The Great Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 — Part 4


By the first of February with the strike going into its fourth week, an unheard of length in the United States, the I.W.W. received between $1000 and $3000 a day for the strike fund. With it they were not only able to run soup kitchens and hand out much needed clothing, but they were also able to pay each family a weekly stipend depending upon the size of the family. The stipends ran from $2.00 a week for one person up to $5.50 a week for 10 people. It obviously was not entirely fair but it helped keep the strikers out for the duration.

When Joseph Ettor was arrested the Lawrence Evening Tribune on February 1 announced “Haywood Back in Charge.” In truth, Haywood had never been in charge nor did he care to be. His value was stumping for money, not running a strike. And what the public at large had yet to realize was that the committee of 56, that had been organized prior to the beginning of the strike, was in charge.

But February also brought a concession from the AFL when it announced it would start sending aid to the strikers. The AFL’s local office in Lawrence known as the CLU and manned by James Menzie had kept Golden apprised of the progress of the strike. Menzie was fully aware of the resolve of the strikers. He stated the AFL’s position at that time: “We are not antagonizing them [the IWW] but are desirous of bringing a settlement of the strike with benefit to the operatives.” From its national headquarters, AFL secretary Frank Morrison offered aid to the strikes, and invited all strikers to join the AFL. (“AF OF L Offers Aid to Strikers,” (Lawrence) Evening Tribune, February 5, 1912.) This signaled a major shift in the attitude of who could be a member. But it probably also showed concern among its leadership that the IWW was gaining too much strength. In truth, even though there were close to 30,000 unskilled laborers working in the mills, the IWW was never able to attract more than about 900 at any point during the strike. More, once the strike ended, most of those members left the IWW. But what this does show is just how misunderstood this pool of unskilled labor was. Those who should have been intimate with the working man, the union leaders, were actually rather clueless.

Menzie showed his misunderstanding of how the IWW was organized when in early February he characterized the strike as being unorganized. (“Strikers’ Committee Distrusts C.L.U.,” (Lawrence) Evening Tribune, February 5, 1912)

It became obvious to the Massachusetts legislature that the two unions were working at cross purposes and so it created a committee that would assist in bringing representatives of the AFL and IWW together in meetings with the mill owners. Heading the committee were Judge John F. Meany and future president of the United States, state senator Calvin Coolidge. But those meetings which did convene accomplished nothing. Each side had its heels dug into to its initial position. By this time, of the nearly 35,000 operatives employed by the textile mills, upwards to 22,000 were on strike on any given day.

By mid-February over 400 children had been moved from Lawrence to other cities, mainly New York. Mayor Scanlon pressured Col. Sweetzer to stop any further transport of children out of the city and on February 17, Col. Sweetzer ordered exactly that. On Feburary 23 a large group of women with children who were being sent to New York gathered at the railroad station. They were met by the Lawrence police department and a number of militia men. None were allowed to leave the city. Sweetzer stated that he felt the children were being kidnapped. (Frank P. Sibley, “Stops Exodus of Children,” Boston Globe, February 23, 1912.) Sweetzer declined to explain his actions. The women protested their being blocked from putting their children on the train and said they had the right to assemble. Those word were met with swift arrest. Several newspaper reports told of seeing women with babies in the arms in the city’s jail awaiting police court. They were each found guilty of loitering and fined $1. But each women refused to pay the fine and were then escorted off to jail. (James C. O’Leary, “U.S. Actions to be Urged,” Boston Sunday Globe, February 25, 1912.)

It was at this point one Alice Taft, wife of President William Howard Taft involved herself in the strike upon hearing the plight of the children and urged her husband to take action. And of February 26th, Pres. Taft, at the behest of Senator Miles Poindexter of Washington who had just visited Lawrence, got a resolution passed in the U.S. Senate that directed the Bureau of Labor open an investigation, which it did. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, a friend of industrialists, vehemently opposed the resolution saying it would be a case of the federal government interfering with a state’s internal affairs. And to back up his position he read a letter he had received from Golden of the AFL who contended the recent arrests were due to methods being used by the IWW. What he failed to mention was the fact that every IWW tactic had been totally within the law. That fact had not gone unnoticed in other corners of the United States. (AF OF L Threatens to Call General Strike,” Lawrence Daily American, February 29, 1912)

Soon after Congressional hearing were begun. What happened at those hearings brought to full view the actual conditions of the strikers and the reason they really had no choice but strike as they did.

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