The Lawrence Strike of 1912

LAWRENCE in Massachusetts has been the scene of a small sized Civil War the past two months. Insignifiant as it is, this isreally what the great textile strikeamounts to. And many stu- dentsof social and civic conditions fear that it is the beginning of a wage war, which will spread throughout the country. The conditions which exist in this New England city today are largely the result of our emigration laws. For years the off- scourings of Southern Europe have been pouring into the city, and working forwages which Americans could not compete with. They will not be assimilated, have no sympathy with our institutions, skimp, scrape, starve themselves to save a little pile of moneyand then hurry back from whence they came. Their presence here is often due to the avarice of their employers, who are bound to sooneror later reap what they sow. And it was generally taken for granted that the mill operatives were a much trodden, badly treated and under paid lot of people. This is not a fact. Instead of receiving five dollars a week a has been stated, the average wage, not including the higher officials, is between nine and ten dollars and it is largely a man's own fault if he receives only the average wage. Any intelligent person may become a skilled weaver and receive twenty to twehty-five dollars. The conditions under which the operators work are pleasant and everything possible is done to protect their health and bodies. Most of the mills are new and of modern construction and no expense has been spared to make the ventilation, light and sanitary condition the best. Some of the mills have escalators to the top floor and restaurants where an ample dinner may be purchased for ten cents, while most of the mills have shower baths. The American Woollen Company has built some two hundred houses, each seven rooms and bath, which rent for eighteen dollars per month. The Un-Americanized foreign element, however, are not educated up to things of this kind and if their pay was many times what it is they unquestionably would prefer to live as they do. Half a dozen families in one small tenement, eight or ten people in a room wallowed in dirt.

The mills were enveloped in a blinding snow storm when the trouble started in the darkness of Monday morning. The starting time was 6.40 o'clock but it found only a small percentage of the help present. Outside thousands shouted, hissed and booed. The Prospect mill on the South Lawrence side was the first to have its windows smashed. A crowd of perhaps a thousand gathered in front of it and contented itself with throwing ice and rock at it. One shot was fired and Corporation Detective Flynn promptly nabbed the man who fired it and who when searched, was found to have a pistol, twenty-two cartridges and two stilettos on him. While this was taking place about a thousand strikers entered the Wood Mill and rushed into the workrooms waving red handkerchiefs as flags, cut the belts of the machinery, shut off the power, dragged the women operators from their benches, and beat them with clubs, and after smashing everything in sight drove all hands from the mill with pistols and knives. Meanwhile several thousand men and women rushed the Pacific Mills or the North Lawrence side, lines of hose were turned on them and forced them back. The pressure was so great that those in front were knocked down and went rolling over and over across the bridge. Those who succeeded in getting through the gates found themselves prisoners.

By 8.30 there had been cases of rioting in all parts of the city and yelling mobs openly paraded the streets with clubs and revolvers, smashing windows at will. Mayor Scanlon appeared at the Armory about this time and signed the precepts calling out the militia and in a very few minutes the local ccmpanies were clearing the mill district, and the Adjutant General in Boston had been notified. By noon Colonel Sweetser and his staff of the Eighth Massachusetts Infantry and eight infantry companies, 502 men and officers were on the scene or had started for it, together with 20,000 rounds of ammunition. The worst mix-up took place in front of the Atlantic Mills, where a mob of five or six thousands were yelling, throwing ice or shooting revolvers at the thill. Into this crowd, amid a shower of missels the soldiers went, and the mob gave way before the butt ends and the bayonets. Another riot occurred in the afternoon near the city hall, and again the soldiers had to resort to their bayonets, but as night began to fall conditions became normal. During the day between forty and fifty arrests were made. Revolvers, knives or clubs were found on most of those arrested and one to two years was the sentence imposed by judge Mahoney of the Municipal Court on most of them in an all night session. This prompt and fearless action of the judge, not only brought forth favorable comment throughout the country, but was a great assistance to the police and militia in keeping down further demonstrations. During this first day there were many broken heads and a number were badly injured by the bayonets. Several of the soldiers were bruised by being hit with flying missels, and one militiaman was twice stabbed in the arm.

