April 2012 Presentation In Lawrence With Notes


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Between January and March of that year this strike by 30,000 unskilled and immigrant workers captured the attention of the entire nation. This paper examines that strike through the prism of the American Dream and considers how three versions of it converged in Lawrence in 1912.

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  • In preparing for today’s symposium, I was given an opportunity to:• look at this significant historical event that took place in my home town • investigate an industry that five generations of my family had been involved with, and the very workplaces and corporations that many had worked in.
  • Historian James Truslow Adams first popularized the idea of the American Dream. At its core, the dream is a hope of a better, richer, and happier life. Though societal and personal interpretations of the American Dream have shifted and morphed over time, its essentials still encompass the core political, economic, and social aspects of American life. The American Dream provides a framework for us to understand what happen in Lawrence a century ago. Looking at the strike through the prism of the American Dream, one sees three versions of it converged in Lawrence in January, 1912. The first is the Puritan/Merchant’s which belonged to Francis Lowell and Nathan Appleton who created the original business model that the larger corporate textile mills in New England were organized on. The second was the American Dream of the Gilded Age – that influenced the management of the Lawrence mills at the time of the strike and the third was the immigrant’s American Dream.
  • Two Boston merchants, Francis Lowell and Nathan Appleton, developed the “Waltham-Lowell” business model that was used in the development of the mills in Lawrence. They tried to combine economic gain with social responsibility. This belief reflected the Puritan’s sense of “piety,” using enterprise to gain both spiritually and economically while seeking the betterment of society. (Lavengood, 1959) In their travels around England and Scotland they were appalled by the working and living conditions of textile workers in the 19th century. They wanted to prevent the exploitation of workers and were confident that they could create a better system in the United States.Their first factory in Waltham, Massachusetts was a great success and a bigger operation was soon needed.
  • Essential to the operation was water power. They found a site on the Merrimack River, now the City of Lowell, Massachusetts. Francis Lowell died prior to the project fully getting underway, but Appleton and the original investors – latter dubbed by historians as the “Boston Associates”- set out to build a model factory and town with good working and living conditions. This corporate paternalism represented social innovation as much as technological innovation. At Lowell, in the companies’ boarding houses curfews and strict codes of conduct were enforced. Workers were expected to observe the Sabbath, and temperance was strongly encouraged. Lowell’s management sought to regulate their workforce’s moral conduct and social behavior. The workers, mostly unmarried women from rural New England were to be literate, cultured, and model citizens.
  • The initial investors provided a solid foundation by capitalizing the Lowell project at previously unheard of sums of money. The Boston Associates capitalized this project in 1821 at $600,000 (in today’s value, it is estimated at almost $10 million) and by 1823 they had doubled it. Over time, the original number of stock holders increased through inheritance and public sales. These newer stockholders were more interested in maximizing dividends and less concerned about the details of the day-to-day affairs of the firms. (“Capital and the Agents House,” n.d.). The original investors were willing to forgo dividends when profits were down, but the new investors wanted dividends paid regardless and wanted higher dividends when profits were up. (Farrell, 1993)  Ultimately dividends consumed every dollar of earnings and left fewer retained earnings for future capital needs. (Dalzell, 1987) This created a dichotomy between capital required for re-investing in the firms and the desire to avoid long-term debt. This also forced short-term borrowing or withdrawals from working capital which constrained further growth. In turn: “up to the 1830’s the mills at Lowell had been in the forefront of development in the American textile industry; after that date, the pace of innovation slowed considerably.” (p.55) By 1850, workers in Lowell were making less and working longer hours than when the mills opened. As the mills aged, they went from a hopeful, eager laborer's utopia to an aggressively controlling and uncaring behemoth. Workers gradually came to the realization that factories were no longer caring entities and that their employer had become "a soulless organization; and its members forgot that they were morally responsible for the souls and bodies, as well as for the wages, of those whose labor in the source of their wealth" (Robinson, 1898, p. 215)By the mid19th Century, the corporate textile mills had assumed fixed characteristics with relatively uniform policies. There were 340 establishments and 900,000 spindles in New England. The Boston Associates operated 35 mills with 750,000 spindles - about 1/4 of the region’s machines. (Barkin, 1981) They had operations in Manchester, Nashua and Dover, NH, Chicopee and Holyoke in western Massachusetts, and Saco, Maine. The final and most ambitious of the planned textile-manufacturing cities by the Boston Associates would be Lawrence.
