Police Strikes

Police Strikes
Grace Coolidge: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required:


In 1919, Grace Coolidge was at home in Northampton with her sons while her husband served as the Governor of Massachusetts in Boston.  Calvin forbade his wife from being involved in politics and saw no reason for her to join him in Boston.  In 1919, the Boston Police Strike propelled Calvin into the national spot light, and eventually, the White House.  Though still not involved directly in politics, Grace’s popularity as first lady became a political asset for the president.  


In this lesson, students will learn about what happens when police go on strike.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet (for students and teacher) and/or access to a public library (for teacher).


Explain to students that labor strikes occur when management and workers can not agree on working conditions.
Explain to students that in 1919, the police force in Boston, Massachusetts went on strike and that they are to research why this happened and the outcome.  They are also to research other police strikes that occurred through out the world: Victoria, Liverpool, Waukegan, and Brazil.  Because information on this topic is difficult to locate notify students that they are to focus on the Boston strike, but to gather as much information as possible on the other strikes. 
While doing their research, tell students that they must keep a list of their findings and that it is important that no opinions are included in this list, just events and the people involved.  Also share with students that because labor strikes have two sides, much of the information on strikes is biased toward one side and therefore they should look for biases and keep a separate list of the biases they discover.
Write on one side of the board “fact” and the other side of the board “bias.”  Have each student share a fact and bias they discovered until all items are listed on the board.  If a fact is presented as a bias or a bias is presented as a fact, have a class discussion regarding where the item should be placed.
When this is complete, tell students that the time to include personal opinions in research is when all of the facts have been collected about a research item.
Have students debate whether or not, or under what conditions, it is right for police to strike.  To do this have students form groups around different opinions and together as a group form an argument.  For example, you may have three different groups: 1) police striking is never right, 2) police strikes are acceptable if wages are so low that families are not fed, and 3) when ever working conditions are bad it is right for police to strike.
When all groups have formed arguments have everyone stand and have each group in a different place in the room.  Have each group present their argument and other groups to question the arguments presented or present further arguments.  Notify students that if during an argument their opinion changes, they can switch to a different group. 
During this process, do not let any one person dominate the discussion by making the rule that no one can speak twice.  Thus, if a person has an argument after speaking, he or she will need to get a group member who has not spoken to present his or her argument.

Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson, follow the steps above, but instead of researching and debating police strikes, debate all public employees striking – teachers, doctors, nurses, fire departments, elected officials, etc.

Sources & Resources:

Public Employee Strikes
Boston Police Strike of 1919
1923 Victoria Police Strike
Liverpool Police Strikes
Waukegan Police Strike
Brazil Police Strike
1996 Oakland Teachers’ Strike 
eThekwini Fire Department Strike
Israel Doctor Strike
Nurse Strikes


   Brock, Jonathan.  Bargaining Beyond Impasse: Joint Resolution of Public Sector Labor Disputes.   Boston: Auburn House Publishing Company, 1982. 
   Kearney, Richard (ed.) and Carnevale, David (ed.). Labor Relations in the Public Sector.  New York: Marcel Dekker Inc., 2001. 
   Kruger, Kenneth F. and Metzger, Norman.  When Health Care Employees Strike: A Guide for Planning Action.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002. 
   Russell, Francis.  A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Boston: Beacon Press, 2005. 
   Seifert, Roger V. Teacher Militancy: A History of Teacher Strikes, 1896 – 1987.  Oxford: Taylor & Francis Group, 1987. 
   Slater, Joseph E. Public Workers: Government Employee Unions, the Law, and the State, 1900 – 1962.  Ithica: ILR Press, 2004 

Credits: This lesson was written by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University