The Lawrence Strike of 1912

When the opportunity was presented, although in the depth of the coldest winter for years, and without funds, the leaders did not shrink from the responsibility of carrying on a strike under such adverse conditions. It was a hard time for the workers to be without work and wages. It was likewise a difficult time for the mill managers. If their samples were not ready for the usual openings, only a few months distant, much business would surely be lost for the year; and perhaps, if this business were once diverted, it might be permanently gone. Then, t00, improvement in business was just noticeable, and inactivity t such a time, after a long period of curtailment, was most unwelcome and costly.


The aim of the Industrial Workers of the World is to unite the workers of the nation into an industrial union - a union by which they will be able to cease working simultaneously in one, several, or all industries. Originating some sixteen years ago in France, it has been transplanted in this country, where until last January its chief activities were in the West. It has practically no financial resources: its policy being to have no funds in the treasury for the employers to dissipate. It demands abolition of the wage system and the elimination of all capitalists. Craft lines are broken down and an industrial union is organized, which cares nothing about the recognition of the union, for which trade unionists have waged some of the fiercest struggles. It refuses to enter into time contracts with employers, and reserves the right to strike at any moment for any cause. Industrial Workers have as their motto not "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work," but "abolition of the wage system." Solidarity is emphasized. As a result of their philosophy, the unskilled and not the skilled man, as in the trade union, dominates the situation. This movement is destined to make an impression in this country, especially in the industries where the unskilled, untutored immigrant from southeastern Europe holds the field. Fraught with great significance for our industrial life, it menaces not only the industries of •the country, but the regular recognized trade unions, which will experience trouble along with the industrial managers in combating the novel and effective attack of these new radicals. They declare themselves Socialists, yet protest against those who favor the parliamentary method of bringing about the peaceful revolution advocated by adherents df the red flag. They are extremists, wh0, chafing under legal processes, regard them as ineffective. They are in a hurry and demand direct and immediate action, holding that labor is now equipped to take over the management of our industrial system.


The notorious William D. Haywood, the protagonist of the Industrial Workers of the World, in outlining the work set for him to do, said in a New York speech, "I am going to put the workers of this country into such a tremendous organization, a union with such enormous strength and power, that we shall be able to abolish the wage system and starve out those hell hounds of capitalists."

To bring about this result, various methods, from passive resistance to extreme violence or insurrection, are permitted and approved, the degree of violence or insurrection depending upon the counter-resistance or aggression of the enemy, the strength of the direct action organization, and other contributory causes.

Haywood stands for violence as a weapon of the working classes, and urges upon Socialists the open declaration of an intention to organize for armed warfare. He despises the law, and believes in "coercion played on so large a scale as to be irresistible instead of sporadic as it is now."

The organization fights not only the capitalists and regular trade unionists, but Socialists who advocate the accomplishnent of their purpose through the ballot. The slower way is unacceptable to them, because "the militant minority of the outlawed slaves will raise more hell with the capitalist enemy in one year, by the advocacy and use of all these means and methods forbidden by the intellectuals, than would the latter in a thousand years, with their monstrous jargon of peace and legality."

James Duncan, vice-president of the American Federation of Labor, declares that their program necessarily entails revolution as typified by the general strike arid their country-wide class war. "They make no pretence to preserve industrial peace. Nor is the establishment of an honorable peace ever dreamt of by them. When a dispute arises, pronunciamento after pronunciamento is issued to create greater discord. The irritation strike, the passive strike, and every variety of sabotage indifferent work, reversing cards on cars, putting packages in wrong cars - are advocated and approved. Violence is deified and is ethically justified."


Holding such views and engaged in such a propaganda, it is not surprising that the leaders, after many bitter struggles in the West, should have planned to organize the illiterate imigrants in the textile industries, and to inculcate their principles amongst them ....

