July 21, 1899: “Newsboys Go On Strike”

NEWSBOYS GO ON STRIKE

WANT MORE PROFIT ON THE SALE OF TWO EVENING PAPERS

“TWO FOR A CENT OR NUTHIN!” TO BE THE BATTLE CRY

A VICTORIOUS MARCH TO WALL STREET

About 300 newsboys decided not to sell “The Evening World” and “The Evening Journal,” and went on strike yesterday morning against an increase in the price of the papers from 50 cents a hundred copies to 70 cents. The boys say at the old price they were only able to make about 25 cents a day, and that the increase in the price to them would mean a loss of livelihood.

Early in the morning half a dozen small figures were grouped about their leader, “Jack” Sullivan. They comprised the members of the Arbitration Committee who had gone as a last resort to the papers to demand their rights.

“Well, my brave men, what news?” The leader’s voice was husky as he put the question.

“Its dis a way,” said Boots, the spokesman of the committee. “We went to de bloke wot sells de papers and we tells him dat its got to be two fer a cent or nuthin’. He says, ‘Wot are yer goin’ to do about it if yer don’t get ’em?’ ‘Strike,’ sez I, and Monix, he puts in his oar and backs me up. The bloke sez ‘Go ahead and strike,’ and here we is. Dat’s all.”

The recital brought a scowl to the leader’s face.

“They tink we’re cravens,” he said, “but we’ll show ’em dat we aint. De time is overripe fer action. De cops won’t have not time fer us. What is de sense of de meetin’? Is it strike?” “Sure, Mike!” piped half a dozen voices. “Well, den, de strike is ordered. Der must be no half measures, my men. If you sees any one sellin’ de ‘Woild’ or ‘Joinal,’ swat ’em.”

“You mean swipe de papes?”

“Suretear ’em up, trow ’em in de river, any ole ting. If der’s no furder bizness de mettin’s adjoined.”

At noon the next day Park Row was full of noise and bustle. The clangor of streetcar gongs smote the air and a busy throng passed up and down. A solitary newsboy stood on the sidewalk offering extras to the passers by. He smiled complacently, for there were no rivals in the field. Suddenly the word “Scab!” broke upon his ear. He turned quickly and made a dive for safety. But he was too late. A hundred newsboys seemed to spring from the earth at once, and he found himself in the centre of a howling, hooting group.

“Why don’t you stick to the union?” they shouted.

“I does me bizness to suit meself,” was the answer. “Go ‘long now, or I’ll tump ye in de teet.”

There was a short, quick scrimmage, and the bundle of papers was knocked from his hands. A moment later they were in tatters. The crowd of strikers grew, and the street was soon black with them.
The leaders, like heros of old, were borne on their comrades’ shoulders. On they marched to Wall-st. Whenever a boy was discovered with “Worlds” or “Journals” his stock was confiscated and the fragments scattered to the four winds.

In another section of the great city two traitors to the cause were selling papers. They were big boys, and the little fellows who opposed them were easily worsted. Crying and disconsolate, they sat upon a doorstep and bemoaned their lack of strength.

“If we only had de right kind of a leader up here we’d be all right. But Jack’s too busy in Wall-st.”

Opportunity makes the man. It likewise makes the woman, and a great battle is never lost until it is won. The traitors were triumphant. In loud voices they offered their wares to the passers by. An exultant cry rang out, and their cheeks blanched as they gazed up the street. For a new Joan of Arc had appeared. It was Jennie the newsgirl. She wore no coat of mail, but armed in the justice of the cause, her red hair glinting in the sunlight, she came rushing onward. The small boys flocked about her. On they came. The traitors gave one more glance, dropped their papers, and fled. . . . The continuation of this thrilling romance will not be found in book form.

View it at Chronicling America