  • At the end of the 1800’s and early into the 1900’s economies of scale drove business concentration leading to large combinations requiring vast amounts of capital and human resources. (Buder, 2009) By the 1890’s, overproduction, competition and poor management had all taken a toll on the New England textile industry. The first and largest consolidation in the wool-manufacturing industry was the American Woolen Company (AWC). It was a by-product of the depression in the middle 1890s. The depression was peculiarly severe for wool manufacturers because of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894. For the first time in over thirty years, the importation of wool was duty free and as a result, the "incidental" protection that manufacturers had been receiving from the so-called compensatory duties was eliminated. In sheer numbers the consolidation of the initial twenty-six mills gave AWC the production capacity that was 85% of the spindles in the U.S. and 25% of the looms. In addition to adding new machinery, they were easily able to move equipment between mills and consolidate operations doubling its manufacturing capability. As the “big company” in the industry they were able set the “tone and price levels” for the industry. (A.H.Cole, 1923). Economic power of this kind was facilitated by a supportive national culture. Horatio Alger, Andrew Carnegie, and others would transmit a mix of economic, intellectual, and religious beliefs reinforcing this newer concept of the Gilded Age American Dream. Carnegie, a financial giant of this era (or as some considered one of the “Robber Barons”), published his essay The Gospel of Wealth in 1889. He argued that the accumulation of wealth was beneficial to society and the government should take no action to impede it. In Lawrence, both William Whitman head of the Arlington Mills (who came from Nova Scotia and worked his way up from a clerk’s position) and William Wood, head of the AWC at the time of the strike, (son of poor Portuguese immigrants) were self-made industrial giants who made Horatio Alger's tales plausible.By the start of the 20th century, large corporations increasingly dominated the economic landscape and America was now a nation of employees. This evolving industrial model required docile workers who took orders and would do their jobs without complaining. Workers were dependent upon hourly wages as well as the good will of their employers. Employees had become mere machines and were not allowed to make the simplest decisions. This in-turn degraded them as people and workplace dignity become a major grievance.Mill conditions continuously tested relations inside the factory, especially between operatives and overseers. Workers efforts to protect their income and control workloads often created tensions in the workplace. Adding to this tension was the determination of overseers “to exert broad authority over their employees.” (Arnold, 1985) The foreman’s word was law. (D.B. Cole, 1963)
  • In Lawrence, according to Donald Cole (1963) - despite poverty, declining wages, lost jobs, and anti-immigrant feelings - immigrants were still able to find some security in their family, their ethnic groups, and in their Americanism. Cole asserts that at “end of the nineteenth century, Lawrence was an “ardently American city.” One in which native and immigrant shared a common faith in the United States.” (p. 154) For most workers in Lawrence at the start of the 20th Century, there was the immigrants’ version of the American Dream. Coming to America was an opportunity for a better life, especially for their children. (Parrillo, 1991) For a better future, they were willing to put up with hardships and uncertainty. Cole (1963) explains that these first generation immigrants believed that if they were not as successful as they first hoped, in time and with the arrival of newer immigrants their position would eventually improve and they would move up. If that did not happen, certainly their children would move up financially and socially.
