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Encyclopedia > Lawrence textile strike
Massachusetts militiamen with fixed bayonets surround a parade of peaceful strikers
Massachusetts militiamen with fixed bayonets surround a parade of peaceful strikers
Flyer distributed in Lawrence, September 1912
Flyer distributed in Lawrence, September 1912

The Lawrence textile strike was a strike of immigrant workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 led by the Industrial Workers of the World. Prompted by one mill owner's decision to lower wages when a new law shortening the workweek went into effect in January, the strike spread rapidly through the town, growing to more than twenty thousand workers at nearly every mill within a week. The strike, which lasted more than two months and which defied the assumptions of conservative unions within the American Federation of Labor that immigrant, largely female and ethnically divided workers could not be organized, was successful; a year later, however, the union had largely collapsed and most of the gains that workers had gained had disappeared. Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Download high resolution version (550x955, 83 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Download high resolution version (550x955, 83 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Lawrence is a city located in Essex County, Massachusetts on the Merrimack River. ... 1912 is a leap year starting on Monday. ... The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies) is an international union headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. It contends that all workers should be united within a single union as a class and the profit system abolished. ... The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States. ...

Table of contents

The background to the strike

Founded in 1845, Lawrence was a flourishing and deeply-troubled textile city. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had allowed owners to eliminate skilled workers and employ large numbers of unskilled immigrant workers, mostly women. The work was difficult, dangerous, and fast-paced. In addition, a number of children aged 14, and even younger in some cases, worked in the mills; half of the workers in the four Lawrence mills of the American Woolen Company, the leading employer in the industry and the town, were girls between fourteen and eighteen. 1845 was a common year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ... The Industrial Revolution was the major social, economic and technological change in the late 18th and early 19th century. ...

Conditions had grown even worse for workers in the decade before the strike, with the introduction of the two-loom system in the woolen mills leading to a speedup in the pace of work, which led in turn to layoffs and lower wages for workers. Those who did work earned on the average less than $9.00 a week for a full week's work.

The workers lived in crowded and dangerous apartment buildings, often with many families sharing each apartment. Many families survived on bread, molasses, and beans; as one worker testified before the March 1912 congressional investigation of the Lawrence strike, "When we eat meat it seems like a holiday, especially for the children". The mortality rate for children was fifty percent by age six; thirty-six out of every 100 men and women who worked in the mill died by the time they reached twenty-five. Mortality rate (the word mortality comes from mortal, which originates from Latin mors, death) is the annual number of deaths (from a disease or at general) per 1000 people. ...

The mills and the community were divided along ethnic lines: most of the skilled jobs were held by native-born workers of English, Irish and German descent, while French-Canadian, Italian, Slavic, Hungarian, Portuguese and Syrian immigrants made up most of the unskilled workforce. Several thousand skilled workers belonged, in theory at least, to the United Textile Workers, but only a few hundred paid dues. The IWW had also been organizing for five years among workers in Lawrence, but likewise had only a few hundred regular members.

The strike

A new Massachusetts law reduced the maximum number of hours of work per week for women and children from fifty-six to fifty-four, effective January 1, 1912. On January 11th, workers discovered what many of them had feared would happen: their employers had reduced their weekly pay to match the reduction in their hours. That difference in wages would amount to several loaves of bread for hard-pressed workers. State nickname: Bay State Other U.S. States Capital Boston Largest city Boston Governor Mitt Romney Official languages English Area 27,360 km² (44th)  - Land 20,317 km²  - Water 7,043 km² (25. ... January 11 is the 11th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. ...

When Polish women weavers at Everett Cotton Mills realized that their employer had reduced their pay by thirty two cents they stopped their looms and left the mill, shouting "short pay, short pay!" Workers at other mills joined the next day; within a week more than 20,000 workers were on strike.

Joseph Ettor of the IWW had been organizing in Lawrence for some time before the strike; he and Arturo M. Giovanitti of the IWW quickly assumed leadership of the strike, forming a strike committee made up of two representatives from each ethnic group in the mills, which took responsibility for all major decisions. The committee, which arranged for its strike meetings to be translated into twenty-five different languages, put forward a set of demands; a fifteen percent increase in wages for a fifty-four-hour work week, double time for overtime work, and no discrimination against workers for their strike activity. The strikers adopted a famous slogan, taken from the words of socialist union organizer Rose Schneiderman: "We want bread and roses too!" Joseph J. Ettor (1886- ) served as one of the leaders of an American labor party named the Industrial Workers of the World which conducted its first great Eastern strike involving some 35,000 workers in 1912 at Lawrence, Massachusetts. ... Arturo M. Giovanitti (1884- ) was an immigrant from Italy who entered the United States in 1901. ... The color red and particularly the red flag are traditional symbols of Socialism. ... Rose Schneiderman (April 6, 1882–August 11, 1972) was a prominent United States labor union leader and socialist of the first part of the twentieth century. ...

