Provocation for the Strike

Provocation for the Strike

A new MA law reduced the maximum number of hours of work per week for women and children from 56 to 54, effective January 1, 1912. On January 11, workers discovered their employers had reduced their weekly pay to match the reduction in their hours. That difference in wages amounted to several loaves of bread a week.

Bruce Watson in Bread and Roses quotes a mill overseer who stated “the strike began like a spark of electricity.” On January 11, Polish women weavers at Everett Cotton Mills realized that their employer had reduced their pay by 32¢ and stopped their looms and left the mill, shouting “short pay, short pay!” (Watson, Bread and Roses, p. 11). Workers from other mills joined the next day; within a week 25,000 workers were on strike.

These things also happened in the days and months before the strike:

• On January 9, a fourteen–year-old boy had his leg crushed in an elevator at the Arlington Mill; he died the next day.

• A worker from the Wood Mill on Saturday January 6 walked into a store on Essex Street and dropped dead. Stress, factory fatigue, TB, who knew and who cared?

• From Bruce Watson’s Bread and Roses: “Diseases now easily cured—diarrhea, measles, whooping cough, croup—killed hundreds, most of them children. During the year preceding the strike, 1,524 people died in Lawrence. Almost half were under the age of six, and more than 500 had not yet reached their first birthday” (p. 27).

At the Washington Mill at 9:00AM on Friday January 12 the paymaster witnessed “a blur of arms and backs surging through the mill gates and into the courtyard. He immediately called the police. Nightstick in hand, the lone cop on the local beat arrived a few minutes later to find tow thousand people swarming outside the mill (Watson, Bread and Roses, p. 11).
Note: The photo to the right shows a mass picket line on Essex Street.