In addition to the militia, Boston, Lynn, Haverhill, Salem, Lowell and Everett sent police officers who remained in Lawrence forty-eight hours. At the request of the mayor, Colonel Sweetser assumed the responsibility of the mill district, leaving the augmented police force to do patrol duty throughout the rest of the city.

... Troops were quartered in different mills, each in touch with headquarters by telephone. Search lights, telephones, and sharpshooters were placed in the mill towers. Warm worsted caps, mittens, overshoes and cots were issued to the men, and a thousand and one little details had to be attended to the first night so that Colonel Sweetser and his staff did not get much sleep. The mayor and several city officials remained at the Armory. The tired sentries had to face a bitingly cold wind as they walked their post. They were sent out in pairs for safety and on three hour shifts this first night. The anticipated trouble at the opening of the mills did not occur. No gathering of any magnitude was permitted, the crowds were kept ceaselessly on the move. The mill district, surrounded by a cordon of soldiers, presented a greatly changed aspect from the day before. The stormy scenes which were the cause of the militia being called out were succeeded by a military system of order. The strikers and their sympathizers were plainly cowed by the show of arms. The glistening bayonets which had inflicted many wounds the day before seemed to particularly impress the crowds. Things were so unusually quiet that there was a general feeling of suspicion and every one seemed to feel that it was the lull before the storm and that trouble was due at any moment. It came the next day, and Wednesday proved a lively, exciting fighting day. Ten thousand men and women marched through the streets, singing the "Marseillaise" and booing at the soldiers. Attempts were made to enter the mill districts and the strikers were stopped by the soldiers and many were badly hurt. One mob of several thousands attrnpted to march down Canal Street and were stopped by Battery C, armed with pistols and wagon wheel spokes. The strikers tried to force their way through and a hand to hand conflict ensued and many fell from blows on the head. Those in the rear threw missels while those in front used their fists. The soldiers drew their pistols and leveled them at the front rank of the strikers, but did not fire. It was a dangerous situation. A few minutes more and the soldiers must fire or fall back. Just in the nick of time a reserve company arrived on the double quick with bayonets fixed, and the strikers turned up a side street.

A number of times during this day, as was also true during the first two trying weeks, bloodshed was narrowly averted by the good judgment and patience of the militia officers.

The first two weeks parades and occasional clashes with the soldiers were daily events.

Colonel Sweetser proved himself the right man for the place. Instead of going at the affair in a slam-bang way, he felt his way along carefully and refused to be aggravated into any course until he saw his way clear. A judge, a successful lawyer and a soldier of experience, he was well fitted for the task set for him. The tools with which he had to work, were such that the slightest error in handling them might result in the most fateful consequences. But by his diplomacy, vigilance and military ability he soon won the confidence, respect and thanks of not only the people of Lawrence but all New England. The militia itself proved an agreeable surprise to thousands of citizens who knew it in name only until now when dependent upon it for protection. There was no drinking and no disorder, the men did their duty under the most trying conditions. Long hours, hard work and terrible weather, did not dismay them. And the tin soldier idea many people had of them soon vanished when they saw them facing bricks and bullets in zero weather.

Colonel Sweetser listened to Ettor's side of the story and notified him that he would be held strictly responsible for any violence that occurred. He also issued a public warning through the newspapers to all women and children and those not mixed up in the affair to keep off the streets and away from the parades.

Ettor, Haywood and the other agitators daily made revolutionary speeches to crowds estimated at from fifteçn to twenty thousands, from the band stand on the Common. In the confusion of tongues these gatherings made a veritable Babel. Speeches were made in Syrian, Italian, Greek, Lithuanian, Armenian, French, Russian and other languages. And the excited masses would frequently burst forth in noisy approval of the violent threats of the speakers.

