The Lawrence Strike: A Study
“At present there probably cannot be a judicial presentation of the case; time is needed to put events in true relation to causes. But it is possible to correct some falsities and relieve some perplexities regarding essential facts.”
The writer who reveals the truth about Lawrence will be respected and disliked by all factions. His impartiality and courage will entitle him to respect, but his praise and blame for each one of the parties in interest will certainly not make him popular.
The situation at Lawrence has been very complex, and to judge it correctly one must study it without passion, without prejudice, and, hardest of all, without pity. From first to last there has been much misrepresentation in the daily papers. The public has had to form its opinions from the press reports, and the tendency to 'play up' news for its dramatic rather than its actual value, has made these reports less significant than they have seemed to be. There has been over-emphasis and lack of proportion. Much that has been written was irrelevant to the questions at issue, and only served to arouse emotion, which impaired a just estimate. When people are said to be starving it is hard to be judicial about them. To be sure, nobody was starving in Lawrence at any time, but it was part of the emotion of the moment to suppose that they were. And so, when logic would not travel fast enough, pity has pushed it from behind. The many forms of suffering and distress have been accredited to the obvious instead of being traced to their true source. The public mind has become bewildered.
At present there probably cannot be a judicial presentation of the case; time is needed to put events in true relation to causes. But it is possible to correct some falsities and relieve some perplexities regarding essential facts. It is not the purpose of this article to outline the events of the strike, or restate what is generally known. It is written rather to try to clear up a confusion resulting from too much statement and too little reflection. It is not heat but light that is needed.
The parties involved in this controversy have been the City of Lawrence (through its officials: Mayor Scanlon, Commissioner Lynch, Marshal Sullivan, and Judge Mahoney); the Citizens' Committee of Lawrence; the mills; the strikers; the militia of the state; the American Federation of Labor (represented by John Golden as head of the United Textile Workers of America); and the Industrial Workers of the World (represented by Ettor, Haywood, Thompson, Yates, and Trautmann). All relief workers, the Legislative Committee, and the Lawrence police, are comprehended in the above groups.
The trouble started over a question of wages: the withdrawal from the weekly envelope of two hours' pay, because of legislative reduction of the factory working hours of women and children (not men workers) from fifty-six to fifty-four hours a week, and the consequent inability to operate the mills for these two hours. Neither party had made any effort to secure this legislation, and to the employer it was so distasteful that he was drawn into committing an injustice and a tactical blunder, — that of giving no notice to his employees (many of whom were ignorant of both the language and legislation of the state) that the weekly pay would be changed to fit the legislation. No excuse can be given for this omission. It was open to reasonable doubt whether such legislative action, in the absence of any notice from the mill-owners, would necessarily work a revision of wages. It would have cost nothing more than a little courtesy to have made a brief explanation, especially in view of the dull mentality of many of the workers. Instead, the mill-owners permitted their employees to labor one entire week under a misapprehension of the facts, and in ignorance of the reduced wages each worker was to receive. They then presented the reduced pay.
An inflammable temperament on one side, and irritated aloofness on the other, aggravated the first clash, and within a few hours the strike was spreading rapidly. There was some intimidation, and a little destruction inside the mills, which drove out many who had no intention of striking.
At this time there was no strong labor organization in Lawrence, and no recognized leader or committee with whom the owners could confer. There were a few feeble craft unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. and a small number of unskilled laborers (probably about three hundred) who had recently joined the I.W.W. It is possible that if there had been a responsible organization, the strike would not have occurred. In any case it would have been a different affair, with a consideration of differences before a strike was declared, a conference, and a more orderly course of events.
