The Committee of Ten: The Bread & Roses Strike Negotiating Committee

The Committee of Ten: The Bread & Roses Strike Negotiating Committee

The “Committee of Ten” was a group composed of nine Lawrence textile workers and Joseph Ettor of the Industrial Workers of the World. This committee was charged with the responsibility of conducting negotiations with the textile corporations. With the arrest of Joseph Ettor on January 30, 1912, more responsibility fell on the remaining nine, of the Committee of Ten, to maintain the momentum of the strike, solidarity of the strikers, and conduct negotiations with the corporations, most notably the American Woolen Company.

The local members of the Committee of Ten were a diverse group. Of the nine, only Gilbert Smith was born in the United States. Thomas Holliday and Ed Riley were English, Archie Adamson was Scottish, John Bienkowski was Polish, William Born was German, Ettore Giannini was Italian, Joseph Bedard was French Canadian, and Annie (Steindl) Welzenback was the Canadian-born daughter of German immigrants who was married to the grandson of German immigrants. By 1912 most of these workers were naturalized U.S. citizens, were skilled, and earned above-average wages. Mrs. Welzenback, in fact, was reputed to be one of the highest paid textile workers in the city, sometimes earning more than twenty dollars a week. Some committee members had ties to the IWW, while others did not. Smith, Holliday, and Giannini were members of the IWW. Gilbert Smith was secretary-treasurer of IWW, Local 20, but Ed Riley who chaired the Committee of 10, had no discernable ties to the IWW.

Despite their different origins and experiences, the local members of the Committee of 10 were pivotal in maintaining the momentum of the strike. Whether meeting with Mayor Scanlon in Lawrence, William Wood in Boston, or representatives of the Massachusetts legislature in Lawrence and Boston, they were the face of a united and determined labor force that brokered the final agreement with the corporations that ended the strike on March 18, 1912.

Some members of the committee paid a price for their work on behalf of the strike, while others emerged apparently unscathed. Though the agreement that ended the strike included assurances that there would be no retaliation against the strikers and their leaders, Holliday and Giannini were “blacklisted” and lost their textile jobs in 1914. (Incomplete letter of Dec. 14, 1914, Lawrence History Center, IWW, F.14) Mrs. Welzenback complained that within a year of the strike she was harassed to the extent that she could no longer find work in Lawrence, and she and her husband left the city. In September, 1917, Giannini was indicted in a federal court in Chicago and arrested in Lawrence as part of a “round up” of IWW members for their part in a “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government.” (October 1, 1917 unidentified newspaper clipping in “IWW, Box 4.” Lawrence History Center collection.) Immediately after the negotiated end of the strike, Bedard was accused of mishandling the strikers’ relief fund and left Lawrence for Lowell and, finally, Plymouth, Massachusetts. Gilbert Smith was still working at the Ayer Mill in 1918, though living in Salem, New Hampshire. Ed Riley was working at the Arlington Mills along with Holliday (apparently hired during World War I), and Archie Adamson was working at the International Worsted Company in Methuen.

The “local nine” of the Committee of Ten were essential to the success of the strike and show us how ordinary people, seemingly forgotten by history, make our history.

Clarisse A. Poirier, Ph.D., Associate Professor, History Department, Merrimack College, No. Andover, Massachusetts.