This Day in History

May 1, 1970: D.C. Sanitation Worker Strike Begins

Time Periods: 1961
Themes: Environment, Labor, Organizing

Strikers wear picket signs during AFSCME Local 1’s May 1970 Sanitation Workers’ Strike in Washington, D.C. Photograph by Tom Castor. Source: Walter P. Reuther Library.

Amidst a looming “garbage crisis” in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 1970, 1,700 sanitation workers went on strike to demand an end to racial discrimination, unsafe working conditions, low pay, and unequal pick-up routes.

As noted in this article about Izy Carney’s archival research project, “Dirty Work” Pay: Environmental Racism and the 1970 Washington, D.C. Sanitation Strike:

[T]he workers in the 1970 D.C. Sanitation Strike were at the forefront of environmental justice work. Carney argued that the strike was the first time that a city recognized and compensated garbage collectors for the environmental hazards of the work: local and national AFSCME union workers won extra compensation for “dirty work.” Although the strike happened within days of the first national Earth Day celebration, few at the time made the connection between environmentalism and workers’ rights. Carney argues, however, that the 1970 DC Sanitation Strike was the beginning of the environmental justice movement. Read more.