July 22, 1899: “Strike That Is A Strike”



Riot in Fifty-ninth Street—The Battlefield Knee Deep with Remnants of Boycotted Papers—The Newsboys See victory Ahead and Prepare to Deal with Welchers.

Only one strike was heard of on the streets yesterday, and that was the newsboys’ strike against the evening editions of the World and Journal. It had completely overshadowed the alleged trolley strike, both in its success and in its proportions. Indeed, there is good ground for believing that the strike of the boys has been a potent factor in the failure of the strike of the men, since the two papers which chiefly fostered disorder and violence, by which alone the strikers could hope to win, were practically kept out of the circulation, particularly on the cars where they could do the most harm. General Master Workboy “Blind” Diamond confided to a Sun reporter yesterday that for this reason the “newsies” didn’t expect any aid from the grown-up unions, but declared that thy would win anyway without extraneous aid. No man now purchases a copy of the evening edition of either the World or the Journal on the streets of this city without risk to the outside of his head as well as to the inside, and the strike has spread to Brooklyn, Long Island City, Jersey City and Newark, where by to-morrow, it is expected, the tie-up will be as complete as it is here.

Earlier than usual the newsboys were on hand in Park row yesterday morning to contrive plans for the bedevilment and confusion of the foe. Reports of the most encouraging description were received from various localities. An envoy from the Brooklyn union brought this good word:

“District Master Workboy Spot Conlon says here’s lookin’ at youse noble strikers, an’ he can’t bring his forces over to-day like he said he would, ’cause he’s got an engagement to break scab heads over dere. De hull push is out, an’ de kid wot tries to sell Woilds an’ Joinals gets his slats kicked in. Dat goes. By order of de union”

Up rose then Cross-Eyed Peters, representing the uptown boys.

“We’re all out,” said he. “We’ll send a kid to de horspital in de rattler fer ever scab pape dat’s sold above Fourteenth street.”

Cheers greeted these announcements, and the boys proceeded to lay out a plan of campaign. As there were several policemen about it was decided that an attack in force on the delivery wagons as they started out would be out of the question, so orders were given for every striker to arm himself with a club of suitable dimensions, and not be afraid to use it should occasion require.

“Yer clubs ain’t meant for toot’picks,” the General Master Workboy significantly. “If dey’s any scab papes sold on dis row to-day an’ somebody don’t git hurted dat means deat’ to our union. Remember dat an’ do yer duty an’ de scabs.”

Fully a hundred boys were gathered in Park row at the hour when the first editions of the “yellows” usually come out, and as soon as the wagons started there was a great howl and a shower of missiles which made the drivers’ jobs uncomfortable. The police came up on the run and the boys scattered hastily, for an order had gone out, it is said, that the police are not to be injured. All the boys were armed with clubs, and most of them wore in their headgear placards denouncing the scab extras, and calling on the public to boycott them. No sooner was the little army scattered by the advance of the constabulary than it swiftly organized its elements into a number of small skirmishing parties and proceeded to do business upon the craniums of the few bold but unwise spirits who were trying to sell the tabooed red-headed extras. These little street dramas were usually in two short acts filled with action. First act: The seller of the scab papers dealing with a customer; scouts approaching from the wings; sharp signal whistles; customer unconscious, dealer nervous. Second act: A cry, “Sock it to de scab;” a rush, the thwack of sticks on the dealer’s head and shoulders; dismay and flight of the customer, pursued by shouts of “Scab;” capture of the contraband papers; police somewhat belated; curtain. After an hour of this desultory warfare, which was the more successful in that it did not centralize in any one spot where the police could handle it, the sellers of they yellow sheets gave up in despair. Then the boys formed a column and marched proudly up and down, banging their clubs on the pavement and exulting in their victory. Occasionally there was a sudden sally to some side street where a non-union boy was discovered plying his nefarious trade, such sallies being invariably followed by wild wails of anguish and frantic promises of reform.

Lawlessness of other kinds, however, was not tolerated. While the skirmishing was in progress a big boy named McLinn was discovered “swiping” a peach from the stand of a fruit dealer, whereupon he was promptly seized by his fellows and dragged down into Frankfort street for trial. “Boots” McAleen, who presided, announced that the good name of the must not be polluted by any acts of vandalism, and that sternly repressive measures were in order. On this basis McLinn got ten sound whacks with a flat stick on the post where they would do the most good and the least physical harm. He was let off light on his representation of the good work he had done in the cause on the previous day in bleeding the nose of a large able-bodied non-union boy whom he had caught concealing a number of the forbidden wares between other papers. This put an end to brigandage for the day, and a committee reported the matter to the policeman on the corner and assured him that there would be no repetition of the offence. It is understood that the policeman was so lost to all sense of the proprieties as to say that he didn’t give a damn and to shoo the committee away with threats of force. This is what “Boots” McAleen told the Sun man, at any rate, adding, more in sorrow than in anger:

“Wot de hell can yer do wit’ dat kind of a cop agin yer?”

