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Black workers strike for better conditions: 1941 | by Washington Area Spark
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Black workers strike for better conditions: 1941

S & W Cafeteria workers picket the building located at 15th & New York Ave. NW in May or June 1941 during a strike over higher wages and hours of work.


The strike began May 26 by about 200 workers represented by the United Cafeteria Workers Local 471, CIO and ended June 24 after reaching an agreement with the aid of federal mediators.


The S & W chain was one of the largest in the Washington, D.C. area and also operated in a large number of cities in the South.


The Associated Negro Press reported that, “this strike will have far-reaching effects in the organization of other cafeteria workers and improvement of their employment conditions.”


Issues in the strike including reduction of hours from 54 per week, elimination of split shifts, an increase in pay and paid holidays and vacation.


The agreement addressed many of those issues including increased pay, time and a half for overtime, arbitration of all disputes and two weeks vacation, one of which will be with pay.


Cafeteria Workers Local 471 was one of the largest predominantly African American local unions in the city. Others included unions that represented cooks, laborers, cleaners, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.


For more information and related images, see


For a deep dive into the 1948 cafeteria workers strike, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is courtesy of the D.C. Public Library historic images collection.

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Taken in May 1941