Tag Archives: Strike action

January 11th

On this day in 1912 a strike began in Lawrence Massachusetts that became known as the Bread and Roses Strike or the Three Loaf strike.

Women strikers marching through Lawrence, Ma.

The strikers were all women and children who worked in the local textile industry. Most of the women were immigrant workers. Lawrence had been a textile town for about seventy years. In 1845 most of the workers employed were skilled workers but by the turn of the century, with industrialisation and mechanisation, the owners of the various (by now) factories had got rid of the skilled workers and replaced them with non-skilled women and children. They were paid far less, had few if any rights and worked longer hours.

In the decade before the strike, conditions had worsened. The work had

Contemporary cartoon of the strike

always been dangerous, but became more so with the introduction of the two-loom system in the woollen factories. It allowed the owners to speed up production, reduce wages and lay of large numbers of workers. Those still working earned less than $9 a week for 56 hours of work. They also lived in awful conditions. The apartment buildings they made their homes in were overcrowded and dangerous. Most families survived on a diet of bread, molasses and beans. Meat was a rare treat. At this period the mortality rate for children under the age of six was 50%. 36 out of every hundred men and women who worked in the woollen mills died by the age of 25.

Children at work in one of the textile factories

The strike was caused by a new Massachusetts law which came into affect on January 1st 1912. The maximum number of hours that women and children were allowed to work dropped from 56 hours a week to 54 hours. On January 11th workers realised that what they had feared had come to pass: their employers had dropped their wages to take into account the fact that they were working two hours less per week. A 32c drop meant several loaves of bread for a family and the difference between just about getting by and dropping into abject poverty.

The first mill to see the strike action begin was the Everett Cotton Mill. Polish women walked out shouting “Short pay! Short pay!” The next day workers from other factories also walked out and by the end of the week 20,000 women, mostly immigrants, were on strike.

The strike was led by the Industrial Workers of the World union, who had been organising in the city for some time before the strike. The union was, as the name might suggest, a socialist group. This didn’t go down well at all and meant that the strikers and the union leaders met some horrific opposition from the Police, judicial system and the factory owners. The union, for their part, arranged for all strike meetings to be translated into 25 different languages, so that all strikers could know exactly what was going on and put out a set of demands: 15% increase in wages, a 54 hour week, double time for any overtime work and no discrimination against workers for strike activities.

The strike went on until March. In that time strikers had to put up with

Bringing out an army to deal with innocent women and children always looks "good"

a lot. The local militia walked the streets to “police” the “trouble”. The strikers then formed mass pickets. The mill owners reacted by turning fire hoses against them. The strikers, who were determined not to be put down, reacted by throwing ice at the factory windows. 36 women were arrested and sentenced to a year in prison for throwing ice and breaking windows. The judge said “The only way to teach them is to hand out severe sentences.” The governor of Massachusetts then ordered out the state police and state militia in order to stop the strikers.

At the same time the United Textile Workers, a conservative union, tried to break the strike, but the women were having none of it. Anna LoPizzo, a striker, was murdered, almost certainly by the police, but the local leaders of IWW were arrested and kept in jail for several months after the end of the strike, despite the police knowing that they had been three miles away from the murder at the time it happened.

There was also a problem with looking after the children of the strikers, with the lack of money coming in. On a national level donations were being made and there were soup and food kitchens, but several hundred children were sent to the homes of IWW supporters in New York, which was publicised and brought more sympathy for the strikers. Another hundred children were going to be sent to Philadelphia, but they and their parents were met at the station by police who refused to allow them on to the train. The police clubbed both women and children before dragging them off into a truck. One pregnant woman miscarried. All of this was captured by the press. They were taken to a police court where the women refused to pay the fines levied and chose instead to be put in jail with their children, some of the women had babies in their arms.

All of this helped more sympathy toward the rights of these women throughout the country. One person who was disgusted by what was going on was Helen Taft the wife of President Taft. Finally, the union was able to claim a victory. By the end of April the women were back at work with a 5% rise in pay and a promise of better conditions.

Unfortunately, within a few years all the gains won had been reversed, but for a short period of time, immigrant women, were able to bring a city to its knees, simply by refusing to accept less than was their absolute right. Conservative unions had claimed that it was impossible and ridiculous to try to try to organise immigrants in Unions as they were just not capable of understanding/taking part. The IWW and the immigrant women of Lawrence proved that this was just a pile of stuff and nonsense.

