Eighty-nine years ago, textile workers began a landmark strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The majority of the 30,000 strikers were newly arrived immigrants worked in unsafe conditions for meager pay and lived in filthy overcrowded slums. 45 percent of the workers were women and 12 percent were children under the age of 18.
On January 1, 1912, a new Massachusetts law that reduced the the work week from 56 to 54 hours per week for women and children took effect. In response, mill owners speeded up the machines and notified workers that the reduction in the work week would also apply to men. When workers received their paychecks with 2 hours less pay, the equivalent of 3 fewer loaves of bread per week, they spontaneously walked out.
Strikers turned to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) for leadership. The multilingual IWW Executive Board member Joseph Ettor came from New York, as did the editor of the Italian socialist newspaper, Il Proletario, Arturo Giovannitti. A strike committee was formed with 2 representatives from each of the 25+ nationalities of the strikers (Germans, Italians, Lithuanians, Poles, Scots, Syrians, etc.) to lead the 30,000 strikers.
When Ettor and Giovannitti were arrested, IWW secretary "Big Bill Haywood" and organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, among others came to Lawrence to take their place. Massive picket lines snaked through the streets of Lawrence. Strike leaders advised the strikers to remain nonviolent, despite provocation by the employers and their allies.
In order to help relieve their financial burden and to gain wider support, the strikers began sending their children to stay with sympathizers in other cities. The strike's turning point came on February 24 when, at the behest of the textile manufacturers, police tried to prevent this mass exodus of children by clubbing a group of women and children at the Lawrence railroad station. A nationwide public outcry ensued.
In early March, Congressional hearings were held to investigate the strike. Congressmen heard testimony from strikers, many of them children. Public indignation mounted. On March 12 satisfactory terms were reached by negotiators. Among other concessions, employers agreed to wage increases for workers and no retaliation against the strikers.
We have provided a selected Bibliography of materials on the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912 and related subjects from the Holt Labor Library collection and useful Web Sites to assist you in your research. Legend has it that the following song was inspired by a banner carried by some of the strikers with the slogan, "We want bread and roses too."
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
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America's Working Women: A Documentary History 1600 to the Present. Compiled and edited by Rosalyn Baxandall, Linda Gordon, and Susan Reverby. New York: Vintage Books, 1976. This anthology includes a description of the Lawrence Strike by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
Bedford, Henry F. Socialism and the Workers in Massachusetts 1886-1912. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1966. Background and description of the Lawrence Strike. It contrasts the role played by the Socialist Party of Massachusetts with that of the IWW.
Cahn, William. Lawrence 1912: The Bread and Roses Strike. New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1980. Primarily a photo history of the Lawrence Strike.
Collective Voices. [videocassette]. Boston: Massachusetts AFL-CIO, n.d. This documentary uses narration using the strikers own words and newspaper accounts, photographs, and songs.
Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley. I Speak My Own Piece. New York: Masses & Mainstream, 1955. Flynn devotes several chapters to the strike and the aftermath.
Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. New York: International Publishers, 1965. Volume 4 is a study of the IWW, including its role in the Lawrence Strike.
Fowke, Edith Fulton and Joe Glazer. Songs of Work and Freedom. Chicago: Roosevelt University, 1960. Includes lyrics and music for the songs, "Bread and Roses" and scores of other songs of protest.
Haywood, Big Bill. Bill Haywood's Book: The Autobiography of William D. Haywood. New York: International Publishers, 1929. Haywood remembers his experiences during the strike.
Kornbluh, Joyce L. Rebel Voices: An I.W.W. Anthology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1964. Includes text of Camella Teoli's testimony, poems by Arturo Giovannitti, Joseph Ettor's testimony, and song lyrics from the Lawrence Strike.
Meltzer, Milton. Bread and Roses: The Struggle of American Labor 1865-1915. New York: Random House, 1967. This book has a chapter on the Lawrence Strike. It uses a documentary method.
Tripp, Anne Huber. The I.W.W. and the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987. Provides considerable background information on the Lawrence Strike.
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The Holt Labor Library provides these links for your convenience. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate, the Holt Labor Library makes no guarantees as to the accuracy or completeness of the information on these sites, and is not liable for any inaccuracy, error, or omission, regardless of cause.
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