That no reliable labor organization existed in Lawrence is due solely to the mill-owners. They had systematically discouraged every effort to organize the various crafts. Such organization was attempted by the United Textile Workers of America, but it could not gain ground against the quiet antagonism of the mills. Eight months before the strike, the very large body of unskilled non-organized textile laborers in Lawrence had attracted the attention of the I.W.W. The A. F. of L. had selfishly shown little interest in unskilled labor and the outbreak gave the I.W.W. its chance to secure recruits. Swiftly on the heels of the first trouble came Joseph J. Ettor to organize the workers of eighteen nationalities into a compact 'industrial' body under the banner of the I.W.W. Ettor is one of the five members of the General Executive Board of the I.W.W. (the highest authority in the order), a man crafty in method, quick in action, and with much personal magnetism.
No time was wasted by Ettor in mere organization. His plan of campaign was, first to weld the factions tightly together, then win the victory, and then organize permanently. To unite those conflicting racial antagonisms into a single bond of brotherhood was no small job for any man to do, yet Ettor did it! Make a note of the man who could come as a stranger into that polyglot chaos, and transform it. He knew that misery makes strange bed-fellows, and that hearts are welded by suffering endured together. They would not call one another 'brothers,' so he made them brothers in misfortune, and he knew the value of permitting a certain amount of violence at first in order that its repression might fan the flames of resentment and help the 'uniting.' Tactically he outpointed the mill agents.
The working plan for temporary organization was very simple. Each nationality or group sent one, two, or three members to form a Strike Committee. This committee (about fifty persons) met every morning, heard reports, investigated complaints, and gave suggestions. All the strikers were admitted to stand at the back of the hall during these daily meetings, but were excluded from executive sessions. The I.W.W. leaders presided and spoke at these and other mass meetings, directed the organization work, and generally counseled what to do and how to do it. The Strike Committee received this advice, and if they approved it either acted on it or passed it on for the strikers' acceptance. The strikers held both group and general meetings, and a 'yes' or 'no' vote at these meetings was the final authority.
The handling of the acute situation during the first six weeks by the mills, the militia, the mayor, the police and the courts, has been severely blamed and warmly praised. Only an expert in such conflicts is competent to pass judgment here. I am not such an expert. The truth is probably between the two extremes. There is no doubt that the administration of law and order was somewhat arbitrary, yet the situation was critical and a strong arm was needed; the validity of the legal process under which Ettor was arrested was questionable, yet both Ettor and Haywood should have been prevented from inciting to revolution; the authorities who stopped the sending away of the children were again straining the validity of legal process to accomplish their ends, yet the children were obviously being sent away for exploitation, to arouse sympathy, and to incite contributions of money to prolong the strike.
The turning back of the children at the depot offered a fine chance to yellow journalism. As a matter of fact, there was no 'hideous brutality,' no clubbing of women, and no trampling upon children, except in the newspapers. It is always a revolting sight to see force used upon a woman, but if the woman resists violently, the force must be violent too. The scene at the depot was repulsive and nauseating, but no more revolting to witness than any surgical operation.
There was considerable disorder and rioting during the first fortnight, when Ettor was in control; there was a great amount of unseen intimidation during the rest of the time, when Haywood was the dominant force.
It was a very hard problem for the authorities. The militia, under the wise handling of Colonel Sweetser, performed a trying task with restraint; they deserve great credit. Judge Mahoney's bold and firm administration of the police court was the severest check to the weapon of intimidation. Some social workers who investigated Lawrence censured one of the mill agents because upon the approach of a riotous crowd armed with clubs and stones, a powerful stream of water was thrown from the fire-hose directly into the crowd. It was a cold January morning, and many of the strikers possessed no other clothing than the garments they wore. The measure was drastic. Whether such a measure will stop violence or rather start violence; whether it was merited, and if merited whether wise are questions which can properly be answered only by those eye-witnesses who have expert knowledge of the temper and control of mobs. That the mob was riotous is clearly shown, and it is not correct to say that the throwing of the water precipitated the window-smashing. It did, however, intensify the bitterness, and is even now remembered with deep resentment.
