Lawrence Strike

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LAWRENCE STRIKE began in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912, when textile mill owners cut workers' wages in response to a state law that lowered the maximum workweek for women and children to fifty-four hours. The strike lasted from 11 January until 14 March, and was initiated by a group of Polish women who discovered the unannounced pay cut and immediately walked off their jobs. The initial strike by more than 10,000 men, women, and children was largely peaceful, and workers only wanted to have their previous pay levels restored. The walkout first drew national attention through the presence of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a primarily western labor organization that proclaimed the necessity of "one big union." The IWW represented only about 1 percent of Lawrence's 30,000 textile workers before the strike, but thousands more joined during the work stoppage, particularly after the IWW's New York headquarters sent organizers Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti to help coordinate strike activities. The companies refused to negotiate, and used their political and economic influence to convince judges, politicians, and police to help break the strike. By the end of the first week, twelve companies of state militia, the Massachusetts state police, Lawrence police, and company guards squared off against approximately 15,000 strikers. Dynamite discovered by police was later proven to have been planted by mill owners, who sought to discredit the workers. The violence escalated, and the Italian striker Anna Lo Pizzo was shot and killed during a confrontation with police on 29 January. Ettor and Giovannitti were charged with murder, although authorities admitted they were elsewhere when Lo Pizzo was killed. The IWW sent William Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to take control of the strike.

To help alleviate hardship for their families, many workers began sending their children to relatives and supporters in other states. The first 119 children left the train depot on 10 February, followed on 17 February by another 138 children. The companies used their political connections to fight back. City police occupied the train station on 24 February, with orders to prevent any striker's children from leaving Lawrence. When the adults accompanying 40 children insisted on their right to travel peacefully, police responded by attacking both adults and children with clubs. This unprovoked brutality sparked national outrage, and the Massachusetts legislature and Congress began investigations. As their political allies dissolved, mill owners finally began negotiating. By 12 March, owners offered significant improvements in wages, including overtime pay, and promised that strikers would not be singled out for retribution. Workers approved the offer at a mass meeting on 14 March and began returning to work the following day. The Lawrence victory also helped win increases for workers in mills across New England.

Still, the strike was not over, because Ettor and Giovannitti were still imprisoned. When the trial began on 30 September, 15,000 Lawrence workers staged a one-day strike. The trial recommenced in Salem, Massachusetts, on 14 October and lasted fifty-eight days. Amid misplaced evidence and questionable witnesses, the jury on 26 November returned a verdict of not guilty. After more than ten months in prison, Ettor and Giovannitti were freed, and the Lawrence strike was over.


Cameron, Ardis. Radicals of the Worst Sort: Laboring Women in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1860–1912. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Dubofsky, Melvyn. We Shall Be All: A History of the I.W.W. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969.

Meltzer, Milton. Bread and Roses: The Struggle of American Labor, 1865–1915. New York: Knopf, 1967.


See alsoIndustrial Workers of the World ; Strikes ; Textiles .

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Lawrence Strike

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