The unfortunate Checker Cab Model Y’s above was produced by Checker Cab Manufacturing of Kalamazoo, Michigan between 1935 and 1939, this one clearly suffered the wrath of striking Chicago taxicab drivers. The strike was one of the most violent taxi strikes ever and the height of violence occurred 82 years ago this weekend.
The strike was wage against both Checker and Yellow Cab of Chicago, both firms were subsidiaries of Checker Cab Manufacturing owned and operated by Morris Markin. This would not be the last time Markin had run in’s with unions.
In this blog we’ll present a array of photos by the ACME to give you a photographic sense of the taxicab carnage. All photos are credited to ACME. The caption for the header photo reads as follows: Violence still continues in Chicago’s cab war. The luckless driver of the above cab was serverely beaten and forced to abandon his cab. Striking cab drivers who attacked him poured gasoline over the car and set it aflame. All negotiations for settlement of the stricke were canceled as a result of riots by striking drivers in Chicago’s loop today. ACME 3-17-37.
Prior to the violence on St. Paticks day, the strike storm was brewing for about two weeks. The strike started officially on March 5th. Note the aggressive recruiting tactics on the first day of the strike depicted in the ACME photo below: Chicago Cab Drivers Strike. An unheralded strike of drivers of the two large Chicago taxi companies, The Yellow and Checker, tied up an estimated 600 cabs on the first day, as leaders continued their efforts to induce other drivers to strike. The men are not at present unionized, but the leaders are attempted to bring the rival drivers together into one unon. The above photo shows stikers stopping a cab driver to induce him to join them 3-5-37 ACME
By March 8th over 50% of Checker and Yellow drivers were striking and Checker Taxi and Yellow management started to idle cabs. The ACME photo below depicts the parking of cabs. March 8, 1937 CABS AREN’T SCARCE ALONG THIS STREET – These cars remained idle today along the curb outside the Yellow Cab Company’s Belmont garage. The union claimed that more than 3,00 out of 5,500 drivers employed by the two companies, Checker and Yellow are on strike. ACME
Some four days later, by March 9th violence started to flare up. Note the arrests depicted in the ACME picture below. VIOLENCE FLARES IN CHICAGO CAB STRIKE, violence, accompanied by gunfire, flared today in the fifth day of Chicago’s Taxicab strike as drivers for Chicago’s major cab companies fought back for the first time at company efforts to break the strike. Photo shows group of strikes being escorted into patrol wagon after a clash between company guards and picket at one of the largest cab garages. 3-9-37 ACME C 222404
More violence broke out on the 10th. According to the Chicago Tribune “violence, accompanied by gun fire, flared this afternoon in the fifth day of Chicago’s taxicab strike as drivers for the Yellow Cab and Checker Taxi Companies fought back for the first time at company efforts to break the strike. No one was hurt.”
Dated March 11th, the ACME photo does not present a caption. The photo below needs no explanation, its pretty clear the strike was peaceful, but that would soon change. The dapper driver and his fellow union members would soon become violent.
By the 12th after the violence started Checker Taxi and Yellow Cab management would remove door handles for the operating cabs. This was done to make it hard to protesters to open doors and pull out cabbies and passengers. This did not stop the strikers, they just smashed glass windows and pulled the cabbies and passengers the hard way.
Again days later more violence would flare up on the 13th, again from the ACME. Violence Flares In Chicago Taxicab Strike, Intermittent violence in Chicago’s taxicab strike caused police of the city to dash to widely separated points as strikers overturned cabs and otherwise attempted to hinder non-union drivers from operating cabs. Above photo shows a cab that was turned on its side in Chicago’s busy loop section by striking drivers. (ACME Telephoto) 3-13-37
All hell would break loose by the seventeenth. Violence would break out in the loop. Cops, passengers and cabbies would be injured. Photo C222456 Chicago Bureau STRIKING CAB DRIVERS RUN WILD IN CHICAGO LOOP. Photo shows one of the working taxicabs that were caught in Chicago Loop, March 17, when a crowds of striking drivers invaded the district and broke windows of some and overturned others on their wild march through the downtown section of the city. BFM 27 Your Credit Must Read ACME 3-17-37.
March 17, 1937 ONE MORE VICTIM OF BOLD MARCHERS – One of the many taxicabs which were tipped over during the spectacular sweep of violence. This car was seized on Randolph near Clark street ACME
According to the Chicago Daily Tribune March 17, 1937 – Mayhem reigns in the Loop as “organized mobs of striking taxicab drivers, led by professional sluggers, attacked cabs at a score of points … Drivers were knocked senseless and passengers were threatened and thrown from their seats.”
The violence came to a head on March 18th. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune “March 18, 1937 Police arrest 23 during the violence that lasts for an hour downtown and continues in other areas of the city as night falls. A Checker cab is rolled over at Wells and Randolph Streets, and another one is turned over on Randolph between Wells and LaSalle. Two other cabs are overturned in the vicinity, and a mounted policeman is pulled from his horse and beaten. The reports continue to come in … “One driver who abandoned his cab and ran for refuge to the city hall was caught at the Randolph street entrance and slugged by ten men … Twenty strikers rushed a Checker cab near the Garrick theater and overturned it as the driver fled … At Randolph and LaSalle streets Policeman Pat Neylon dispersed some rioters by leveling a shotgun at them … In front of the Woods theater hundreds gathered as a Yellow cab met the same fate … Rioters struck again in front of the Burnham building, 160 North LaSalle street, overturning a Yellow cab … Joseph Ellers, 28 years old, a Checker driver, was beaten by a gang of eight men who overturned his cab in Washington street near Michigan avenue …” The riot begins after 1,700 strikers attend a meeting early in the afternoon at Atlas Hall, Milwaukee Avenue and Noble Street. At the conclusion of that meeting some 200 men begin walking east in small groups toward the Loop, looking for trouble. The police department floods the Loop with all of the men it can find – 75 student policemen from the East Chicago Avenue station, 19 squads from other districts, and six detective bureau squads. All leaves and days off for police are cancelled until the taxicab strike, now into its twelfth day, is over.”
The strike goes on for another week before it is finally ended. In the end, was it worth it, we’ll really never know? The Midwest Taxi Driver Union and hired enforcers ended their attacks on the Markin’s operators of both Yellow Cab and Checker Taxi of Chicago.
We can’t find any films regarding the Chicago strike, but we do have a link to Pathe films of the 1934 New York Taxicab strike. Much like the 1937, the NYC strike had its share of violence and destructions of Checker. Here is link.