Arne Swabeck Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page


Lawrence on Strike!

Textile Workers Rebel Against Wage-Cut and Speed Up System

(March 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 5, 1 March 1931, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Definite signs of active workers’ resistance to the capitalist offensive are here. In Lawrence, Mass, a total of 10,000 textile workers have struck the American Woolen Co.’s mills against an increased speed up system and a wage cut. These strikers immediately began militant mass picketing. It has thus become one of the early small beginnings of a rising labor movement.

On Feb. 16th, 1931, the strike began with only 33 workers coming out of the Washington Mills combing dept. against the instituted new schedules. It became spontaneous. By Feb. 21st it increased to 8,000. Despite the fact that only fragmentary union organization exists the strike continued to grow to embrace 10,000 workers.

The new schedules provided for increased speed-up. It instituted wage cuts in the form of abolition of all overtime pay and abolition of extra pay for night shifts. It provided for placing of efficiency experts throughout the mills to increase the labor intensity.

The strike involved mainly the three mills of the American Wool Co. The Washington, Wood and Ayer Mills. The workers demanded time and a half for overtime, double time for holidays, withdrawal of efficiency experts, no discrimination and recognition of the Mill committees to settle special grievances.

The employers fear of these signs of actual resistance became immediately expressed in the brutal efforts of the police to break up picketing. The Company offered to restore the old schedules if the workers would return. Furthermore, as usually happens in such cases the “better citizens” rallied to the company offering their services through an established citizens committee.

The small section of the National Textile Workers Union existing in Lawrence, took a militant lead in this strike. This the employers feared and they refused to deal with these workers’ representatives.

They called the officials of the N.T.W. “outsiders”. However, that is always so in a strike; workers representatives are castigated as “outsiders”.

On Feb. 26th, the employers succeeded in getting the strikers to take a vote on returning to work granting the concession that there would be no efficiency experts, that the old schedule in force prior to Feb. 16 will be put back into operation and that a committee of mill workers will be met to consider any disputes in the future. They refused to grant time and a half for overtime. Following immediately upon the voting the police-force raided the N.T.W. union headquarters, arresting 11 workers. Of those arrested the following 5 – Edith Berkman, Pat Devine, William Murdock, John C. Czarencki and Alex Danilevich are held under bail aggregating $100,000. Of the 10,000 strikers only about 2,000 participated in the voting, the result of which is announced as 1,651 in favor of returning to work and 453 against. On the face of it this does not look like an expression of the workers’ sentiments.

While this strike is entirely of a spontaneous and isolated local character its significance lies in it being a beginning of a new basic tendency. A tendency towards working class resistance. It did not have any previous preparation enabling it to spread on a large scale.

In this fact the present C.P. leadership has a serious responsibility. For a long time it has not only criminally neglected to build a union in the textile industry but has by its narrow factional attitude towards the working class movement removed one after another of officials elected by the union, finally substituting for elections the method of appointing. It permitted a splendid movement in the textile industry of the South to completely collapse. The net result is a union, in an industry holding great promises, reduced to almost nothing.

In view of these beginning signs of working class resistance our slogan against rationalization and speed up assumes real importance. But above all in general agitation the slogan of the six-hour day without reductions in pay should be put forward, as a propaganda slogan. It can become the unifying slogan of working class struggle. It is the main slogan of the rising labor movement.

Arne Swabeck Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 4.12.2012