The Lawrence Strike of 1912


That night Governor Foss issued an open letter, in which he asked all operatives to resume their places for thirty days, "pending an effort which I shall make to get differences adjusted; and in view of the fact that no notice was given to the mill operatives of a proposed reduction in wages when change of hours went into effect, I request mill operators to give 56 hours' pay for 54 hours' time during that period without discrimination." He believed the differences, if carefully discussed, could be easily adjusted, and he promised to use his best efforts to bring all questions in dispute to a settlement satisfactory to all parties. This letter, which seems not to have been sent to the mill managers or the Strike Committee, was regarded as not official by the latter, who announced that the Governor had no authority to name such conditions, and were they to take favorable action on the proposal, without official invitation or assurance that the mill owners agreed to it, they would break the back-bone of the strike.

Ettor and his assistant, Giovannitt1, were arrested on January 30, charged with being accessories to the murder of the woman killed the preceding afternoon, Ettor being temporarily succeeded by William Yates, of New Bedford, and later by the notorious William D. Haywood. After a lengthy preliminary hearing, they were held without bail for the action of the grand jury, there being no precedent, the justice ruling, for admitting to bail persons charged with so serious a crime. To many this arrest seemed to be an attempt to defeat the strike by depriving the strikers of a capable leader, and it was denounced as "an infernal outrage" by the Strike Committee, by all Socialists, and many others as another instance of the coUrts helping to crush labor. Habeas corpus proceedings were begun in the Supreme Court, but the petition was dismissed without prejudice because it belonged in another court. Whether the police judge was biased or not, I do not say, but as the Grand Jury sitting in Newburyport passed upon the indictments three months after the occurrence and found true bills, at least a prima facie case was made out. (All delays in bringing the cases to trial have been caused by the attorneys for the defendants, the Commonwealth being ready on at least two different occasions.)

To Ettor his arrest could not have caused much surprise, for as early as January 22, in announcing Haywood's coming "in a couple of days," he said, "I had previously made arrangements that in case I was 'jugged,' he would come to take my place." He was so adroit in speech that generally, without uttering words for which he could be arrested, he produced the effect desired without overstepping the limit of free speech. The meaning conveyed to his hearers was that there must be violence to win the fight, and there was violence that 29th day of January.


After the Committee on Rules had unanimously reported on January 29 against an investigation "at present," the effort to get legislative action resulted in the appointment of a Conciliation Committee of three senators and five representatives whose mission it was to bring about an amicable adjustment of the controversy. The expense of keeping the militia was causing concern amongst the law makers, alarmed at the rapidly accumulating bills for which the State was responsible. This committee, though named as a conciliatory body, soon pressed the manufacturers hard to agree to meet the General Strike Committee to discuss terms of settlement, the Legislative Committee, according to Representative Sanborn, "being agreed that if mill owners repulsed them, they would notify the mill owners that the committee would stand solidly for a far-reaching investigation."

The mill managers deeming it inexpedient to begin negotiations with so unwieldy a committee as one numbering forty-eight, with many of whom no single employer had any relations, and disinclined to deal with men holding avowed anarchistic principles, were threatened by the Conciliation Committee that if they persisted in their position, the order for a drastic investigation, which they were presumed to dread, would be taken from the Speaker's table and passed. It is difficult to decide which side was wholly right, each having something in its favor. On the one hand, the State was put to great expense because of no fault on its part, and it seemed right that every expedient should be tried to end the unhappy condition in Lawrence. On the other, it was the duty of the State to protect the property of citizens and them in their right to work unmolested and unintimidated. The feeling which the managers had against those leaders gathered from different sections of the country and more concerned for the overthrow of the wage system than the immediate interests of the operatives can be easily understood, and their disinclination to deal with them or their followers, appreciated.


This committee had difficulty not only with the mill executives, but with the two labor bodies, each of which represented a certain percentage of strikers. A sub-committee tried to persuade officials of the Central Labor Union (affiliated with the American Federation of Labor) and the leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World to select representatives to confer with the mill treasurers in an effort to bring about an amicable adjustment. The difficulty of their undertaking soon became apparent, when they were told by Haywood and Yates that if the conference was held, the Industrial Workers of the World alone should represent the strikers, they standing for the real strikers, and the American Federation of Labor for the skilled crafts forced out by the strike, and it was increased when the Secretary of the Central Labor Union told them that the "skilled help would not go back just because the Industrial Workers of the World called it off."