Having discouraged scab trade in the vicinity of Park row, the boys marched down to Wall street about 1:30 to collect the sinews of war, as the brokers had thrown out showers of small coin to them on the previous day. One boy carried a banner conspicuously inscribed:

Cash Receved Hear to Help the Strike.
Dont By the Scabb World and Journal.

Contributions didn’t come in quite as think as they had the day before, but a considerable sum was thrown from the windows and the strikers marched back jubilating.

A disturbing rumor gained currency early in the afternoon that Mrs. Corcoran, who owns tenements on the east side, and her rival, Mrs. Shea, had broken away from the union and were selling the World and Journal, but a committee sent to investigate and dissuade and taking large hickory dissuaders with them came back and reported that the rumor was apparently without foundation, and that they had warned the two ladies, who were daily impressed by the message from the union.

Matters were rather peaceful all day long in the downtown region. Only two arrests were made, Samuel Wolkinsky, 13 years old, and John Armstrong, 14 years old, being the prisoners. Both of them were fined $5 by Magistrate Mott in the Centre Street Court. They were discovered inflicting upon James Tobin the cruel and unusual punishment of compelling him to swallow large portions of a red-headed extra which he was carrying under his arm with intent to sell the same, and his strangled howls brought down upon them a policeman who made the arrests.

The real centre of activity yesterday was on lower Columbus avenue, where 400 or 500 newsboys had gathered to await the arrivel of the early afternoon editions. They had decorated the newsstand and lampposts with banners inscribed: “Please Don’t Buy the World and Journal,” “Help the Newsboys,” “Our Cause Is Just,” “We Will Fight For Our Rights,” and other pregnant sentiments. As soon as the wagons came up the boys pressed forward and began to hoot and howl. A fat mane with a red nose took charge of the first bundle thrown out and tried to make his way through the crowd, but was pressed back, whereupon he set his bundle down and sat on it with a determined countenance. Two seconds later the red from his nose had overspread his countenance, for a barrel stave had knocked him over and a short club had flattened his nasal organ like a frog on a railroad track. Worse would have befallen him had not two policemen arrived and charged the boys. Though pushed back the strikers did not scatter. They formed a circle, and as fast as an man got his bundle of papers and tried to get away with them they swooped down upon him with yells of “Kill the scab!” mauled him until he dropped his papers and ran, then tore the sheets into small bits and trampled them in the mud. As soon as they had put an end to the distribution they attacked the stands with missiles and battering rams, and in fifteen minutes the newsdealers surrendered and agreed to close up, which they did. A little farther up the avenue the boys succeeded in overturning a small stand and ripping it almost to pieces.

While the strikers were celebrating their victory a horse car came across Fifty-ninth street with a big package of Worlds on the front platform. The word was passed along and fully fifty boys charged the car, help the horses, threw the conductor off the platform, chased the man who had the papers in charge and who ran for dear life, leaving his had behind him, tore the papers to fragments and then passed through the car, politely informing the passengers that that car had a scab driver, who was carrying scab papers against the rules of the union, and intimating that any one desiring to contribute case to the cause of the strikers would be then and there accommodated with an opportunity. Having successfully held up one car and having found it pretty good fun, the strikers turned their attention to the cable cars and boarded each one as it came along. Wherever they found a passenger reading one of the objectionable sheets they yanked it out of his hands, remonstrating with him sternly for reading such literature, and cast it in the mud. He was not at all a wise man who resented this treatment, for any attempt at reprisals was sure to result in a shower of missiles, and, if opportunity offered, a charge with clubs, which all of the strikers carried. Matters finally became so serious that the police were notified, and details from the West Forty-seventh and West Sixty-eighth street stations were sent to the place, Capt. Thomas taking command. Upon their arrival a dealer named Terry announced that he would sell what papers he please, and in the next breath shrieked loudly for help because a score of boys had rushed at him. He was rescued and told he could sell. Five policemen surrounded him. Fifty boys surrounded them. It is not on record that anybody penetrated this double trocha to buy Mr. Terry’s wares.

Then the police began to drive the strikers up and down the avenue, making no arrests, but using their clubs with a low and scythe-like swing. Part of the newsboy army retreated to Sixty-second street and Amsterdam avenue, where M. Zilevitch was trying to do a little trade in red-headed extras. It took less than one calendar minute to convince Mr. Zilevitch that what he chiefly needed was arnica and bandages, and these he found, to-gether with a temporary and much-needed refuge, in an adjacent drugstore. Another square had meantime discovered a beggar who is called “Bill the Tapper” and who in business hours is stone blind. “Bill” was off duty and reading the Evening Journal. He did his best with his tapping stick, but the enemy were too many, and for once in his life he really had something the matter with his eyes. The affection was painful rather than serious, but “Bill’s” language was something to inspire even the newsboys with new notions. It was after 5 o’clock before the region around Fifty-ninth street was sufficiently quiet to admit of the retiring of the police.

