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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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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)