After a month's struggle, the two forces were deadlocked over the way to hold conferences and with seemingly slight prospect of finding one. About this time, however, signs of disagreement amongst the four hundred English and French Canadian loom fixers, who on January 20 had voted to request their members "to come out until matters have quieted down and their grievances had received consideration," became noticeable when some began to negotiate with individual mills about terms. On February 10 that organization sanctioned the return of the men working in the Arlington Mills, they having expressed a desire so to d0, and the same privilege was granted to those employed in other mills if satisfactory arrangements were made with the managers. In pursuance of this permission, those employed at the Pacific Mills voted to return to work February 12, and the Kunhardt mill men, after a conference, returned to their places February 28; but fifty-four of those employed by the American Woolen Company voted on March 1 against returning. (The loom fixers, receiving wages varying from $13.45 to $17.25 were a local of a small so-called national association, which in May, 1911, had voted that should the pending 54-hour bill become a law there should be no reduction of wages.)

This action of the loom fixers was denounced by the Franco-Belgians, and by many loom fixers themselves, and John Golden, President of the United Textile Workers, announced that the loom fixers acted without the sanction or endorsement of either the American Federation of Labor or the United Textile Workers of America.

Early in February the United Textile Workers, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, decided to enter the field for organization purposes, and to represent the English speaking skilled workers, who while standing for an increase of wages, were not in sympathy with the leaders of the strike or the policy of the Industrial Workers of the World. This appearance of the trade unionists was resented by the Industrial Workers of the World, wh0, regarding them as interlopers, denounced President John Golden as a strike breaker, "as a party to the outrages perpetrated against the peaceful women and children in this community, and as a bitter enemy who used his efforts to prevent a peaceful settlement of this strike."


When the strike broke out the principal organized crafts were the wool sorters, the loom fixers, and the mule spinners, the first two being independent and the latter "a hundred per cent organization," the only one affiliated with the United Textile Workers of America. This weakness was not due entirely, as has been alleged, to lack of effort on the part of the United Textile Workers to start and sustain organizations in Lawrence, for within the past fifteen years at least ten unions were organized in the city, the only survivors being the mule spinners and the two local unions which had seceded from their national organization. Rather, the weakness was due to many causes. Organizations which had been formed were weakened by dissensions in some instances until schisms occurred. In most cases they succumbed because of the quiet or open opposition of foremen and overseers - subordinates in the mills. While the mill owners are not accused of causing this opposition, they gave the unions no encouragement, simply being indifferent to their success or failure. Then, t00, there was racial antagonism along with a disinclination to pay the dues required, to which the foreign element had not been educated, and the advantage of which was not easily seen in times of peace. In the face of these hindrances the task of developing an effective and stable organization with fifteen thousand non-industrial people swooping down on Lawrence between 1905 and 1910 was well-nigh impossible.

Had there been a strong textile council in Lawrence, recognized if not encouraged by the manufacturers, the strike could not have taken place in the manner in which it flamed forth. Before the new schedules took effect conferences would have been held; and had no understanding been reached the strike must have been sanctioned by a vote of the council and approved by the national officers before it could have been legally called.

For this lack of organization part of the responsibility must perhaps be borne by the United Textile Workers, who may not have exerted themselves to the fullest extent to organize all the textile workers into affiliated unions; and partly by the manufacturers, who did not encourage, or by their subordinates opposed, the organization of regular trade unions, one of the organized conservative forces in the country at the present time.


Notwithstanding former opposition and earlier failures, the opportunity to reestablish itself, which the situation presented, was not to be lost by the United Textile Workers, and though their motive was questioned meetings were called prior to the action of the loom fixers, by the Lawrence Central Union to consider plans to organize and "to bring order out of chaos." The chairman of these meetings made it plain that they were neither asking any one to join an organization then nor antagonizing the Industrial Workers of the World with respect to the strike. Deploring the lack of organization among the operatives he declared their desire was "to bring about a settlement of the strike with benefit to the operatives." At a time when the tide was running strongly with the organization whose leaders were in command of the strikers, it was next to impossible to make much progress, especially among the foreign element, whose allegiance to the revolutionary body was hard to shake. But knowing well that the strength of that organization rises to its greatest height during the strike, and subsides after its close, the United Textile Workers persevered, until seven unions affiliated with them were organized on a solid basis and a textile council instituted.