In Harlem the boys organized a parade and marched through 125th street, carrying placards, cheering for the union newspapers, and shouting “Down with the scab World and Journal!” Very little business was done in those papers yesterday, almost all the boys boycotting them. All over the city strike mottos are chalked on the sidewalks. The asphalt of City Hall Park was covered with his literature.

In Brooklyn, too, the strikers had everything their own way. It was almost impossible to buy a World and Journal, and the ill-advised person who bought one required a guard of police and a private arsenal to look after him while he was trying to read it unless he retired to the privacy of his own house, concealing it, meanwhile, underneath his coat. The boys had no hesitation in jumping on the trolley cars and snatching the offending papers from the hands of the passengers. Many of the boys had armed themselves with large red sticks that looked like fat wheel spokes and were strictly for use and not for ornament. The first person to discover this was Michael Romeo, who came across the bridge with a supply of scab papers. When the mob made for him he drew a long knife and cleared a way for himself, the boys giving way for him until he came to “Eddy” Murphy. “Eddy” is small, but he had one of those fat red clubs. Michael made a pass at “Eddy” with the knife. “Eddy” brought his club down upon Michael’s wrist and the knife fell into the gutter. Again the club came down, this time on Michael’s head, and he followed the knife. The other boys kicked him about for a time and let him go. He got away without his papers but with a large and interesting collection of bruises and a scalp wound. The boys then posted on a bulletin board this notice:

“Kill any gye what sells a scab extry.”

While trying to carry out this precept several of the strikers were captured by the police, but were released after being taken several blocks and mildly whacked with clubs. Very few of the objectionable papers were sold in Brooklyn during the afternoon. A newsdealer, who is in a position to know, estimated that the loss in sales to the two yellow journals in this city and Brooklyn comes to nearly 100,000 a day. In Jersey City there was no sale for the two papers. The strike was well maintained, and though the wagons came over about 10 A. M. as usual with the 4 P. M. editions, the boys refused to sell them. There was no violence, simply a quiet but highly effective boycott. The World and Journal wagons returned to New York with their wares unsold.

Two boys, designated by the other “newsies” of the vicinity as “de two yaller kids,” sold the boycotted extras around the Long Island Railroad station in Long Island City yesterday, and had a hard time of it.When the wagons came over the boys charged on them, ripped the bundles open, and with shouts of glee tore up the papers. A meeting was called and “Gas House” Sullivan made oration.

“Dem red an’ yeller fire works extrys ain’t no good,” he said. “Dey makes a great howl about de rights o’ labor and de poor workin’ man, an’ den when we kicks fer our reghts dey truns de werry rollacaboo inter us wit a wooden-handled spoon. Wot we wants t’ do is ter plug any mug wot brings ’em over an’ pass him out inter de river.”

At this point extra police arrived, and the meeting informally adjourned sine die. For the rest of the afternoon the police were on guard, and several times saved the two “yaller kids” from destruction. The newsboys from all parts of Greater New York keep in communication, and General Master Workboy Diamond told the Sun reporter last night that the strike was as good as won.

“Dem scab papes is crawlin’ already,” said he. “Dey’ll give in, sure. Arbitrate? Ah, hell! W’at do we want t’ arbitrate fer? Nah. De papes has got ter come down ter two fer a cent an’ dey gotter put de agreement out on der bulletin boards. See? Den dey can’t welch on it.”

Newark newsboys have boycotted the World and Journal. None of these papers were sold there yesterday, because the boys refused to take them from the wagons and destroyed hundreds of them which the agents tried to smuggle away on trolley cars. They even snatched the extras from the hands or pockets of persons reading them and they attacked “scab” newsboys in force. There were two arrests.

MOUNT VERNON, July 21—The newsboys’ strike has extended to Mount Vernon. To-morrow, it is announced, no copies of either the Evening World and Evening Journal will be sold. This afternoon the 200 newsboys of the city held an animated conference in a vacant lot. After it was over “Steamboat Mike,” who was one of the principal agitators, said: “I tell youse this strike ain’t no bluff. It’s goin’ to spread till it reaches de Klondike and puts de World and Journal on de bum.” He was loudly cheered. The boys are canvassing the city to induce their customers to take other papers in the place of the Evening World and Journal.

Source: “Strike That Is A Strike.” The Sun [New York], 22 July 1899, p. 3.