After the preliminary agitation by Ettor, leaders both men and women -of all grades of importance and of variegated reputations, rushed to Lawrence to assist in arousing and inciting the masses then on the streets. The strike had not progressed many days before it became evident that it was being directed by men wh0, inflaming the workers at the constantly recurring day and night mass meetings, were pursuing tactics unusual in industrial struggles in this Commonwealth.

Haywood, soon called to the scene of conflict, immediately began an assault upon all in authority, speaking with great frankness and bitterness at many places. Addressing the Poles, he cited them as toilers who would inherit the earth and some day be above the kings, the czars, and the bosses of the land. The Industrial Workers of the World, he predicted, would sweep everything before them, till they should cover the country and the whole world. "For a starter, the mill owners in Lawrence will have to give in." In a speech at Lynn he said:

"The wonder to me is that the Lawrence strikers have not gone into the mills and destroyed the machinery and burned up the mills. I contend that the strikers have built the mills and that they have a perfect right to destroy what they have built up." And standing in Faneuil Hall he defiantly proclaimed that it was time for the government of Massachusetts to be overthrown.


On the afternoon of January 12, just after the flaming forth of the protest, President William M. Wood of the American Woolen Company issued a statement in which he expressed the belief that "as soon as the employees understand the real issue, and where the responsibility rests (he having placed it on the labor leaders), they will see that their action was hasty and ill-advised." "There is no cause for striking," he continued, "and when the employees find that justice is not on their side, the strike cannot possibly be long-lived. I look for an early resumption of work." This proved to be a baseless hope, and indicates that President Wood failed to realize the resources and the mettle of the band pitted against him. A few days later he declined a suggestion made by the Lawrence City Council that he confer with a committee of strikers to arrange for arbitration, taking the position that "there is nothing to discuss, much less arbitrate. There is no strike -only prevalence of mob rule."

Governor Foss soon sent his private secretary to Lawrence to investigate and report. Meeting Ettor and suggesting a settlement through the State Board of Conciliation and Arbitration, he was informed by that leader, true to the principles of his organization, that while they were quite willing to acquaint the Board with the facts, the strikers were not looking for arbitration.

Undismayed by President Wood's declination of the City Council's invitation, the members of the City Government held a meeting in the City Hall on Sunday, January 20, at which the loom fixers, mule spinners, wool sorters, and the strikers, by their leader, Ettor, were represented. The meeting was called after the officials had interviewed the Boston mill executives, to learn whether committees from the different mills could be selected to meet the mill agents to discuss the strikers' demands, namely, 15 per cent increase of wages on a 54-hour basis, abolition of the premium system, double pay for overtime, and no discrimination against strikers, to which after the arrest of Ettor and Giovannitti was added a demand for their release.

At this meeting the skilled crafts stated that they had no grievances to justify their striking, but that they had been forced out of work. The Strike Committee opposed the request, and that negative recommendation was approved by the general meeting, the strikers demanding that all the mill agents meet the delegation of the whole body, "the controversy not being confined to any one mill, but being universal."


In addition to the formulated grievances, it was asserted by the strikers that the machinery was speeded up; that as a consequence, the output was as much under the 54-hour as under the 56-hour schedule, and that their wages were reduced to increase the profits of the bosses. It was also asserted that because of the increased speed the earnings of the weavers, who had to work much faster and could not turn out as good cloth, were materially reduced by a system of fines imposed for imperfect work; and that higher wages were paid to native than to foreign help for the same kind of work.

To support this allegation of "speeding up," a witness before the House Committee on Rules testified that the speed of the machines, which he asserted was increased by the loom fixers "in order not to lose any premium during the two hours," caused so much damaged cloth that the weavers paid fines of $1.50 and $2.50 when certain grades were damaged, their earnings being greatly reduced in this indirect way. These charges not only were not supported, but they were denied by the supervising engineer of the American Woolen Company, who testified that the speed of the machinery was established when it was installed, and that no change was made immediately before or since the first of January. The speed of the machinery in the whole mill can be increased only in the engine room, the operative having no control over the speeding, or the movement of the bobbin in the loom. Were such a change made at the machine, it would have to be done by a difference in the size of the pulleys. After he had heard this testimony, the original witness varied his story and testified that since January 1 the "belts that run the wheels of the machinery in every room were speeded up by putting some kind of soap on it, and it was running with a much faster speed than it used to be; in fact, we could not attend to the work."

