SEPTA run and more than 2,000 to maintain and improve our street network. Philadelphia’s workers have a long and proud tradition of organizing. More than once, the men and women of Philadelphia’s unions have struck for better pay and better working conditions. The most recent transit strike occurred in 2010, but the tradition of strikes dates back over 100 years.

Notice – FDR authorized the Secretary of War to take control of the PTC, 1944

strikes, PTA, Phila transit, 1944 (2)1

Labor shortages and pressure from the federal government lead the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) to employ African Americans in non-menial positions such as motormen and conductors.  This in turn lead to a 1944 strike by white transit workers called a sickout strike to protest the decision.  President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the Secretary of War to take control of the PTC.  This subsequent notice was posted in all PTC vehicles.

Posting the notice on Philadelphia’s trolleys, 1944

strikes, PTA, Phila transit, 1944

Members of the Army’s Signal Corp post notices of the War Department’s seizure of the PTC fleet on Philadelphia’s trolleys.

PTC Strike, 1946

strikes, PTA, Phila transit, 1946

Just two years after the 1944 strike by white workers over the inclusion of African Americans in the workforce, female transit operators struck for better pay.  Here, Olivia Bruce of West Philadelphia and operator of Car 31 holds a sign signaling her displeasure.


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