What Will It Take?
Sale of Z Videos
Criminalization of Dissent
American Civil Liberties
Gaza Boats Seized
Wasting $13 Million
What Happened to Children First?
Bruce E. Levine
The Student Debt Bubble
Nicolas J.S. Davies
The Obama Doctrine
The Power Couple
Laurence h. Shoup
Bread and Roses
The Monopoly of Manipulation
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Bread and Roses, 100 Years On
One hundred years ago, in the dead of a
Though 100 years have passed, the Bread and Roses strike resonates as one of the most important in
It is noteworthy that the Occupy movement shares many philosophical and strategic characteristics with the Lawrence strike—direct action, the prominent role of women, the centrality of class, participatory decision-making, egalitarianism, an authentic belief in the principle that We Are All Leaders, to name just a few. During the two months of the
The city of
Mill workers experienced most of the horrors that characterized 19th century industrial labor. Six-day work weeks of 60 hours and more were the norm. Workers were regularly killed on the job, many grew sick and died slowly from breathing in toxic fibers and dust while others were maimed or crippled in the frequent accidents in the mills. Death and disability benefits were virtually nonexistent. Life expectancy for textile workers was far less than other members of the working class and 20 years shorter than the population as a whole. It was a work environment, in short, that Blake captured perfectly with the phrase “Satanic mills.”
Living conditions were similarly abominable. Unsanitary drinking water, overcrowded apartments, malnutrition and disease were widespread. Thousands of children as young as ten worked full-time, deprived of schooling and any semblance of a childhood because families could not survive on the pay of two adult wage-earners. Constituent unions of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had no interest in organizing workers who were immigrants, “unskilled,” and overwhelmingly women and children. The local United Textile Workers had a small number of members drawn, true to the AFL’s creed, exclusively from the higher-skilled, higher-paid segment of the workforce.
The IWW was also in
The spark was lit on January 11, the first payday since a law reducing the maximum hours per week from 56 to 54 went into effect on January 1. Because mill owners sped up the line to make up the difference, workers expected their pay would remain the same. Upon discovering that their pay had been reduced, a group of Polish women employed at the Everett Cotton Mill walked off the job. By the following morning, half of the city’s 30,000 mill hands were on strike. On Monday January 15, 20,000 were out. Soon, every mill in town was closed and the number of strikers had swelled to 25,000, including virtually all of the less skilled. The owners, contemptuous of the ability of uneducated immigrant workers to do for themselves, did not bother to recruit scabs, certain they would prevail quickly. By the time they realized they had a fight on their hands, the strikers were so well organized that importing scabs was a far more difficult proposition.
Several days after the strike began, workers in
In addition to the democratic nuts and bolts, Ettor brought an unshakable belief in the workers to the strike. The IWW had a faith in the working class that is markedly different from the often self-serving proclamations of union organizers of today who are mostly out to build their organizations. In contrast, Ettor displayed a fundamental belief in the ability of workers to do for themselves. He, Giovannitti, and, later, Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, made every aspect of the strike a learning experience. As the strikers worked to achieve greater power in the short term by winning their demands, many came to see that the society could not function without workers and that there was no job or task that was beyond the collective skill of the working class.
Ettor, Haywood, and Flynn also provided a vision of workers managing society, underscoring that it was an achievable goal. Without ever downplaying the particularities of the strike or of the strikers’ lives, they proclaimed their opposition to the capitalist system and encouraged the
Perhaps the most important of the IWW’s contributions was its emphasis on solidarity. The only way to victory, they emphasized, was unity and the only way to unity was to respect the language and culture of each nationality. Ettor, Haywood, and the other Wobblies understood that solidarity did not mean dissolving differences, it meant enriching the experience of all by creating space for each to participate in their own way. They encouraged the workers to view each other that way and emphasized again and again that the only people in
So inspired, the strikers rose to every challenge. They circumvented injunctions against plant-gate picketing with roaming lines of thousands that flowed through
The involvement of women was crucial to victory, beginning with the rejection of the self-destructive violence of some male strikers. Though the IWW’s record on promoting female leadership was spotty at best, Ettor and the other Wobblies in
State violence was so extreme that it actually reverberated in the strikers’ favor, as there were outcries from around the country over the police killing a young woman and a 16-year-old boy, as well as the large-scale beating of women and children. There were also national howls of outrage when strikers were arrested for “possessing” dynamite in what turned out to be a crude frame (it was later determined that a prominent citizen close to the mill owners had planted it). Similarly, the jailing of Ettor and Giovannitti without bail as “accessories before the act of murder” in the police killing of Annie LoPizzo was widely criticized and served only to spur the strikers on.
In the end, in the face of the state militia, U.S. Marines, Pinkerton infiltrators, and hundreds of local police, the strikers prevailed. They achieved a settlement close to their original demands, including significant pay raises and time and a quarter for overtime, which previously had been paid at the straight hourly rate. Workers in
Longer-term, the strike focused national attention on workplace safety, minimum wage laws, and child labor. Though change in these areas was still slow in coming, it came much sooner because of
But just as it was never the IWW’s objective to gain official recognition from employers, its accomplishments should not be measured by its membership rolls or the limited span of its organizational presence. The goal was to build a revolutionary movement of the working class and the Wobblies implemented the strategy for achieving that end in
Lessons For Today
There are several aspects of the
Workers are not even free to join the union of their choosing. Once an exclusive bargaining representative is chosen, no matter how that’s determined, the affected workers cannot join any other labor organization, often at the risk of expulsion and loss of employment. The IWW, rather than seeking to ensure itself a steady flow of dues revenue, sought to challenge capitalism. Through direct action, particularly strikes, the working class would learn how to fight capital and in so doing would discover and develop its own potential until it was strong enough to wrest control of work away on a massive scale. That goal remains. To build such a movement today and on into the future, we will either have to do away with many of organized labor’s entrenched ways or increasingly circumvent mainstream unions altogether, much as is happening so far with Occupy.
The flip side of the IWW/striker relationship in
A second possible lesson from
The degree to which women took to heart Ettor’s declarations that striker violence would inevitably boomerang a hundredfold was also crucial. Few believed that a nonviolent approach would cause the state to reciprocate, certainly not as the strike progressed and state violence escalated, nor did it necessarily mean that an absolute principle of nonviolence was appropriate in all situations. In
Women were also at the heart of the singing and parading that characterized the strike. Again, echoes of today ring as loud and true as an Occupy drum circle. Also echoing are the songs of the black liberation movement. Surrounded by enemies, with death a very real possibility, the
Andy Piascik is a long-time activist who has written about working class issues for Z, Union Democracy Review, Labor Notes, and other publications.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.