The militia gave the strikers a great many privileges and allowed them much leniency the first two weeks, and apparently the strikers thought it indicated weaknesses. They forgot that the soldiers were present to shoot if necessary. The condition, therefore, reached an acute stage of development on Monday, the twenty-ninth. Between five and seven the city was the scene of the wildest disorder, car windows were smashed, wires cut, women knocked down and kicked and many people hurt by flying missels. The demonstration was partcipated in by several thousands of the strikers and was apparently well organized and seemingly had leaders. Most of the trouble occurred away from the mill district and the soldiers. Frequently, however, the mob made a demonstration against them, but the latter kept cool. The ice was pretty thin at times, however, and more than once a squad or company thrcw a cartridge from the magazine into the barrel of their rifles upon the command of the officer in charge. The click of the bolt as the cartridge was thrown into the chamber sounded so ominiously significant to the mob that they each time backed away. Rioting continued throughout the day by the inflamed multitude of frenzied aliens, with blind fury. The soldiers, police and detectives had a hard time of it but by night had restored order. One woman had been shot and killed, a policeman stabbed and many injured, twenty-four electric cars demolished and many windows smashed and other property destroyed. It was a new experience for Massachusetts and public sentiment which up to now seemed to be with the strikers, changed abruptly and demanded that the enemies of the state be stamped out.

More troops were rushed to the city during the night, making twenty-two companies of infantry and two troops of cavalry, also fifty Metropolitan Police. Colonel Sweetser now took over the entire city and established the nearest thing to Martial Law that is possible in Massachusetts without special legislation. He divided it into six military districts and announced that there would be no more parading or gatherings held in any part of the city. Three or more persons on the street would be considered a crowd and everyone was advised to keep off the streets unless on business. When the good and bad people of Lawrence awoke Tuesday morning they found a sentry on every corner and patrols on every street. The strker resented this and trouble ensued. One crowd of several hundred gathered about five A. M. on White Street in the .Syrian quarter. A squad of soldiers ordered them to disperse but instead of doing so they commenced throwing ice and rocks. Windows on both sides of the street were opened and a fusilade of coal, sticks, tin cans and even iron window weights reigned down upon the soldiers. Something had to be done, and done quick. The order to charge bayonets was given and into the crowd the little squad went. They drove back the crowd but in doing so one man was killed. The law was maintained and order was restored throughout the city. So well has the militia performed its duty that no outbreaks have since occurred. This is because the strikers have not had a chance to get together to start anything. Hundreds of operators began to return to work when they found it was safe to do s0, and at the end of two weeks about one-half of the help were back in the mills.

The cost to the Commonwealth has been great, the militia has cost in the vicinity of $4,000 a day, but the fact that they succeeded in keeping down violence after they took over the entire city, thus saving millions of dollars' worth of property, indicates that the outlay is attaining its-result. It is hoped that a settlement may be reached before this article appears. Meanwhile the military force is gradually being reduced. At this writing, however, it is quite certain that if it were entirely withdrawn trouble would at once break out again.

DURING the early months of 1912 one of the fiercest, most dramatic, and most widely advertised industrial conflicts ever fought in New England was waged for nine weeks in Lawrence, the great center of the country's worsted industry. For the first time, leaders of the most recent propaganda amongst labor men - syndicalism or the industrial union -appeared in the extreme East, introducing methods both novel and spectacular, which constantly focused the attention of the laboring, as well as the political, class on the conflict and the combatants.

The mills involved in the strike, with the number of their employees when running at full capacity, were the Everett, with 2,500, the Atlantic, with 1,300, and the Pemberton and Lawrence Duck, each with 500 employees, which use cotton as their sole raw material. There were also the Washington, with 6,500, the Wood, with 5,200, the Ayer, with 2,000, and the Prospect, with 500 employees -controlled by the Aiñerican Woolen Company; the Arlington, with 7,900, the Pacific, with 5,200, the Kunhardt, with 1,000, and the local plant of the United States Worsted Company, with 800 employees, whose chief raw material is wool.


Prior to 1895 the population of Lawrence, originally almost exclusively native born or Irish, was largely increased by immigration from England, Germany, and French Canada. In 1905 the city contained 70,000 people, of whom 32,000 were foreign born. Five years later the population had been increased by more than fifteen thousand, the foreign born then numbering 41,000. The full significance of this increase of nine thousand in the foreign-born population is not disclosed by the figures themselves. It lies in the fact that the inpouring hosts no longer came from Teutonic stock in the countries of northern and western Europe, but chiefly from the countries of southeastern Europe and from Asia Minor. During the half decade the Italian population more than doubled. The increase of the Polanders showed even a larger percentage, while the Lithuanians more than trebled their number.

