days of bread and roses

…Apparently heading toward the graveyard that seems to await all clique ridden American radical bodies. But the death notices were premature. The brawls were among and between trade unionists and Socialists, and the IWW’s future, it turned out, linked to neither group. It belonged to a rank-and-file membership that was already formulating surprise tactics and showing plenty of vigor.

---Early in January 1912 I.W.W. activities focused on a dramatic ten-week strike of 25,000 textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. It became the most widely publicized I.W.W. conflict, acquainting the nation with the plight of the unskilled, foreign-born worker as well as with the organization's philosophy of radical unionism. "Lawrence was not an ordinary strike," wrote Brissenden in 1919, "It was a social revolution in parvo." --- Read More: image:

In Schenectady, New York, for example, IWW led strikers in a General Electric plant protested the firing of three draftsmen by staying at their machines for sixty-five hours, a use of the sit-down strike thirty years before it was introduced by the auto workers as a radical measure during the Great Depression.

A turning point came in the fourth convention of 1908, where the “direct action group” , a second split that importantly gave the organization over to what were called soapbox singers and bums, brothers in idealism who were poor in all things save “long experience in the struggle with the employer.” They were to break from past labor practices and give the IWW its true inwardness and dynamism; to fit in with its unique costume and role in history.

---Before the end of the trial, Ettor and Giovannitti asked permission to make closing statements. Joe Ettor said in part: Does the District Attorney believe . . . that the gallows or guillotine ever settled an idea? If an idea can live, it lives because history adjudges it right. I ask only for justice. . . . The scaffold has never yet and never will destroy an idea or a movement. . . . An idea consisting of a social crime in one age becomes the very religion of humanity in the next.... Whatever my social views are, they are what they are. They cannot be tried in this courtroom. Giovannitti's speech, the first he had ever made publicly in English, moved even the reporters who were covering the trial. On November 26, 1912, the men were acquitted and released from jail. Public opinion as expressed by the Eastern daily newspapers was practically unanimous in support of the acquittal of Ettor and Giovannitti. But the threat of anarchy and class war raised the fear that "a win in the Lawrence mills means a start that will only end with the downfall of the wage system."--- Read More:

…No greater contrast in the history of labor could be drawn than the one between the inclusive, democratic, revolutionary IWW and the AFL-CIO. By 1995, Kirkland and his closest confidants, notably American Federation of Teachers’ president Albert Shanker, had essentially given up on enrolling the unorganized, thus completing the misleadership of Kirkland’s predecessor, George Meany, in reducing organized labor from bold social movement to conservative special interest. The minuscule resources devoted to organizing reflected not only other priorities, but a deep logic. An important regional official once told me with considerable pride that his son, in business school, was preparing a thesis on union membership as the wisest investment a worker could make. The well-intended official had long since come to see unionism as labor’s share in the “ownership society.” The idea that it could once again embody a radical crusade for justice and the redistribution of wealth was far more likely to induce fear than hope. Read More:

May 8,1970. ---The greatest potential connection with the idealistic movements of the 1960s could not be made, thanks to the bureaucrats’ staunch resistance and the weapons in their arsenal. It was a devastating loss of opportunity, even as George Meany celebrated the rampage of Manhattan hardhats against antiwar marchers and as Richard Nixon rewarded the thugs’ leader with the cabinet post for the Department of Labor. But some of the young idealists hung tough. By the middle 1980s the struggles against U.S. intervention in Central America, which had a strong labor component, reached their high point and opposition had gained a legitimacy never permitted during the Vietnam era. Major affiliates, including several of the few successful internationals, had begun passing resolutions on foreign policy and in defense of their own gay and lesbian members, resolutions unthinkable in the homophobic Vietnam era when, for Meany and all but the closeted gay men on his staff, “fags” were viewed as interchangeable with McGovern supporters. Read More: image:


Joyce Kornbluh: Lawrence was a new kind of strike, the first time such large numbers of unskilled, unorganized foreign-born workers had followed the radical leadership of the I.W.W. John Golden, president of the A.F.L. United Textile Workers denounced it as “revolutionary” and “anarchistic” and attempted unsuccessfully to wrest the leadership of the strike away from the I.W.W. A.F.L. President Samuel Gompers defined the strike as a “class conscious industrial revolution … a passing event that is not intended to be an organization for the protection of the immediate rights or promotion of the near future interests of the workers.” However, Gompers defended the lawful rights of the I.W.W. members to, “express themselves as their conscience dictates.”…

---Image: A child dressed as Massachusetts in the 1962 God and Country Parade in Lawrence. Photo via the Lawrence Public Library/Digital Commonwealth Project. The original God and Country Parade took place on the Columbus Day following the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912, or the “Bread and Roses” strike (excellent summary here). The original strike at the end of the year was followed by months of unrest, with a mass demonstration walk-out at the end of September. In a demonstration by members of the IWW, with the slogan “No God, No Master,” disgruntled workers had trampled an American flag. In response, Lawrence’s Mayor Scanlan began the God and Country campaign, with the parade as its centerpiece. Town leaders called for residents to wear flags in their button holes. Bruce Watson asserts in his book Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream, that the strike went largely unmentioned for two generations, and says that newspaper accounts of the 1962 anniversary missed several of its most pro-striker details, telling the story as one about outside Communist agitators. A candidate for Senate, one Edward Kennedy appeared in the 1962 Parade to campaign. Read More:

…”It was the spirit of the workers that was dangerous,” wrote labor reporter Mary Heaton Vorse. “They are always marching and singing. The tired, gray crowds ebbing and flowing perpetually into the mills had waked and op

their months to sing.” And in the American Magazine, Ray Stannard Baker reported:

It is not short of amazing, the power of a great idea to weld men together. . . . There was in it a peculiar, intense, vital spirit, a religious spirit if you will, that I have never felt before in any strike. . . . At first everyone predicted that it would be impossible to bold these divergent people together, but aside from the skilled men, some of whom belonged to craft unions comparatively few went back to the mills. And as a whole, the strike was conducted with little violence. Read More:

---Walker's bill, if passed, will strip public-sector unions of the right to collectively bargain regarding all workplace issues other than basic wages. Workers would no longer have a legal say in their pensions, their healthcare plans, workplace safety, or any other pertinent issues. Without collective bargaining, we have no legally-recognized way to influence how we are treated at our jobs. Workers with access to a union have an opportunity to make their workplaces more democratic. Think about how much time we dedicate to work and work-related activities. With so much of our lives spent in undemocratic workplaces, how could we have real democracy in the rest of our lives? The impact of Walker's bill reaches far beyond unions and public servants. Stripping public workers of their right to bargain affects the rights of everyone who works for a living. This attack on workers' rights will not stop with the public sector or with Wisconsin. These anti-union bills are spreading around the country from Indiana to Ohio to Nebraska in an effort to serve the corporate elite by lowering labor costs and weakening all labor. Read More:

Following the Salem trial, literary critic Kenneth McGowan wrote in Forum Magazine:

Whatever its future, the I.W.W. has accomplished one tremendously big thing, a thing that sweeps away all twaddle over red flags and violence and sabotage, and that is the individual awakening of “illiterates” and “scum” to an original, personal conception of society and the realization of the dignity and rights of their part in it. They have learned more than class consciousness; they have learned consciousness of Self . . . .

This was a fitting interpretation of the spirit of the striking mill girls who carried picket signs which read:


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