Despite the eventual bad ending to this whole situation, it has a lesson for us all, 100 years later. When people are organised and share a strong feeling of right and a refusal to give in to corrupt and inhuman forces, sometimes they can make a difference. These women, who were seen as nothing but factory fodder, whose rights were nothing but a joke to their employers and whose lives were often short and harsh, stood together and demanded to be treated with decency. For a time, they won that right. They refused to be put off by violence, lies and unfairness. Th need to stand up and be counted is just as strong 100 years later.

Right! After getting a bit “we’ll keep the red flag flying here”, I thought I’d find a birthday of someone really hateful and get all sweary about them, but instead I found that it is the birthday of a childhood crush, so …

Today is the birthday of Australian Actor and man who I am still a little bit in love with, Rod Taylor.

I know a lot of you will be going, “who?” well shut up! His first leading role was in The Time Machine and then everyone in the world realised he was brilliant and put him in a lot of other films, including The Birds and The V.I.P.s. Also, if you love the proper, original One Hundred and One Dalmatians he did the voice for Pongo, which is probably why you all love Pongo so much.

Being all manly and fishing while taking a break from The Birds. Probably

In the 1970s he did a lot of television work, which I’m not interested in, because I like him in films and more recently he’s apparently been in Inglourious Basterds playing Winston Churchill. He is now 81 though, so I don’t want to look at him and see all that lost beauty. Not that he was particularly beautiful in a pretty boy way; he was more manly man. sigh. Anyway, I loved him, even when he was a bit older and appearing, every so often in Murder She Wrote with Jessica Fletcher (yes, I know she’s a character! I’m being intentionally stupid, thank you very much).

To be completely and utterly honest here, my love for him has always been pure, because he sort of reminds me of my dad. I probably fell in love with Rod not long before my dad died and I’ve stayed in love with him because he’s my little reminder of my dad. If you cry at that, you’re a wimp, so just stop it!

Anyway, I love Rod Taylor and I hope he has the best birthday ever and lives to be 101 in good health with lovely twinkly eyes and all his wonderfulness.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Almanac

May 4th

On this day in 1886 there was a bit of a fracas in a square in Chicago and frankly things got very, very out of hand. What happened on that day and its grim aftermath had a profound impact on international workers’ movement.

Contemporary illustration of what went down. Not very illustrative to be honest

At the time of the riot/massacre/uprising/bombing/shooting, America was experiencing a high number of strikes (somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 workers were on strike). These revolved around the “eight our day movement”, which is pretty self-explanatory: they were trying to get legislation passed to ensure that workers only had to work for eight hours a day. This hardly seems like asking for a lot from our perspective, but back then it was. And back then it was why unions were so vitally important. Without them many of the rights we now take for advantage wouldn’t be enshrined in law. Anyway, political lecture over! In Chicago there was a strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co, which had been going on for some months; workers had been locked out since February. Scab labour had been brought in, but even so many of those “scabs” had defected to the strike. Throughout the strike there was a certain amount of trouble, but by and large it was non-violent. There were, however, problems, which is hardly surprising. For a start, and maybe for a middle and end as well, the owners of the factory had employed Pinkerton agents to keep an eye on the strikers and ensure that there was no violence. Police officers, up to four hundred at a time, escorted the scab labour into the factory. The strikers weren’t angels; they did harass scabs who went through the factory gates, but they in turn were harassed and subjected to violence by the Pinkerton agents.

Fast forward to May 3rd and a rally outside the gates of the factory. The rally was addressed by a leader of the eight-hour day movement called August Spies. He urged the striking workers to hold it together and to stand together with their union if they wanted to succeed. All was well until the end of day bell rang. Some of the strikers surged forward to confront the scab workforce and at that moment police and/or Pinkerton agents fired into the crowd, killing at least two strikers. Some contemporary accounts state six, but there are no definitive records. This incident was incendiary and led to the immediate call for a meeting the next day in Haymarket Square. Flyers were made up by a local anarchist group and initially stated “Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force!” but August Spies said he would refuse to speak at the meeting unless that wording was removed. It was and all but a couple of hundred of the original flyers were destroyed. In short, the meeting was to be peaceful. The workers and their representatives were not planning trouble.