According to the census of 1910, the population of Lawrence was made up of 600 Armenians, 700 Portuguese, 1,200 French Belgians, 2,100 Poles, 2,300 Scotch, 2,500 Hebrews, 2,700 Syrians, 3,000 Lithuanians, 6,500 Germans, 8,000 Italians, 9,000 English, 12,000 French Canadians, 12,000 Americans, and 21,000 Irish, 86 per cent of the entire population being of foreign parentage.

This polyglot population increased too rapidly for the city properly to care for and assimilate it. Lawrence, to adopt the words Professor Ripley applied to the whole country, "has had to do not with the slow process of growth by deposit and accretion, but with violent and. volcanic dislocation - a lava flow of population suddenly cast forth from Europe." Thousands of the newcomers - and the majority of them have been in the country less than three years -are either unmarried or have left their families in their old homes. Chiefly rural, they are illiterate folk, who have come with no purpose to settle in the country and become American citizens.

In the, following pages I have attempted to tell in a truthful manner the story of the great labor outbreak which convulsed Lawrence last winter, attracted widespread attention, and provoked discussions in the halls of Congress. It has not been my aim to give an interpretation of this attempt on the part of the leaders to overthrow the present industrial organization, but simply to assemble and present the facts, many of which have not, up to this time (July), appeared in print. I may add that this article was prepared with no thought of having it appear in this Bulletin.

Unable to read or to speak the English language, these people are nevertheless great consumers of European revolutionary literature. Unacquainted with our customs; possessing ideals and views of life radically different from ours; of a highly excitable temperament; natives of countries where no representative government exists, and where revolutionary intrigue is a daily occupation, they furnished a fine field for operations by a bold, able, and commanding set of revolutionary leaders. Given a cause and leadership, and there was sure to be an explosion of no mean dimension among these heterogeneous people.


Neither cause nor leader was wanting. The ostensible reason for the outbreak was the taking effect on January 1, 1912, of the law prohibiting the employment in factories of women and children - young persons under eighteen years - more than 54 hours a week, accompanied by a reduction of earnings corresponding to the reduced working time. This bill was passed by the General Court, and approved by the Governor May 27, 1911. Suspension of work on the part of the two classes named made it unprofitable to continue to move machinery on the 56-hour schedule in the departments where adult men predominated. The enactment of this law was urged by organized labor in the State, and was opposed by manufacturers as unwise further interference with the industries of the Commonwealth, because it would be an additional handicap from which competitors in other States permitting the operation of their factories from two to four hours longer per week were entirely free. When this bill was pending in the legilatui-e, an argument used against its passage was that it would mean smaller earnings. The labor leaders, it is claimed, admitted that such would be the result, but as they believed that effect would only be temporary, they were willing to put up with it for the short time it was expected to last.


The question of what effect this law would have upon wages was not passed by without discussion by some of the operatives. At least one organized body was keenly alive to the situation. At their convention held in Boston in May, 1911, the loom fixers passed a resolution notifying the employers that if the 54-hour bill became a law, they would demand the same pay for 54 as for 56 hours' work. In pursuance of that action, a committee representing that organization held a conference on this very subject in December with the agent of at least one of the largest mills, and in this same mill the operatives were told orally about the change and what its results would be. The English Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World appointed a committee on January 2 to interview the mill officials and ask what effect the change of hours would have upon earnings. As a rule, however, its full effect was not posted clearly on the bulletin boards.


Contrary to the general belief, the first cessation of work did not occur in the Washington Mill of the American Woolen Company, but in the Lawrence Duck Mill, where a strike began on the first of January, the day on which the new 54-hour law took effect. On the preceding Friday a committee representing the employees held a conference with the treasurer about the effect the new law would have upon their hours and wages. They were told that inasmuch as all the weavers were men, the company was willing to run the mills 56 hours per week, so that there should be no change either in the working hours or the earnings, but that if the time was reduced to 54 hours, the pay for the two hours' reduction would be lost. In other words, the company was not willing to pay 56 hours' wages for 54 hours' work. This was not satisfactory to the committee and a strike was called.