But the real grievance at Lawrence from first to last was the small sum which went into the pay envelopes, and sooner or later we must come to the question whether the Lawrence mills paid sufficient wages to their operatives, especially to the unskilled class.
The answer to that question depends upon the point of view. There are two points of view. The man who stands for the established order has strong arguments. He leans back upon twenty centuries of a certain relationship between capital and labor, in which capital has inaugurated, conducted, and created the enterprises of the earth, and labor has worked for capital, receiving its accepted wage.
'And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.'
By the standards of industrial civilization labor has been a commodity which could be bought and sold, and as such it is controlled by immutable economic laws. The market price of labor is governed, when not under the stress of industrial warfare, as all other market prices are governed, by the supply and demand. Everywhere and always this has been the rule in business dealings. The Lawrence mills are a business enterprise; they are run on a business basis; they must be so run! To run them on any basis of mixed business and philanthropy would be to end the textile industry in Lawrence. Where would the textile workers go then ? To the Southern mills where still lower wages are given? Or to Philadelphia, where some of them have already gone, and where they now work fifty-seven hours for less wages than the Lawrence mills pay for fifty-four hours?
This is not meant as an argument in defense of those wretched wages in Lawrence. It is merely a statement that the low-paid, unskilled worker at Lawrence has been paid the wages that the laws of supply and demand have fixed for such labor.
Under the plan we are now considering, capital takes all the risk. Sometimes capital succeeds and gains greatly; sometimes it fails and loses all. Labor neither gains nor fails; it takes no risk.
Let us be fair about this matter. We have blamed the Lawrence mill-owner for the low wage. He is not to blame for it! The whole textile industry is not to blame for it! Who, then, is? The community—you and I and every one of us. We create the supply and demand.
Of course these people are not paid enough to live as American citizens or according to American ideas. But who knows whether they care for American civilization anyway, or would live up to American ideals if they had more pay? It is rather a matter of race and custom. Many of them represent a low scale of Asiatic living, lower even than the pauper labor of Europe; and a far more serious question than their present wage is, 'How do you propose to weave them into a Massachusetts community?' They understand no law, language, or custom except of their own race, and care for no other. Who brought them over here? And who let them in? The United States authorities, after rigid investigation, find no evidence that the Lawrence mill-owners brought them. The truth is that the steamship companies, for their own profit, collected them from every direction and any source. Many of them arrive saturated with ideas of revolutionary socialism and class hatred. Our immigration laws let them freely in, regardless of the fact that they collect in such compact masses as to make it impossible to assimilate them or teach them American principles. We have reached a point where the congestion of tens of thousands of foreigners (with their impossible standards) in our industrial centres is preparing a very dark problem for the future.
We come back to consider the more recent and humanitarian attitude toward labor, as opposed to the old view of labor as a commodity. The humanitarian view is that labor is a partner with capital, and should share in the profits. A certain interest should be allowed for the use of the money, a certain extra profit for the risk of the business to which it is subjected, a certain sum set aside for renewal of the plant, and the remainder of the profits should be divided between capital which supplies the tool, and labor which works the tool. Just what proportion should go to labor varies according to the sympathy of the speaker, from an 'equal share' to a 'generous share.' It is fair to assume that as a necessary part of the plan the profits of every enterprise would have to be put in the 'pillory of publicity' and known by every one.
Whether such a form of enterprise would stimulate the development of business and encourage capital to take the risks of new undertakings, is open to serious doubt. It is certainly a splendid vision of righteous—if as yet unpractical—dealing; and on the moral point of view we must all agree. In fact, the only exception one need take to the plan is to insist that, as a partnership, it must in justice be accepted by both partners. To force one partner to join the partnership with a pistol pointed at his head, is only another form of despotism.
