Some of the flavor of the 1920 strike can be tasted through the recollections of one of the participants, Baldassare Lotruglio, as reported by his son, Anthony Lotruglio. The following picture and story are copyright © 2013 by Anthony Lotruglio, and are used here with his permission.
Dad became a naturalized citizen in 1914. After a quick army tour, he returned in 1917 or 1918. He became a streetcar motorman, and his brother Phil was a conductor.
Some time after 1917, Dad joined the union and became a member of the executive Board. He traveled as far as Chicago for union meetings. Some time in the beginning of the 1920s, it was decided to strike. Today, we are accustomed to strikers walking relatively quietly with protest signs hung around their necks. It was quite different in those days. To strike literally meant to take your life in your hands.
In New Orleans, Dad and the other union officials planning the strike rented a large warehouse where all members of the union would stay for the duration. It was anticipated that once the strike began, management would import strikebreakers from Chicago. If the strikebreakers caught a union member, he would be beaten unmercifully. Turnabout was fair play. If the Union members caught a strikebreaker, they repaid in kind. During the strike, molten lead was poured into rail switches. This derailed the streetcars and created havoc with public transportation.
To relieve the boredom of being confined to a warehouse during the strike, the longest running card game started. A portion of each pot was set aside to buy breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all the strikers. Dad claimed that by the end of the strike, everyone had lost money in the card game. The length of the strike coupled with the percentage set aside for the purchase of food was too high a hurdle to overcome.
After the strike ended, Dad was called into the office. Management offered him the fairgrounds run, a choice route. Dad asked, “Why are you so good to me?” They replied that they just wanted to be friends. Dad queried, “What is a friend expected to do?” Just come in each morning after a union executive board meeting and have coffee, was the reply. You could make the conversation interesting by telling us what was discussed the previous evening. Dad realized he was in a difficult situation. If he accepted the proposition, he would be disloyal to his friends and coworkers. If he turned it down, management would retaliate. Dad took the badge from his motorman’s cap, slid it across the desk, and resigned. Soon thereafter, the entire Lotruglio clan, except for his brother Ignacio, moved to New York City.
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