The charge that fines were levied for inferior work in violation of the Massachusetts statute was also denied, the cashier of the Washington Mill testifying that no fines are levied, and that while cloths are graded, the same rate of pay is given for all grades. This testimony was substantiated by the cashier of the Wood Mill, who declared that there are

no deductions for grading, and that the weaver gets the full rate, which is based upon the number of picks per yard, without reduction.

Nor was there better basis for the charge that the weaver's premium was harder to earn with the reduced hours of labor, since the amount of output which entitled a weaver to the premium had been reduced in exactly the proportion of 56 to 54, so that the weaver would have the same chance under the new time schedule to earn the premium without increased effort.


In all countries wherein the textile industry is prominent, it is one in which the family.- husband, wife, and children, -are engaged in earning wages, rather than the head of the family alone. Experience shows that in such industries the earnings of the entire family are no higher than those of the family head in industries where only men are employed.

At the Ayer mill, which may be considered typical of the American Woolen Company's four plants, only two rates on the 54-hour basis were less than five dollars per week $4.52 and $4.92. Practically 7 per cent of the employees, chiefly bobbin and shop boys, received these wages. For the week ending January 6, 1912, when the mill ran full time, the average pay, including wages of engineers, bookkeepers, the mechanical department and the office force of 75 or 100, was $9.02. At the Arlington Mills none received less than five dollars a week, and at the Pacific only eighteen out of 5,200 employees got less than five dollars, four of these being learners and the others chiefly old men unable to do men's work.

Figures published by President Wood showed that in 1911, on full time schedule of 56 hours, the average wage for yarn manufacture was $7.48, arid the lowest wage in that department $5.10, paid to minors or unskilled adults. For dressing, weaving, mending, dyeing, and picking, the usual range was from $7.91 to $12, the most highly-paid weavers earning from $18.35 to $21.36; and the dressers from $15.66 to $21.44. But average wage statements, which usually combine the skilled and unskilled, men and women, young and old, must be accepted with great caution, because to generalize from such figures will lead to erroneous conclusions. The average wage of $9.02 does not help the large number who get a smaller amount Nor can the pay envelopes showing small sums be accepted as conclusive evidence that the average wage was only six dollars a week, for it is not shown what work was performed, or that the holder of such an envelope worked a full week. Lipson, the weaver who testified before the House Committee on Rules, and who presumably was the best witness that could be produced, became so contradictory in his statements, which in turn were refuted by the Company's records, that he retired discredited and unworthy of belief. His average wage, he asserted, "is from nine to ten dollars a week," whereas the records of the Wood Worsted Mill showed that for the week after the 54-hour law took effect, he earned $14.38, and that from November 9, 1910, to January 10, 1912, inclusive, working five per cent less than the normal working time, or slightly less than 53 hours per week, his average earnings were $11.52. They also showed that thirteen out of a possible fifteen premiums had been paid him, and yet he had the hardihood again to take the stand and say, "It is not true," stoutly insisting that his average wage was, perhaps, "a few cents less than nine dollars."

It is a fact, as has been said by one long familiar with the textile centers of the country, that "the entire textile life of the United States has always depended upon the low paid help, made up largely of immigrants who have begun their lives in the mills of the country, partly because they were acquainted with that sort of employment and partly because they were incompetent to take up any other line of work."

As immigrants of different nationalities have successively come to the country and attained new and higher standards of living, they have in turn been assailed and displaced by a new alien race, which has brought with it a lower standard, and so the battle of the standards has continued, the mills constantly reaching down to the lower strata of society and lifting them higher.