On January 9 a meeting of the employees of the Duck Mill was addressed by Joseph Bedard, afterwards secretary of the Strike Committee, and sixty-eight persons filed applications for membership in the Industrial Workers of the World. The following night a mass meeting of almost all the Italian workers of the city was held to discuss the new law and to hear reports of committees which had been appointed to interview their respective mill agents. At this meeting, the chairman of which was Angeline Rocc0, the 27-year old high school student and secretary of the Italian branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, it was decided that all Italians of all the mills should strike Friday evening. They declared that wages received owing to the 54-hour law were insufficient to live on, and they "wanted" pay kept at the amount which they received under the old law. This attitude indicating the temper of the operatives was emphasized by the action, on Thursday afternoon, January 11, of the Polish weavers (chiefly women) in the Everett Mill. When their wages were paid they protested against the smaller amount received, quit their looms, and after a demonstration to influence other employees they retired from the mill, which was shut down on Saturday and remained closed until the strike was declared off.

To take any action, the result of which would be to lessen the earnings of the unskilled workers at a time when the cost of the necessaries of life was abnormally high, without discussing the question with the wage-earners, was impolitic and cost the companies dear.


It is true that the whole textile industry had just experienced several very unprofitable years. As the president of the National Association of Cotton Manufacturers said in his address at the April, 1912, meeting: "Few mills earned dividends; most mills which paid dividends took them from surplus accumulations of other years, and many were compelled to pass dividends entirely." A prominent cotton manufacturer of Rhode Island is on record as saying: "The year .1911 was one of almost unparalleled depression in the cotton industry in this country. Widespread curtailment and abnormally low selling prices were made to keep as much machinery as possible going. It is said that in one large center in Massachusetts the cotton manufacturing operations resulted in a loss exceeding two million dollars."

The depression under which the industries staggered was likewise hard on the employees, not because the rate of wages had been reduced but because extensive curtailment had been the rule, and this lack of employment caused the wages earned in normal years greatly to shrink during 1911. The lack of business, which was so damaging to mills and workers, has been attributed by at least one prominent treasurer to tariff agitation, to the fluctuating cost of raw materials, and to the popularity of narrow skirts, which lessened by half the cloth required for women's dresses and greatly diminished the requirements of the trade.

Notwithstanding a number of lean years in the last decade great expansion of mills occurred in Lawrence. Many thousands of unskilled workers from southeastern Europe flocked to the city and were enlisted to man the machinery in these great new plants, where, because of their lack of skill, they proved of questionable cheapness to their employers, and, because of their numbers, a great incubus upon the city itself, whose officials, receiving scarcely a dollar in taxes, were obliged to furnish at great cost the privileges and advantages of city life to thirty thousand operatives.


It was charged and denied that these immigrants had been induced to come to Lawrence by post cards and posters, alleged to have been distributed by agents of the American Woolen Company, showing operatives in the mills carrying bags of gold on pay day into a bank opposite the mill. An official of the Government was unable, after weeks of investigation, to find any basis for the charge, and President Wood, in a telegram to a New York paper, demanding a retraction of the statement, declared that the company had not" directly or indirectly sent agents through southern Europe seeking workers for their mills, nor have they caused to be distributed literature in southern Europe or elsewhere in foreign countries, nor have they directly or indirectly thus procured men or boys for work in Lawrence."


Whether the refusal to ay the same wages for 54 hours as for 56 hours' work was due to the undoubted depression and uncertainty of the future or, as alleged by Governor Foss, was to show "the unwisdom of legislative interference," it is not necessary to decide. It was done without making plain to all the help an intention so to do. When the pay envelopes for the early days of January were opened in the Washington Mill on Friday, January 12, an uprising occurred which did not subside that day until nearly all the workers of that mill, of at least two other mills of the American Woolen Company, and of several independent mills, were persuaded to leave their posts or were driven from their customary work places. Most of those employees who then quit work remained out of the mills from sympathy with the action or were kept at home by intimidation and violence until the strike was finally ended. Neither in January after the strike began nor in February were more than 60 per cent of all the employees on the payrolls of all the mills January 1 at work during any one week. In fact, during one week in February the percentage fell below 30 and during that month it did not rise above 42 per cent of the normal force.

