Bread and Roses: The Lawrence Textile Strike

Bread and Roses: The Lawrence Textile Strike

at the turn of the century America was rapidly becoming an industrial society nearly 30 million immigrants had risked the long trip to the new world with dreams of a better life many found their way to the textile mills of New England where the opportunity was work with low wages long hours and dangerous working conditions the factory system assured in new demands for efficiency and control I regard my people just as I regard my machinery discrimination in the mills was widespread recruiting wagons known as slavers sought out young women and children who they could pay half as much as men a family industry they called it I used to go to school and then a man came by to my house and asked my father why I didn't go to work the man said you give me four dollars and I will make papers come from the old country which say she is 14 I went to work and in about two weeks got hurt in my head the machine pulled my scalp off I was in the hospital seven months one out of every three mill workers died before the age of 25 unions gained popularity among workers seeking better working conditions the American Federation of Labor had won an eight-hour day for thousands of craft workers but unskilled textile workers remained unorganized in 1911 the Massachusetts State Legislature reduced the working week from 56 to 54 hours unwilling to let workers benefit Lawrence his American woolen company the world's largest textile plant cut workers wages On January 12 1912 when workers received their paychecks cries of shortcake rang throughout the mill 14,000 workers poured into the streets in two weeks 25,000 workers from 11 mills had joined the strike the city of Lawrence sounded a riot call the workers had shut down the largest mills in the world mill owners kept their machines running although no cloth was being woven in an attempt to deceive the strikers carrying banners that read Bread and Roses the strikers expressed their demand for livable wages bread but also for dignity and respect for roses in their lives the Industrial Workers of the world or Wobblies sent nationally known labor leaders to organize the strike they formed strike committees representing workers of 30 nationalities held parades and put up picket lines labeled anarchists agitators and fermenters of violence by the press the strike leaders warned the unarmed workers not to resort to violence wobbly leader bill Haywood this strike as peaceful as possible all the blood spilled will be your blood company guards sprayed workers in picket lines with freezing cold water from high-pressure hoses the city of Lawrence called in the state militia and on January 29th police and troopers opened fire on a crowd of strikers killing a young woman striker named Ana Lopez's resources diminished the children of strikers were sent to stay with supporters in other cities the children's pilgrimage drew national sympathy to the Lawrence strikers the mill owners were outraged on the morning of February 24th 40 children gathered at the railroad station with their families without warning Club wielding police attacked the parents and children the nation reacted with horror every right supposedly guaranteed under the Constitution has been ruthlessly taken from the industrial slaves of Lawrence I would rather never again wear a thread of woolen that no my garments had been woven at the cost of such misery as I have seen in response to national outrage President Taft ordered an investigation many strikers including a delegation of 16 children testified before Congress about working conditions in the mills with public support on their side the strike committee made a final appeal on March 12th three months after workers had walked off their jobs the American woolen company speaking for all Lawrence mills surrendered two days later 25,000 men women and children strikers gathered on the Lawrence common and voted on the settlement the workers had one wage increases overtime pay and rules against discrimination you have demonstrated the common interest of the working class in bringing all nationalities together you have won the most single victory of any body of organized workers in the world though the victory was an example to textile workers in all of New England the dream of one big union was short-lived it would be another quarter of a century before Industrial Workers would form a union strong enough to win lasting gains

7 Replies to “Bread and Roses: The Lawrence Textile Strike”

  1. In doing my family history I have found family working in the Mill and living in Lawrence and never thought much about it. The other day at work I chose a book to read to make sure it was appropriate for Middle School Children. The book was Bread and Roses Too. I never heard about this in History Class.

  2. class struggles , we will always fight against the capitalisme until we have a better world without domination and the government will be vanished by them self because we will not need it

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