But the advocates of partnership point to the mills, which are already built and cannot run away, and they suggest that the capitalist owners can be compelled to accept the new partnership. In this they lose sight of one fact: that every large business must be renewed with fresh capital or it soon dies of exhaustion. But it may be claimed that this fresh capital is easily obtainable from the existing profits; and this brings us to the complaint that the Lawrence mills are said to have made very large profits during the beneficent years of the Dingley Tariff (from 1897 till the panic year of 1907), and that these high profits should have been used to pay higher wages to the workers, rather than to build new and larger mills. It is certainly true in theory that the tariff on manufactured textiles is placed there for the protection of the American workman, and the absurdity exists of protection for commerce and free trade for labor. But again it is true that the wages paid to American textile workers under this tariff have steadily averaged from forty-nine to one hundred and eighty per cent higher than those paid to the non-tariff-protected English worker in the same line of work, while the production per worker has been as large in Great Britain as in this country. Yet this takes no account of the greatly increased cost of living in the United States, and to be of any real value, such a comparison should be made on the purchasing power of the pay envelope, rather than its monetary value. It is in evidence that a few of the English factory-hands who emigrated to Lawrence declared it harder to live under the wages of Lawrence1 than under the wages of Lancashire. These are the confusing facts which await adjustment.
But in all this controversy it is interesting to note that no one has explained why the Lawrence mills should lead way in this reform. Why should Lawrence be more high-minded than the business world? Why should the Lawrence mills do what no other employers anywhere are doing, and become semi-benevolent institutions? So long as economic laws govern all our industries to the extent they do to-day, it is asking much of Lawrence to demand that she should go beyond all precedents and inaugurate a new order.
When all is said, economic laws work out a far greater measure of justice than is seen upon the surface. Strike or no strike, it is open to doubt whether any body of workers can long obtain a higher wage than the economic conditions allow. The effort to make men exchange, not in accordance with supply and demand, but on arbitrary lines, would necessitate a new industrial order.
The enthusiast will say that all this is of little account, for wages in the Lawrence mills have now been advanced, and the victory has proved the truth of the long contention. That is not yet determined. By the weapon of a strike these wages have been increased. The mill-owners, before adopting this arbitrary advance, wished to be sure that the economic conditions of the future would sustain those new wages. Regardless of their own judgment, they have been forced to pay them. Whether the future will justify and support this extra expense, no one knows. Future demand is uncertain; Schedule K seems assured of sharp downward revision. The prices of the mill products will now be advanced, and the demand for them is not a fixed quantity, but is directly affected by their cost. If the demand is cut down, either the number of workers or the hours of work must be decreased. That public sentiment is prepared to reduce still further the hours of labor is doubtful.
During the nine weeks of the strike, wages in the Lawrence mills have been constantly discussed in connection with the number of persons in the family group. Just what bearing the number of children had on the father's efficiency as a worker was never stated. It should not be necessary to point out that the number of children is wholly the affair of the father; the fact that he wanted a large family is no reason why the mills should pay him higher wages; and the real sin, if any exists, lies at his door for bringing children into the world when he was unable to support them.
But the newspapers, the strikers, and many relief workers, asked, 'Here is a man with wife and six children, receiving only twelve dollars a week; do you call that a living wage?' This was another way of insisting that the number of dependents should decide the wage-scale. The only possible relation between wages and the size of the family is that the size of the wages should regulate the size of the family. A 'living wage' would seem to refer to a wage on which the worker may support himself. The expression can scarcely be held to include any number of extra persons, from one to twenty, whom the worker may elect to support.
I mention these two instances, not because they are important, but only to show the irrelevancy, the exaggeration, and the dangerous use of sentiment in place of reasoning, which marked so many of the newspaper accounts and helped to poison the public mind against the mill-owners. It is unjust to condemn the I.W.W. for inciting to violence, and not extend some condemnation to a portion of the press. It required no courage to play to the galleries; pity is always appealing. It was a fine pose to stand as the champion of the weak; something was always 'doing' on the strikers' side, and it offered a lot of local color.