  • Both management and conservative labor unions felt that immigrant workers were impossible to organize. In Lawrence, the majority of the workers were young female immigrants, kept apart by more than a dozen languages. Also as new machinery was brought into use,jobs were continually sub-divided by more limited and repetitive movements that made the workers even more interchangeable and replaceable. Workers, in those situations,would no longer had specialized skills or even know all the processes that went into a product.Copland (1917) characterized union activity in the woolen industry as happening at the local level and that a “strong union spirit, therefore, has not been manifested among the cotton mill employees, except in rare instances.” (p. 125) He goes on to explain, even when there was wide spread dissatisfaction and a strike did happen - workers including women and children would join in, but once it was settled - union membership usually didn’t grow. Also strikes generally failed.By 1912 there were three unions in Lawrence, two of which were local and the third, the mule spinner union was affiliated with the national Union of Textile Workers (UTWA). In 1898, the national UTWA union was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a federation of semi-independent craft associations. (D.B. Cole, 1963) Samuel Gompers headed the AFL and it was made up of mostly skilled workers. Its objectives were limited and focused on achieving higher wages and shorter workdays for its members – referred to as “bread and butter” issues. (Greene 1998) 
  • In 1910, the population in Lawrence rose to approximately 86,000 from around 63,000 a decade earlier. By 1912, the formation of Lawrence as an immigrant city was complete. Of the 86,000 inhabitants - 74,000 or 86% were either born abroad or had foreign-born parents. Despite Nathan Appleton’s earlier vision of a model factory and town with good working and living conditions as well as corporations being socially responsible, At the time of the strike in 1912, Lawrence led all other U.S. textile centers in the production of woolen and worsted products and almost half of the city’s population - over age fourteen - worked in the mills. The majority of the workforce was unskilled and first generation immigrants from various parts of the world, recruited by the promise of an expanding textile industry. They had replaced the original workforce of young women from rural New England.
  • On Friday, January 12th, the strike erupted when paychecks were open and there were shouts of “Short pay! All out!” Polish women in the Everett Mills were the first to shut down their looms. Bruce Watson (2005) in BREAD d & Roses says the strike began “like a spark of electricity.” This spontaneous labor action provided the mass of Lawrence workers their first opportunity to address their grievances. Prior to January 1912, no labor organization had succeeded in unifying the multiple nationalities working in the Lawrence mills. According to John McPherson, (1912) “the strike might have collapsed in a few days from lack of support and effective leadership, had Joseph Ettor . . .” of the International Workers of the World (IWW) not arrived as the strike began to help organize it. (p. 9) Lawrence’s desperate workers were willing to accept the IWW’s leadership and to work through their ethnic differences to win the strike and gain better wages and living conditions.
  • The IWWwas a syndicalist labor organization. Syndicalismcalled for the overthrow of the wage system and for workers to come together into “one big union,” creating a new industrial commonwealth. The one big union would be divided into a series of departments corresponding to different industries. (Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) - United States, n.d.) They were the first U.S. labor organization to try and recruit both unskilled and immigrant workers. Lead by William "Big Bill" Haywood, the IWW believed that general strikes, boycotts and even sabotage were essential to achieve their objectives. The IWW often appealed to social groups caught up in the rapid transition from preindustrial to industrial society, largely first-generation immigrants from either southern or eastern Europe. (van Eltern, 2003) Many workers, especially from southern Italy, had already developed transnational syndicalistpolitics. Propaganda against the strike by government, industrial, and religious leaders had blamed outside agitators for the trouble. These leaders didn’t understand that their leadership had been rejected by the strikers because of the despair from the economic exploitation these same leaders helped to create or support. (Dubofsky, 1969)
