This is no parade. Headlined “MARTIAL LAW GRIPS OMAHA IN CAR STRIKE,” this 1935 newsreel has no sound, but shows the arrival of military trucks and 1,800 National Guardsmen in downtown Omaha. Nebraska Governor LeRoy Cochrane declared martial law during a strike of streetcar workers.
The strike began in April when workers demanded union recognition and better pay. The streetcar company refused to negotiate, fired all striking workers, brought in strikebreakers to run the cars, and hired a private detective firm to provide guards armed with submachine guns.
During the strike, improvised bombs damaged two streetcars and the home of a company official. In June, streetcars burned and two people were killed during three nights of rioting in South Omaha.
The governor’s deployment of the National Guard was surprising in one respect: Cochrane did not use the guardsmen to crush the strike. Across the US, many previous strikes had ended when state or US troops were sent in on a corporation’s behalf. But Cochran mobilized the Guard to pressure the streetcar company to submit to arbitration. The company agreed, but reneged on its promises as soon as the troops left town. A court later ruled that the governor had exceeded his authority.
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