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Strike begins at government cafeterias: 1947 | by Washington Area Spark
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Strike begins at government cafeterias: 1947

Cafeteria Workers Local 471 President Richard Bancroft hands out picket signs to union members January 7, 1947 at the Shiloh Baptist Church at 9th and P Streets NW as they begin a strike against the largest operator of federal cafeterias, Government Services, Inc.


The strike involved about 2,200 predominantly African American low wage workers at 50 cafeterias that served about 126,000 government workers per day.


A citizens committee was held the same day where 12 organizations pledged cash food and moral support for the workers. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY) was named chairman of the Emergency Committee to Support Cafeteria Workers.


Organizations included the National Negro Congress, the CIO Industrial Union Council, United Public Workers of America, National Council of Negro Women, Episcopal Church League for Industrial Democracy, Columbia Typographical Union 101, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Local 209 (AFL) Pastry Cooks and Kitchen Employees, Southern Conference for Human Welfare and the Hotel and Restaurant Workers (AFL).


The strike began when GSI refused to extend the existing contract while talks continued prompting the union to say it was locked out.


Issues in the strike included union demands for a wage increase, for sick leave, establishment of a welfare fund and arbitration of suspensions.


The strike was settled after eight days when Asst. Secretary of Labor John W. Gibson and Conciliation Services head Edgar L. Warren brokered an agreement to submit the disputed items to arbitration.


In 1948 GSI nearly broke the union when it refused to negotiate over the issue of union officials signing affidavits swearing they were not communists. An 11 week strike ensured that ended in mixed results for the union, although they preserved their bargaining rights.


Bancroft, pictured in the photo, resigned as president of the union rather than sign the affidavit. He later moved to California and went on to become an Alameda Superior Court judge.


The union, one of the more progressive in the city, continued its tradition by helping to lead the fight against discrimination in public accomodations during the early 1950s.


In the early 1970s, the union was merged with several other locals to form Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 25.


For more information and related images, see


For a deep dive into the 1948 cafeteria workers strike that includes a section on the 1947 strike, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is a Washington Daily News photograph courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

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Taken on January 7, 1947