From the Washington Mill the crowd, composed largely of Italians, surged toward the Wood Mill, where the pay envelopes had not been distributed, " rushed" the gates, broke open the doors, damaged the escalators,. pulled girls from their work, cut off the electric drive, stopped the machines throughout the mill, and threatened to kill any person daring to put the .machinery in motion, and the Wood Mill, like the Washington, was soon cleared of workers. While these ends were being secured in that section of the city, *one hundred Syrians walked out of the worsted spinning department of the Arlington Mills in the other mill section; and by Friday night a working force of ten thousand, chiefly employees of the American Woolen Company, was on the streets.

Inasmuch as the strike was precipitated by a comparatively small number of employees, and as some tried to work the next morning, it was expected that many more would attempt to enter the mills Mdnday morning. This the strike leaders decided to prevent at all hazards, the center of attack being the four mills of the American Woolen Company, but especially the Prospect, the least affected of the four. This effort was entirely successful, the city's small available police force being powerless to help those willing to work to get into the mills, or to control the strikers and sympathizers,. who assembled prior to the opening hour and choked the streets leading to the mills.


The strike might have collapsed in a few days from lack of support and effective leadership, had not Joseph J. Ettor, one of the five members of the Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World, reached Lawrence Friday night, to assume charge of the unorganized masses. Prior to the outbreak there were three branches of the Industrial Workers in Lawrence, the English, the Franco-Belgian, and the Italian, affiliated in one "local." The nucleus of the English section was a remnant of the Independent Textile Weavers, a union formed after a Weavers' union of the United Textile Workers of America collapsed about 1905. The Franco-Belgian section was founded in December, 1907, and the Italians were organized by Ettor in May, 1911. The paying membership of all branches when the strike broke out has been variously placed between extreme estimates of 300 and 600.

For the work to be done in the way in which it was done, no better leader than Ettor could have been selected. Half Syrian and half Italian, though only twenty-six years of age, he has long been engaged as an agitator, organizer, and leader in outbreaks at Paterson, Brooklyn, McKee's Rocks, and others equally important and equally sanguinary. He was the magnet about whom for weeks these masses rallied, whose words were unquestioned, and whose advice was implicitly accepted. With the cunning of the Syrian and the eloquence of the Italian, this man, steeped in the literature of revolutionary socialism and anarchism, swayed the undisciplined mob as completely as any general ever controlled his disciplined troops, his boast being, " I could stop more rioting by raising my hand than the others can with their bayonets and powder." Immediately upon his arrival he began to organize these thousands of heterogeneous, heretofore unsympathetic, and jealous nationalities into a militant body of class-conscious workers. Able to make an incendiary speech either in the English or Italian language, he soon fired the strikers with a sense of the righteousness of their cause, and of the many injustices under which they supposedly suffered. His followers firmly believed, as they were told, that success meant they were about to enter a new era.of brotherhood, in which there would be no more union of trades and no more departmental distinctions, but all workers would become the real bosses in the mills. Appearing like a whirlwind, he swept through the city, stirred up the police, the city government, the militia, and even the State, and aroused amongst his followers the ardor of crusaders engaged in a holy undertaking, winning unqualified loyalty to himself and the cause he represented.

Meetings were held Saturday and Sunday, at which the fighting spirit was aroused to a high pitch, and plans were laid to organize a fight for Monday morning to prevent any employees from going to work. Th occurrences of Saturday were repeated and the mills of the American Woolen Company were almost deserted. Realizing their success at these mills, the strikers moved against the Pacific mills, where the watchman was brushed aside and twenty men forced their way into the mill, intending to clear it by the methods used so successfully at the Washington, Wood, and Ayer. The twenty were held as prisoners, however, and the mill hose was turned upon the attacking force, who, retreating, soon returned, bringing chunks of ice and coal with which they attempted to break the windows of the weaving shed. Shots were ared at the hosemen by a man concealed under an umbrella. At the Arlington mills a similar effort was made. The engineer of the top mill of that corporation, under threat of death. if their demand was not complied with, was compelled by strikers to stop the machinery ; and after the operatives had been frightened and driven from the building, an attempt to carry the gates of the top mill was made, but ended in failure when the hosepipes were turned on the besieging forces.

This plan of campaign was devised and followed because it is the policy of the I. W. W. organization, and because the leaders knew full well that the acts of the authorities in repressing violence would fan the flames of resentment and solidify the ranks of the strikers.