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Michigan Legal Milestones
9. Ten Hours or No Sawdust

The Saginaw Valley was the hub of the nation's lumber industry in the late 19th century, and the site of early ferment in Michigan's labor movement.

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Ten Hours or No Sawdust

In June 1885, the legislature passed the state's first 10-hour employment law, but employers and employees could by contract evade the statute. When the lumber mill owners insisted on continuing the 11- or 12-hour workday, the workers who were paid by the day struck. Their slogan was "Ten hours or no sawdust."

The strike, which became violent, grew into Michigan's largest of the century. By September, however, it was clear that the mill owners would not accede to the workers' demands. The strike ended with workers still putting in 11 or 12 hours or receiving reduced pay for 10-hour workdays.

A few years later, Governor John T. Rich, referring to strikes of the era, said: "It is hardly consistent to condemn labor organizations for taking the law into their own hands unless some lawful and practicable method is provided for the protection of their interests."

Protection against unfair working conditions for which the Saginaw lumber mill workers went on strike did not become reality until the next century, when the laws regulating hours, wages, and working conditions we take for granted were adopted.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Saginaw County Bar Association, 1988.