After hearing the grievances of the several crafts, their chief demands, which were for a 15 per cent increase of wages, abolition of the premium system, and no overtime (details varying with the mills), were formulated, and on February 12 letters were sent, through the officers of the Central Labor Union, to the agents of the various mills asking for conferences to discuss them. This was the course favored by the mill treasurers and opposed vigorously by the Strike Committee.

But these proceedings were retarded by the excitement caused by the detention of the children scheduled to be sent to Philadelphia on February 24. While the strike from its inception had attracted wide attention for many social and political reasons, nothing done by the authorities caused more general excitement than this action.


The sending away of children was a new departure in this country, it being a practice followed by continental syndicalists. It was justified by the strikers as a relief measure which would enable them longer to continue the contest, because relieved of the burden of feeding and caring for their little ones, whose sufferings in such struggles is the cause which often compels a return to work. While that was the ostensible reason, there were others which did not involve solely the creature comforts of the children. The persons who arranged for these parties were not in Lawrence or in the State, the active agents being the women Socialist clubs in New York, Philadelphia, and other cities. At a meeting of the Strike Committee OD February 5, Chairman William Yates announced that arrangements had been made to send a large number of children to New York "to arouse sympathy and enlist support by parading in the streets of that city." Several days later it was also announced that "in the hope of securing a large number of children of the strikers for the purpose of holding a big demonstration in New York," three members of the New York Women's Socialist Club would reach Lawrence the next day. One hundred children had been secured, but "the leaders want at least three hundred." At a subsequent meeting it was announced that upon the delivery of sixty children at West Hoboken, a check for $1000 would be sent to the Committee. Haywood felt that by teaching the children the A, B, C of socialism, their cause would be helped, and Meyer London, Esq., of New York, declared at a meeting in Fanenil Hall, that " every child will carry a flood of protest and discontent throughout the land."

These statements alone are sufficient to disclose the ulterior motive concealed in this move apparently intended to promote the safety and comfort of the children ; but the manner of conducting them to their temporary homes, in the coldest weather of a bitterly cold month, confirms that impression. The party previously sent to New York, numbering two hundred and ranging in age from four to fourteen years, attracted the attention and aroused the indignation of men and women truly solicitous for their real welfare. Wearing thin apparel and marshaled by well fed, well clothed Socialists, they marched across Boston and travelled for twelve hours at a time when the temperature was so low as to disorganize railroad service. Reching New York after nightfall,, they were greeted by throngs of strangers shouting revolutionary battle cries, and carried to a hail, where they were fed, displayed, and parcelled amongst their stranger hosts. Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly, whose sympathy for the wage earner is unquestioned, in protesting against this exhibition, wrote

"Under existing law a child cannot beg or sing in the streets. Why should scores of children be taken from school and carried from State to State to chant revolutionary songs and plead for funds on the claim that such a course is a demonstration of conditions? In this instance the plea of poverty in the homes of the strikers goes by default. The $500 expended to carry the children to New York would have provided them with food at home for a considerable period."

It was asserted by several engaged in relief work in Lawrence that the children were sent away to be exploited by moving picture firms, a percentage of the receipts to go to the strike fund. The secretary of the Boston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said there was no justification for breaking up families and taking young children many miles from their mothers, and the superintendent of the Lawrence schools said, " The children told their teachers that if they did not go to New York, their parents could not obtain anymore relief." John Golden, President of the United Textile Workers, in the name of organized labor disapproved "this inhuman act," being firmly convinced "it was a diabolical scheme on the part of the officers of the Industrial Workers of the World to raise funds for the further propagation of their unholy war of class hatred and social revolution.''

Some of the children sent to New York went without their parents' consent, and the parents of others, whose consent had been given, repented and later wished their children returned. Protests were sent the Boston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and to others in authority, against permitting the sending away of other parties. Some of the complaints were based upon the lack of care shown several sent to New York, two of whom were detained as lost children.