The City responded to the strike by ringing the city's alarm bell for the first time in its history; the Mayor ordered a company of the local militia to patrol the streets. The strikers responded with mass picketing. When mill owners turned fire hoses on the picketers gathered in front of the mills, they responded by throwing ice at the plants, breaking a number of windows. The court sentenced thirty-six workers to a year in jail for throwing ice; as the judge stated, "The only way we can teach them is to deal out the severest sentences". The governor then ordered out the state militia and state police. Mass arrests followed.

At the same time the United Textile Workers attempted to break the strike, claiming to speak for the workers of Lawrence. The workers ignored them and the AFL, while opposed to the IWW, did not press the point, offering rhetorical support for the strikers' rights.

A local undertaker and a member of the Lawrence school board attempted to frame the strike leadership by planting dynamite in several locations in town a week after the strike began. He was fined $500 and released without jail time. William Wood, the owner of the American Woolen Company, who had made a large payment to the defendant under unexplained circumstances shortly before the dynamite was found, was not charged.

The authorities later charged Ettor and Giovannitti with murder for the death of a striker, likely shot by the police. Ettor and Giovannitti had been three miles away, speaking to another group of workers at the time. They and a third defendant, who had not even heard of either Ettor or Giovannitti at the time of his arrest, were held in jail for the duration of the strike and several months thereafter. The authorities declared martial law, banned all public meetings and called out twenty-two more militia companies to patrol the streets.

The IWW responded by sending William Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and a number of other organizers to Lawrence. The union established an efficient system of relief committees, soup kitchens, and food distribution stations, while volunteer doctors provided medical care. The IWW raised funds on a nation-wide basis to provide weekly benefits for strikers and dramatized the strikers' needs by arranging for several hundred children to go to supporters' homes in New York City for the duration of the strike. When city authorities tried to prevent another hundred children from going to Philadelphia on February 24 by sending police and the militia to the station to detain the children and arrest their parents, the police began clubbing both the children and their mothers while dragging them off to be taken away by truck; one pregnant mother miscarried. The press, there to photograph the event, reported extensively on the attack. William Haywood may refer to: William D. Big Bill Haywood, union leader William Henry Haywood, Jr. ... Midtown Manhattan, looking north from the Empire State Building, 2005 New York City (officially named the City of New York) is the most populous city in the United States, and is at the center of international finance, politics, communications, music, fashion, and culture. ... Philadelphia is a village located in Jefferson County, New York. ... February 24 is the 55th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. ...

The public assault on the children and their mothers sparked a national outrage. Congress convened investigative hearings, eliciting testimony from teenaged workers who described how they had to pay for their drinking water and to do unpaid work on Saturdays. The wife of President Taft attended the hearings; Taft later ordered a nationwide investigation of factory conditions. The Congress of the United States is the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States of America. ... Order: 27th President Vice President: James S. Sherman Term of office: March 4, 1909 – March 4, 1913 Preceded by: Theodore Roosevelt Succeeded by: Woodrow Wilson Date of birth: September 15, 1857 Place of birth: Cincinnati, Ohio Date of death: March 8, 1930 Place of death: Washington D.C. First Lady...

The national attention had an effect: the owners offered a five percent pay raise on March 1; the workers rejected it. American Woolen Company agreed to all the strikers' demands on March 12, 1912. The rest of the manufacturers followed by the end of the month; other textile companies throughout New England, anxious to avoid a similar confrontation, followed suit. The children who had been taken in by supporters in New York City came home on March 30. March 1 is the 60th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (61st in leap years). ... March 12 is the 71st day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (72nd in Leap years). ... Modern New England, the six northeastern-most states of the United States, indicated by red The New England region of the United States is located in the northeastern corner of the country. ... March 30 is the 89th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (90th in Leap years). ...