  • While it was a daunting task, a central strike committee structure was developed that overcame the strikers’ ethnic isolation with representation from 24 ethnic groups that spoke 22 different languages. Mary O’Sullivan (1912), a noted labor reporter of her time, explained the strike committee “developed leadership among the workers of the most surprising caliber and personality.” The committee established a relief system that assured no one starved during the strike. (p. 73) According to Melvyn Dubofsky (1966), a chronicler of the history of the IWW, soup kitchens were set up for single men and food or “store orders” were provided for families. Funds for this effort came in from around the country including support from regular trades-unions, industrial unions, socialistic organizations, and private sources. Overall, the system worked “remarkable efficiently.” (p. 250)
  • Mill owners had successfully influenced much of the media coverage of the strike and pressured the Governor, the legislature, and the other city officials to crack down on the strikers. Robert Biggert (2004) who has studied the tactics employed by the IWW in this and other strikes concludes that repression by the city and state government officials and others helped to defeat the mill owners’ cause. He cites four specific episodes: An attempt to portray strikers as anarchists backfired when the owners of the AWC hired John Breen, a local undertaker and school board member to plant dynamite in several locations. The IWW obtained evidence that newspaper articles about the dynamite being found had been printed before the dynamite was actually “discovered.” The death of John Ramy, an eighteen year old worker, who died from bayonet wounds to his back. The death also of Annie LoPezzo, a bystander at a strike parade resulting in the arrest of first strike organizers, Ettor and Giovannitti and the quick succession of strike leadership by “Big” Bill Haywood and Helen Gurly Flynn and the negative publicity generated by the event itself reflecting badly on the authorities. Children of the strikers were sent to live with sympathetic families in other cities so that the strikers would not be forced back into the factories because of hungry children, a tactic used successfully in Europe. On February 24th, a group of mothers accompanied their children to the railroad station. Police brutally clubbed women and children alike and then threw them into patrol wagons.  This ugly scene of February 24th reported throughout the nation, caused outrage and triggered an emotional congressional investigation. Congressman Victor Berger, a Wisconsin Socialist, prevailed upon the House Committee on Rules for a hearing on mill conditions which was scheduled to start on March 2nd. On March 1st after a daylong meeting with local and state officials, AWC’s Wood agreed to a five percent raise for all workers. He was doing this because of pressure from other mill owners, the on-coming peak season, and fear of negative publicity coming out of the Congressional hearing which might eliminate their tariff protections. The strike committee refused. In mid-March, after nine weeks, an agreement was finally reached between the workers and owners and the strike ended.   
  • The social upheaval that started in Lawrence during January, 1912 was a spontaneous reaction by people pushed to the extreme through desperate living conditions. The industrial and government leadership had failed them and what started out as a successful enterprise to make profits while being socially responsible had with time and changing economic circumstances become a system driven by distant stockholders and managers seeking returns on investment by any means; most especially at the expense of their workforce. These managers in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, were under the influence of the Gospel of Wealth. They viewed labor simply as a commodity to be acquired at the lowest rate possible. For most workers, there was the immigrants’ version of the American Dream. As Parrillo (1991) sums it up, this was a chance for a better life, especially for their children. For that vision of the future, they were willing to put up with hardships and uncertainty. However, overtime conditions became unbearable because of inadequate wages, difficult working conditions, sub-human housing facilities, and a hostile community.While the striking workers followed the leadership of the IWW to win the strike, they never lost sight of their version of the American Dream. The IWW filled a leadership void and offered effective short-term strategies. Their leadership was articulate, charismatic, and used innovative tactics to win in Lawrence. However, the IWW’s economic and social precepts were not widely accepted by the workers. Additionally, the traditional behavior of labor in the American textile industry was also repeated. When there was wide spread dissatisfaction a strike happen, but once it was settled union membership didn’t grow and the workers tended to remain unorganized.