To prevent such occurrences in the future Colonel Sweetser notified Chairman Yates of the Strike Committee under date of February 17, that he "would not permit the sending off of little children away from their parents unless he was satisfied it was done with the consent of the parents," and Assistant City Marshal John J. Sullivan announced through the newspapers that no more children would be allowed to leave Lawrence until the police were satisfied that they were going with the knowledge and consent of their parents; that he would ask the parents if they knew where these children were going, whether they would be properly cared for, and whether proper provision had been made for their return. That was regarded by the Strike Committee and the leaders as a challenge, and notice was served through the papers th!tt notwithstanding the marshal's attitude the children were going regardless of the parents or anybody, and no information would be given to an person. On the morning in question the marshal went to the railroad station and assured the women that if they were sending their children away because they needed assistance and feared they could not get it, they were mistaken; that the City and State were willing and ready to care for the children and furnish all food, medicine, and clothing needed. All willing to accept his invitation were asked to go to the City Hall where they would be taken care of. After all but some twenty had withdrawn from the room he asked if those remaining were the parents or guardians of the children, and whether they had the right to take the children out of Lawrence. He wished to be informed whether these adults with the children knew where they were going and what provision had been made for the children's safe return. No word in response to this request was spoken by any one, and within a few minutes the attempt was made to put the children on board the car. This was prevented by the police, and the party, after resistance, was taken to the police station in an auto truck.


This action was denounced as unwarranted interference with the constitutional rights of parents and as an interference with interstate commerce. The Attorney General of Massachusetts was directed by Governor Foss to investigate and report upon the legality of this action; another inquiry was undertaken by United States District Attorney French acting on orders from the Attorney General of the United States, and the United States Senate ordered an investigation of the condition of the mill workers to be made by the Department of Labor under the direction of Commissioner Neill. The occurrence was threshed out at the hearing before the House Committee on Rules, where some witnesses testified that they saw the police take little children, pick them up by the leg, and "throw them in the patrol wagon like old rags," choke a mother into insensibility, and "beat women across their breasts, abdomen, and shoulders," although those with the children made no resistance except vocal protest against the action which prevented their departure for Philadelphia.

But these allegations were stoutly denied by Marshal Sullivan, who testified that "no person was clubbed, beaten, or abused - neither man, woman or child -at that depot. There was not a drop of blood spilled by anybody." When Marshal Sullivan was asked at the conclusion of his statement, by Representative Berger, how he harmonized the statement of the Philadelphia Committee with his testimony, he replied that the committee had heard the witnesses and it was for them to judge who was telling the truth.

So much excitement was created by this action, which was attributed to the influence of the manufacturers with the city authorities and police, that they were moved to announce in a statement that "The manufacturers of Lawrence are in no way responsible for any detention of children who were being sent out of the State. The manufacturers did not ask for this; they were not consulted about it; they were not informed of the contemplated action of the local authorities." Nor was any effort made at the congressional hearing to show that the manufacturers were responsible for this action, which, instead of helping them, had the reverse effect, and it is difficult to believe that they could have devised or counseled so foolish a course.


During February strenuous efforts to bring about an end of hostilities were made by many interests in Boston, and several times these were about to succeed when some untoward event in Lawrence seemed to make the time inopportune to grant any concession. It is believed by many that the will executives reached the conclusion soon after the outbreak that an increase of wages was inevitable. So long, however, as active rioting continued, it was considered inexpedient to adopt that course. But when two-thirds of the Arlington's employees, eighty per cent of whom were English, Irish, Scotch, or Canadians - natives of Englishspeaking countries - were at work, that corporation took the step which, it was well understood, would mean an equal, if not greater, advance in all the textile mills of New England and perhaps of the country. The afternoon papers of February 29 contained rumors of an advance, which were confirmed by the appearance in the next morning's papers of a notice by the Arlington Mills, copies of which must have been sent to the papers Friday morning for release that night, announcing that " A readjustment of wages will be made upon a comparative basis as to occupations involving increases in the rates now paid by the hour. and by the piece. Such advances are to be equitably adjusted according to the classes of workers and their earnings, and in no case to be less than five per cent. The new schedule of wages will go into effect Monday, March 4, 1912." (Orders had greatly increased during the strike, and though conditions were still unsettled the trade outlook was distinctly improved.) This was posted at the mills that morning, and proved to be an example which was speedily followed by the American Woolen Company and the Pacific Mills. On the following day, the Atlantic, Lawrence Duck, and Kunhardt Mills granted similar concessions.