The aftermath

Ettor and Giovannitti remained in prison even after the strike ended. Haywood threatened a general strike to demand their freedom, with the cry "Open the jail gates or we will close the mill gates". The IWW raised $60,000 for their defense and held demonstrations and mass meetings throughout the country in their support; the authorities in Boston, Massachusetts arrested all of the members of the Ettor-Giovannitti Defense Committee. Fifteen thousand Lawrence workers went on strike for one day on September 30 to demand that Ettor and Giovannitti be released. Swedish and French workers proposed a boycott of woolen goods from the United States and a refusal to load ships going to the U.S.; Italian supporters of Giovannitti rallied in front of the United States consulate in Rome. Nickname: Beantown, The Hub (of the Universe), Athens of America Location in Massachusetts Founded  -Incorporated September 17, 1630  1820, as a city County Suffolk County Mayor Thomas Menino (Dem) Area  - Total  - Water 232. ... September 30 is the 273rd day of the year (274th in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar, with 92 days remaining, as the final day of September. ... City motto: Senatus Populusque Romanus – SPQR (The Senate and the People of Rome) Founded 21 April 753 BC mythical, 1st millennium BC Region Latium Mayor Walter Veltroni (Democratici di Sinistra) Area  - City Proper  1290 km² Population  - City (2004)  - Metropolitan  - Density (city proper) 2,546,807 almost 4,000,000 1...

In the meantime, Ernest Pitman, a Lawrence building contractor who had done extensive work for the American Woolen Company, confessed to a district attorney that he had attended a meeting in the Boston offices of Lawrence textile companies where the plan to frame the union by planting dynamite had been made. Pitman committed suicide shortly thereafter when subpoenaed to testify. Wood, the owner of the American Woolen Company, was formally exonerated.

When the trial of Ettor, Giovannitti, and a co-defendant accused of firing the shot that killed the picketer began in Salem, Massachusetts, in September, the three defendants were kept in metal cages in the courtroom. Witnesses testified without contradiction that Ettor and Giovannitti were miles away while Caruso, the third defendant, was at home eating supper at the time of the killing.

Ettor and Giovannitti both delivered closing statements at the end of the two-month trial. Joe Ettor stated:

Does the District Attorney believe . . . that the gallows or guillotine ever settled an idea? If an idea can live, it lives because history adjudges it right. I ask only for justice. . . . The scaffold has never yet and never will destroy an idea or a movement. . . . An idea consisting of a social crime in one age becomes the very religion of humanity in the next. . . . Whatever my social views are, they are what they are. They cannot be tried in this courtroom.

All three defendants were acquitted on November 26, 1912. November 26 is the 330th day (331st on leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ...

The strikers, however, lost nearly all of the gains they had won in the next few years. The IWW disdained written contracts, holding that such contracts encouraged workers to abandon the daily class struggle. In fact, however, the mill owners had more stamina for that fight and slowly chiseled away at the improvements in wages and working conditions, while firing union activists and installing labor spies to keep an eye on workers. A depression in the industry, followed by another speedup, led to further layoffs. The IWW had, by that time, turned its attention to supporting the silk industry workers in Paterson, New Jersey, whose strike ended in defeat. The skyline of Paterson, New Jersey, showing the canyon of the Passaic River in the foreground. ...

See also

Bread and Roses The slogan Bread and Roses originated in the strike of women textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. ...

External link

Wikimedia Commons has more media related to:
Lawrence textile strike

  Results from FactBites:
Open Collections Program: Women Working (578 words)
In 1912, the city’s population was nearly 86,000--60,000 of whom depended directly upon the payrolls of the textile mills.
In 1911, the year before the strike, Massachusetts had passed a new law that was to take effect on January 1, 1912, that mandated the reduction of the maximum weekly work hours for women and children under eighteen from fifty-six to fifty-four hours.
The Lawrence strike began with a walkout by workers on January 11, 1912.
Bread and Roses: The 1912 Lawrence textile Strike - By Joyce Kornbluh (3869 words)
Lawrence citizens were encouraged by the town leaders to wear little American flags in their button holes as proof of their patriotic opposition to the I.W.W. The trial of Ettor, Giovannitti, and Caruso began in Salem, Massachusetts, at the end of September; it lasted for two months.
But the immediate effect of the Lawrence strike was to hearten textile workers in other Eastern areas and to prepare for the next large strike drama in the silk mills of Paterson within the year.
The strike also made a profound impression on the public and the rest of the labor movement by dramatizing the living and working conditions of unorganized, foreign-born workers in crowded industrial areas, and communicating the spirit of their rebellion.
  More results at FactBites »



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