1969 Charleston hospital strike

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Hospital Strike Commemorative Sign

1969 Charleston Hospital Strike was a significant labor and civil rights event in Charleston, South Carolina, United States, that occurred in the spring of 1969. The strike involved approximately 400 African American hospital workers, primarily women, who protested against poor working conditions, discrimination, and the lack of recognition for their union, Local 1199B of the National Union of Hospital and Nursing Home Employees.

Background[edit | edit source]

The strike was rooted in the broader context of the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for economic justice and labor rights in the United States. Charleston, like many other southern cities, was a hotbed of racial tension and inequality. The hospital workers, who were employed at the Medical College Hospital (now known as the Medical University of South Carolina) and Charleston County Hospital, faced low wages, long hours, and a lack of respect and recognition for their work. Additionally, they were denied the right to collectively bargain through their union, which was a critical issue that led to the strike.

The Strike[edit | edit source]

The strike began on March 20, 1969, after months of unsuccessful negotiations between the hospital administration and the workers. The workers demanded better pay, more respect on the job, and the recognition of their union. The strike quickly gained national attention, drawing support from prominent civil rights leaders, including Coretta Scott King and Ralph Abernathy, who saw the strike as a continuation of the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s work on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.

The response from the hospital administration and the state was swift and harsh. Governor John C. West called in the National Guard to maintain order, and the local police arrested many strikers and supporters. Despite this, the strike continued for over 100 days, with the workers maintaining picket lines and organizing marches and rallies.

Resolution and Impact[edit | edit source]

The strike ended on July 31, 1969, with a compromise that allowed the workers to return to their jobs and the formation of a grievance committee to address their concerns. However, the agreement did not include official recognition of the union, which was a significant setback for the strikers.

Despite the mixed results, the 1969 Charleston Hospital Strike had a lasting impact on the labor movement and the fight for civil rights in the United States. It highlighted the intersection of race, gender, and labor issues and inspired other hospital workers across the country to organize and fight for their rights. The strike also contributed to the growth and influence of Local 1199, which became a powerful voice for healthcare workers nationwide.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The 1969 Charleston Hospital Strike is remembered as a pivotal moment in the history of labor rights and civil rights in the United States. It is a testament to the courage and resilience of the African American women who stood up against injustice and inequality, despite the odds against them. The strike is commemorated in Charleston and by labor and civil rights activists as an important chapter in the ongoing struggle for justice and equality.


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD