Brookland operators on first day of strike: 1955
Capital Transit operators gather outside the gates at the Brookland Division near 10th and Michigan Avenue NE July 1, 1955 on the first day of a seven week strike that paralyzed Washington, D.C.
The strike pitted the Amalgamated Association of Street Electric Railway and Motorcoach Employees of America Division 689 (today known as Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689) against the corporate raider Louis Wolfson and his partners.
Wolfson bought the company in 1949 and quickly paid out millions to himself and fellow investors in dividends. He then applied for fare increases, citing the unprofitability of the transit company that was suffering declines in ridership as auto use increased.
Division 689 president Walter Bierwagen skillfully employed the press and Congressional pressure on Wolfson.
Congress passed a law revoking Wolfson’s franchise, authorizing the district commissioners to negotiate a settlement with Bierwagen and requiring Wolfson to sell the company within a year. The bill also required that buses replace streetcars.
The union settled the strike gaining pay increases and improvements in pension, vacation and holidays.
Wolfson would later be convicted and sent to prison for illegal stock sales and for obstructing a Security and Exchange Commission investigation unrelated to his Capital Transit tenure.
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Photo by the Washington Daily News. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.