  • Three key variables impeded class consciousness in Lawrence and in the rest of the U.S., according to Olseen (1988): 1) mobility which “sharpened ethnic loyalties while inhibiting any sense of class,” 2) ethnic ties which impeded union organizing, and 3) the possibility of upward mobility in America. “Immigration made the emergence of a class for-itself impossible in this period,” Olseen concludes. (p.46) Since the American Dream incorporates social mobility, individual success, and the protestant work ethic. (Wyatt-Nichol, 2011) It was that social mobility and chance of success through hard work the immigrants sought. That may be why, so many of the workers who marched in picket lines during the winter could march in Lawrence’s “God and Country” parade on Columbus Day, 1912.Employers unleashed a massive “For God and Country” campaign that proved highly effective. It came in reaction to a parade at the end of September honoring Annie LoPezzi. Led by anarchist Carlo Tresca, some marchers carried signs proclaiming “No God, No Country.” As Donald. Cole concludes, the campaign might have been successful because: “The immigrant had been tested and was now demonstrating his loyalty.” (p. 168)       
  • April 2012 Presentation In Lawrence With Notes

    1. 1. The American Dream and the Realities of the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike Dr. Frank Fletcher, Professor and Chair of the Business Division
    2. 2. American Dream• “Hope of a better, richer, and happier life.”• Three versions converged in January, 1912 – The Puritan Merchant’s – The Gilded Age American Dream – Immigrant’s American Dream
    3. 3. The Puritan/Merchant Dream• Boston Merchants: Francis Nathan Appleton Lowell and Nathan Appleton• “Waltham-Lowell” Business Model• Puritan sense of “Piety”• Appalled by living conditions of textile workings in England• Confident they could create a better system in US
    4. 4. Boston Associates • Waltham was a great success • Lowell was next in 1820 • Corporate paternalism was as much a “social” as “technical” innovation. • Investors became referred to the “Boston Associates”
    5. 5. Boston Associates• The original close knit investors between 1821 and 1823 doubled the capital invested in Lowell and were involved in the day to day operations• Over time the original group of investors increased through in inheritance and public sales and demand for dividends be paramount• By 1850, workers in Lowell were making less and working more then at when the mills open in Lowell• The final and most ambitious planned textile manufacturing cities was Lawrence
    6. 6. TheGilded Age American Dream • End of 1800’s and early 1900’s economies of scale drove business concentration • American Woolen Company first and largest • National Culture supported this kind of economic power • “Gospel of Wealth” • Horatio Alger, examples in Lawrence: William Whitman and William Wood
    7. 7. Immigrant’s American Dream• In Lawrence “. . .despite poverty, declining wages, lost jobs, and anti-immigrant feelings – immigrants were still able to find some security in their families, their ethnic groups and in their Americanism” – Donald Cole (1966)
    8. 8. Unions & Textile Workers• Both management and conservative labor unions felt that immigrant workers were impossible to organize• Union activity in the woolen industry happened at the local level• With wide spread dissatisfaction a strike did happen - workers including women and children would join in, but once it was settled - union membership usually didn’t grow.• By 1912 there were three unions in Lawrence, two of which were local and the third, the mule spinner union was affiliated with the national Union of Textile Workers (UTWA).
    9. 9. Immigrant City • In 1910, the population of Lawrence was 86,000. • Of that 74,000 or 86% were either born abroad or had foreign parents
    10. 10. The Lawrence Reality in 1912• Despite Nathan Appleton’s earlier version of a model industrial city, the reality of Lawrence in 1912• . . readers of Charles Dickens would have found Lawrence’s dull streets and cluttered alleys, it back canals and purple ill-smelling river, it vast piles of soot covered brick buildings, its flimsy, damp, privies whose waste oozed down open sewers and meandered through the city’s shaded backyards a familiar landscape. (p. 97) – A. Cameron(1985)
    11. 11. IWW• Conservative management and labor leaders didn’t believe unskilled immigrants could be organized.• IWW was the first labor organization to try and organize skilled and unskilled• “Accused of being outside agitators”• Syndicalist: – Overthrow of the wage system – “One big union”
    12. 12. Organized and effective • If not for Ettor, the strike might have collapsed in a few days • Workers despite differences (24 ethnic groups and 22 different languages • Strikers “developed leadership among the among the workers of the most surprising caliber and personality” – Mary O’Sullivan (1912)
    13. 13. Why the Workers Won • Biggert: – Dynamite plot – John Ramy’s death – Original leadership of Ettor & Giovannitti quickly replace after the arrest by Haywood and Flynn – Reaction to beating of striking women and their children
    14. 14. Conclusions• Spontaneous reaction by people pushed to extreme living condition• Failure of the social part of the “Waltham- System”• The Gospel of Wealth and the inequality it created in society• Effective tactics by strikers• Immigrant’s version of the American Dream 14
    15. 15. Conclusions (Continued)• Historical behavior by textile workers towards unions• Three key variables impeded class consciousness: 1. Mobility which sharpened ethnic loyalties while inhibiting any sense of class 2. Ethnic ties that impeded union organizing 3. Possibility of upward financial and social class mobility in the U.S. (Copland, 1917)