These textile wages are based upon the full running time, and no allowance is made in the calculation for curtailment and unemployment, which were much in evidence during the preceding two years, and which greatly reduced the earnings of the operatives. Unemployment, due to illness and other causes, is a constant factor in industry, even in prosperous years. In the worsted industry it has been placed at 5 per cent, reducing by that amount the possible yearly earnings.

But low as the earnings of the unskilled operatives were, they have been able to get ahead in life's battle. This fact is shown by the $21,000,000 deposits in the savings banks of Lawrence, and the money sent each year to foreign countries, the postal money orders issued yearly from 1907 to 1911, inclusive, averaging $125,406; but above all, by the real estate assessed to owners of the several nationalities. These are -Armenians, $17,000; Syrians, $222,800; Poles, $201,000; Italians, $801,000; French, $1,288,000; Irish, $10,262,500.


Much emphasis has been placed by those opposed to protection upon the low wages alleged to be paid in the wool manufacture in this country, and it is often accepted that the sole beneficiaries of Schedule K are the manufacturers, who have not shared its benefits with the workers. Whether or not the wages paid are as high as the industry can afford, I do not say; bu if the figures of the Tariff Board are to be accepted, then the wages paid in Lawrence are higher than those paid for similar service in either Providence or Philadelphia, two other important centers of the worsted industry; and for all classes of help in the mills, the wages paid in the United States are from 43.3 per cent to 184 per cent higher than those paid in Great Britain. The tables collated by the Tariff Board show in the departments requiring relatively unskilled workers that their earnings are greater than those received by many skilled workers in Great Britain, which country's wages are, in turn, higher than those paid on the Continent.

Up to January 23 the mill executives, except Mr. Wood, made no public statements. On that date, however, the agent of the Arlington Mills issued a notice in which the management, after deploring the unfortunate conditions existing in Lawrence, and expressing a belief that alleged grievances could have been adjusted by a conference with the agent, offered, if a settlement could not be reached owing to conditions, to submit all questions at issue to the State Board of Conciliation and Arbitration. From the start, Ettor opposed conferences by committees from single mills with the agent, fearing an agreement might be reached in some mills and not in others, and a break be caused in the strikers' ranks. When this offer was announced, therefore, he urged his followers not to consider it, declaring in a speech to the English-speaking employees "We have the operators licked. They now realize it and offer to arbitrate, but we will refuse to arbitrate or compromise. We have made our demands and will not submit to any conciliation."

The State Board again appeared on the scene the next day, when one of its members assured Colonel Sweetser, in command of the militia, and Mayor Scanlon that the mill managers would attend a conference that night, January 24, with the Strike Committee. When this committee appeared at the appointed time and place, they found some of the mills unrepresented, Mayor Scanlon stating afterward that as late as 5.45 o'clock a representative of the State Board "was working the telephone trying to notify certain mill men of the meeting." Those who received no notice did not appear, but in the words of the Mayor, "How could they when they were not notified?" An attempt to do business was made, but the Strike Committee, adhering to their decision to engage in no conference unless all the mills were represented, refused to take part in any discussion, and withdrew in worse temper than when they entered the conference room.


The next day Governor Foss sent to the Legislature a special message in which he said, "The importance of some immediate action on the part of the Legislature is manifest by the failure of the representatives of the manufacturers to join last night in conference, after an understanding to do so had been reached." "One purpose of the investigation," he wrote, "should be to determine how far the advantages conferred by the national law upon the beneficiaries have been and are to-day shared with the laborers, who are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries." He recommended immediate action to provide for a full investigation by a special legislative committee, or a commission to be appointed by the Governor, of the cause of the strike, with full power to summons persons with books and papers, and to ascertain all the facts bearing on the strike.