The next evening, the meeting convened. A large number of policemen observed the rally from the sidelines. August Spies was the first speaker and his opening words were recorded thus:

“There seems to prevail the opinion in some quarters that this meeting has been called for the purpose of inaugurating a riot, hence these warlike preparations on the part of so-called ‘law and order.’ However, let me tell you at the beginning that this meeting has not been called for any such purpose. The object of this meeting is to explain the general situation of the eight-hour movement and to throw light upon various incidents in connection with it.”

And the evening pretty much went on like that. The Mayor had popped by to see if it was kicking off and it wasn’t so he went home

August Spies. Fine moustache

early. Samuel Fielding was the last speaker of the night and he finished at 10.30pm, at which point the police lined up to disperse the crowd and make them go home. And then it happened. A pipe bomb was thrown at the police, killing one officer immediately and it all went mental. The police started firing into the crowd. There are reports that some of the crowd were armed and fired back, but these are very fragmentary and there are no numbers for how many may have been shooting. Similarly, numbers of dead and injured are hard to establish. We do know that eight policemen died that night and that most of them died under friendly fire. That is, that it was dark, the police were all gun happy and ended up shooting each other in the panic. At least four workers were killed and many more injured. A couple of police spokesmen, talking off the record, stated that they knew that far more workers than police had been hurt or killed, but that due to fear of arrest, many had not sought medical treatment. The whole incident lasted no more than about five minutes, but the carnage was appalling.

Who threw the bomb? Nobody knows. It was claimed by the police and the media that it was an anarchist and it may have been. It may also have been a Pinkerton agent trying to stir up trouble. Many believed this to be the case. It is clear that the meeting was peaceful until the throwing of the bomb and the reaction to it. With no suspect the police decided to arrest the men who had addressed the crowd. The prosecution did not even pretend that they were actively involved in the bombing, but focused instead on the fact that they had not discouraged the anonymous bomber and as such they were co-conspirators. It sounds like nonsense, mostly because it is, but they were all found guilty. Of the eight men convicted, seven were sentenced to death and one to fifteen years in prison.

The press around the country lined up to condemn the men calling them monsters, cowards and brutes among many other things. But the world heard the story too and many were disgusted with the treatment of the eight men who all agreed had played no part in the bombing or murder. The very fact of their radicalism and their insistence on standing up for workers’ rights against business interests had landed them where they were. All the name calling and fear-mongering the US press could come up with was no barrier to the pure and simple truth.  There was an appeal the following year and two of the men, including Fielding, had their sentences commuted, but the rest were still to be executed. One of their number, Louis Lingg, committed suicide (he used a dynamite cap, it was horrific and he took six agonising hours to die) and all of the rest, including August Spies, who had specifically called for peace and non-violence, were executed.

The outcome of the trial and the subsequent executions has been seen as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the US. Within six years the governor of Chicago had issued pardons for all of the men and acknowledged that the tragedy had happened because the police had let the Pinkerton agents away with too much. It singled him out as a man who understood what justice should be, but also ended his political career. There is a memorial to the martyrs in Chicago and the May 1st workers’ day celebrations are in part in memory of the men who died on that day in May and later on the gallows. We go back again to the point of unions. However much people may now see them as redundant – a view you won’t be surprised to hear I disagree with – we should never forget that over the years they have been made up of men and women who have sometimes gone so far as to lay down their lives for greater rights for all of us. These men and other men and women like them deserve a moment of our time and that, dear readers, is what I hope I’ve just given them.

Today is the birthday of a German footballer.

He’s not very well known internationally. He’s only 21 and not in the national team, although maybe his day will come. He plays for a team called Karlsruher F.C., which I happily admit I’ve never heard of. He’s only played four games for the first team and has yet to

Cuntzy

score a goal.

All in all, he’s a pretty ordinary bloke, probably not that good at football or anything and someone no one’s really heard of outside of German football fans or maybe even only fans of Karlsruher F.C., so why do we get to wish him a happy birthday?

His name is Matthias Cuntz. That is all it takes really and yes I am that juvenile. Did you ever doubt it?

Happy birthday, Matthias Cuntz.

3 Comments

Filed under Almanac