For weeks the mill executives had been subjected to great pressure from two sides: on the one hand, not only from manufacturers all over Massachusetts who were not eager to meet an increase in wages, but also from those in adjacent states, in some of which are great mills employing many operatives whose interests were bound up in the settlement of this strike; and on the other, from many persons, a few of whom were stockholders, convinced that the lowest paid men should be given a wage sufficient to enable them to live in a way more nearly approaching the American standard, who were urging an increased wage. This pressure was extremely strong against an increase, and to decide to grant it, and to be leaders in making the announcement, required a degree of courage not appreciated by those unacquainted with the situation.

The wording of several announcements, some of which were prepared in evident haste, was not as explicit and as free from uncertainty as could have been desired, but soon after their posting it was made known by interviews and statements that the largest increases would be given to those receiving the lowest wages, in some cases the advances rising to 11 per cent and averaging 7 or 8 per cent. •The lowest increase, of 5 per cent, would apply to the highest paid, skilled workers, and time would be required to work out the details.

The strike, which had stirred the country for nine weeks, whose toll was two deaths, a loss exceeding a million dollars alike to mill owners and mill workers, and an expense to the city of $75,000 for extra police and to the State of $180,000 for the services of the militia, was ended and the wheels of industry, though creaking, were again in motion.

From the beginning of the struggle the strikers, deceiving themselves, believed that every man's hand was against them. On the contrary, the citizens of Lawrence and people the country over sympathized with their desire for higher wages, but that sympathy was largely forfeited by the violence practised, the class war so defiantly proclaimed, the acrid denunciation of trade unions and labor leaders long respected throughout New England, and the intimidation used to force from the mills those who, though approving the demand for increased pay, disapproved the plan of campaign adopted and the leaders selected.


Out of this bitter experience lessons of value should be learned by employees, citizens generally, and the employers. The operative must be taught the advantages to be gained by upholding, not destroying trade unions, and the folly of accepting leaders more concerned for the overthrow of the social structure than for the present good of their followers, who were aroused to attempt that impossible task at the present time in one community.

The public, too, must take heed that the gates admitting these foreign millions to the privileges of the land are more closely guarded, for with more carefully selected immigrants there would have been no Lawrence upheaval, and there would have been "much less social unrest and much less extreme radicalism imported from Europe."

The employers should learn that it pays to deal with their employees with frankness and absolute justice, and that it is unwise to withhold information for fear trouble may happen, such action bringing about, in nine cases out of ten, precisely the situation sought to be avoided.

They should clearly understand the value (to them) of an organization of their employees, officered by local men of ability and fairness, and led by national officers of stability and character. Thus banded together and thus led, they will make the greatest bulwark against similar outbreaks in the days to come. Safety for employers, employees, and the public alike lies in organization under sane and reasonable leaders, rather than in the unorganized, undisciplined, and easily inflamed masses.

The too-often despised and little understood leaders of trades unions are as a rule far more conservative than the mass of their followers. They do not urge organized labor on, as is usually though erroneously supposed, but they are constantly trying to hold it back. The way to prevent the demagogue from getting control of the labor movement is not to attempt to thwart organization and refuse to confer with local or national officers, but to deal with these officers and encourage these regular organizations. This danger, the ascendancy of the demagogue and the radical, - which is more imminent now than ever before, cannot be averted by any attempt to crush the unions. On the contrary, that attitude will surely increase the perils now threatening industry and the nation. Employers should recognixe the fact that labor organizations are with us and will remain with us ; and those who seek to do Justice and at the same time wish to promote the interests of industry, should attempt to work through the unions and develop everything that is good in them ; for it should be remembered, as Professor Richard T. Ely has said, " that every employer and indeed every man of wealth and position on the side of the workingman is a conservative element in society."

And if the general public but knew the anarchy which would follow the suppression of labor organizations, they would thank God for their existence ; for as a recent Commissioner of Labor in New York has said, "You may like the labor unions or not, but the time is coming when you will be grateful to them as the only thing that stands between you and anarchy.''

If these lessons can be driven home upon all three parties concerned in our industrial life, the loss and sufferings caused by the Lawrence outbreak will not have been in vain.