On January 25 Ettor and a committee met, in the Boston office, President Wood and officials of the American Woolen Company, but they returned to Lawrence in fighting spirit, announcing that it would be "a fight to a finish, that there would be no more parleying -all peace negotiations are off -no armistice -no truce." Steps were immediately taken to put this threat into effect, a telegram being sent to President Heberling of the Switchmen's Union of North America, at Buffalo, to have members refuse to handle Lawrence freight, except food for strikers, and to workmen in the New York lotlung trade to show their spirit of solidarity by refusing to handle any goods made by the corporations affected. An effort was also made to organize and call out the firemen employed at the electric lighting plant and put the city in darkness.


During these early weeks of the strike, the city officials, only recently installed in office under the new charter, and unfamiliar with the duties of their respective positions, lacked firmness in handling so delicate a situation. Liberty soon became license, and as disorders multiplied, passions grew, placing in jeopardy the lives of citizens and the prop erty of the mills. All the while Ettor was diligently making fiery speeches, which worked his hearers up to a high pitch of excitement and fury, at one time declaring, "We will turn this town upside down before we get through;" at another, " We will win this strike even if they erect scaffolds on the streets;" and at another, "Remember from now on, sleep during the day and keep awake during the night. You know what that means. I plead with every man and woman not to forget there is such a thing as emery dust. If they drive you back to work, God pity the looms, yarn, hnd cloth. You will not hesitate to get some satisfaction out of the machinery."

As the days passed and there were accessions to the working forces, the feeling became more tense. At one of the Sunday meetings on January 28 an English member of the Strike Committee expressed the conclusion reached by his colleagues, that "There is not going to be any more scabbing after to-morrow. We will fill Essex street and Broadway full of strikers, and the scabs will not be able to get to the mills. Show Wood you mean business." A parade was announced for six o'clock the next morning, and for an hour before the time crowds gathered until the streets leading to the mills were filled and access to the mills prevented. Shortly after five o'clock, when it was still dark, an attack was made upon the street cars, during which the trolleys were pulled off the feed wire, the windows smashed with chunks of ice, the motormen and conductors driven off, and the passengers, in some cases, not allowed to leave the cars, and in others pulled from the cars and thrown into the streets. Several hours later a great Qrowd went to the house of the French priest, who some days previous had advised his people to go to work, called him vile names, and threatened to pull down his church and house. Singing revolutionary hymns in various languages, they "rushed" the International Paper Company's mill, in no way connected with the textile plants, and the small Plymouth Mill of the Fibre Matting Company.


In the afternoon a crowd gathered in the heart of the Italian and Polish district, and when shots were fired the police were summoned. Upon their arrival an effort was made to disperse the crowd, during which a woman striker was shot and, it was charged, killed by officer Benoit, and witnesses were produced who swore they saw him do the shooting. As the revolver carried by the officer was a No. 32 caliber and undischarged, and the bullet which killed the girl was fired from a No. 38 caliber, it is quite clear some person other than the officer fired the fatal shot. One theory is that the bullet was intended for the officer; another, that the woman was shot because she had deserted and returned to work. The situation was so critical that a regiment of troops were ordered to reach Lawrence that night to reinforce the nine companies then on duty. Mass meetings were forbidden, for rioting and anarchy, in which the Italians, Syrians, and Lithuanians took the lead, had to be met.

During the strike the militia, called upon to do a most disagreeable duty, had to perform it under most trying conditions. Denounced as "uniformed drunkards" and as "reptiles with bayonets," who were "instrumental in preventing the constitutional rights of free speech, free assemblage, and holding citizens in a state of terror," (No law abiding citizen has reason to fear or resent the presence of the militia.) they maintained order during those weeks when the feeling was extremely tense, without firing a shot. Had they been withdrawn early in the struggle, riots dangerous not only to mill property but to the city generally, would surely have resulted. Their conduct during this service was creditable alike to the officers, the men, and the Commonwealth.