Anti-Chinese Sentiment and the 1867 Chinese Workers Strike
“I will not boss Chinese!” Superintendent Strobridge instinctively responded to chief contractor Charles Crocker, when he asked him to recruit Chinese workers. Even Leland Stanford, president of the Big Four called the Chinese “’dregs’ of Asia,” and “a ‘degraded’ people.” The diligence of Chinese workers created a competitive atmosphere that made white workers work harder, much to their resentment. In addition, countless workers died in accidental blasts without record as the Central Pacific used nitroglycerin to speed up the construction. An Anti-Coolie Labor Association was launched in San Francisco while the Chinese were battling the snows on Donner’s summit. Not only did the white workers mistreat them; the Chinese were used as scapegoats by union bosses and the railroad administration alike due to their low wages. All of this reached a boiling point in 1867.
In the summer of 1867 Chinese railroad workers in the Sierras found themselves confronted with deep snow drifts and threats of avalanches. The adverse weather, coupled with the abusive treatment from their overseers, as well as the low wages and long hours led to the Chinese becoming increasingly unsettled with their poor work conditions. It was during this time that the Central Pacific Railroad was also struggling with a severe labor shortage and fear of competition from nearby mining fields which threatened to draw Chinese workers away from the railroad. In an attempt to attract more Chinese workers, construction supervisor Charles Crocker raised the monthly wages from $31 to $35. However, the wage increase was unsuccessful in placating the Chinese workers, and on June 25, 1867 a group of Chinese working the eastern Sierra slope walked off their jobs. Two days later, two thousand Chinese workers along the Sierras followed suit and joined the strike to demand higher wages and decreased work hours.
Ultimately, the strike only lasted one week. Crocker’s solution for ending the strike, though cruel, proved to be extremely effective. He cut off the workers’ supplies and stopped agents from delivering food and provisions to their camps. After a week, Crocker visited the workers and firmly informed them that the wages and hours were non-negotiable, and that if they went back to work immediately, they would only be fined. However, if they refused, Crocker threatened that they would not receive their paycheck for June. Faced with hunger and little hope for improved conditions, the Chinese resumed work on the Sierras.