There was no special interest in the mill-owners; they were only business men and uninteresting exhibits, but they were in the public eye and must be made interesting somehow. So the president of one of the large corporations was pictured as a robber baron, who didn't know how many automobiles he owned, but who charged the poor people for drinking water. Thousands of persons to-day believe that Mr. Wood is just that kind of a man. I do not know Mr. Wood, I have never seen him, I own no stock in his mills, and I hold no brief to defend him. But for the sake of getting within speaking distance of the truth, let the facts be known. I state them without the gentleman's knowledge or consent but I believe them to be accurate. Summoned before a tribunal, he was asked how many automobiles he had on a date some weeks earlier. At about the date thus specifically fixed he owned three cars; one had been burned up in a garage fire; an order had been given to replace it, and at a later date it was replaced; the second had been loaned to a relative or friend, and was away at about that date; the third was the car used for himself and his family. Whether on that exact day to which the inquiry referred the burned car had been replaced or not, — whether the loaned car had been returned or not, — he honestly did not know, and he made the only answer that he could truthfully make, 'I do not know.'
Now for the drinking water. When the water-supply of the City of Lawrence was taken directly from the Merrimac River, it was under serious suspicion, and the people of the city very generally drank bottled spring-water. Then the city put in a large filtration plant, and the purified water, approved by the Board of Health, was freely drunk in every house and is to-day the regular drinking water of the city. It is claimed that in the mills the waterpipes run so close to the steam-pipes that the water becomes heated. These new mills of the American Woolen Company represent the furthest advance in mill-construction, the highest achievement in mill-engineering, and I do not believe that their heavily-jacketed steam-pipes can overheat the water-pipes near them. In the best office-buildings in Boston the faucet water in winter will run slightly warm for the first minute or so. This may happen in the Lawrence mills, but it is merely till fresh water can enter the pipes. However, for this or some other reason, certain of the operatives wanted bottled spring-water, and they clubbed together and ordered it delivered at the mill; it wasn't cold enough to please them, so they ordered ice. They had a perfect right to do all this, and had Mr. Wood attempted to restrain them he would have been justly called harsh names. But the owners had nothing to do with this spring-water: they neither ordered it, paid for it, nor knew anything about it other than as any outsider might know of it. Yet one Boston paper published a cartoon of a poor, ragged, half-starved little girl in one of the rooms of the mill dropping five cents into a slot in order to get a drink of water.
Much has been written about the wretched housing of the Lawrence operatives, and it is undeniably bad. But it is no worse than can be seen in Boston or New York. I asked one question wherever I went: 'Are the wages, housing, and general welfare of the operatives any worse in Lawrence than in any other textile city in Massachusetts?' I felt sure that the mills would say 'No,' but I thought the labor leaders would say 'Yes.' I asked Mayor Scanlon and he said 'No'; I asked a previous mayor of the city, I asked the Citizens' Committee, and I asked Judge Mahoney; they all said 'No.' Then I went to John Golden. 'No worse,' was his reply. I went to Ettor. 'Bad, but not any worse in Lawrence than elsewhere,' said Ettor. I went to Haywood. 'No worse here than in every Massachusetts textile city,' said he. Finally I went to the mill-owners and they said, 'A little worse, because the overcrowding in one small section of the city is probably not equaled in any other textile centre.' It is interesting to note this evidence in view of the general impression that Lawrence was 'infamously notorious,' as one paper phrased it.
It was impossible to see the housing conditions fairly, however, unless one combatted the efforts of the labor organizations and relief agencies to show the visitor only the most distressing cases, and give only extreme statistics. In no case were these typical or average conditions, and when I insisted on seeing a dozen relief cases, taken at random, the answer was, 'But such cases would not be interesting! We can find you something a good deal worse if you'll give us a little time.'
The fact is that the living conditions of some of the immigrants from southeastern Europe are their own choice, and they are vile. The men come without their families, for a quick clean-up of all the money they can collect, and a speedy return to their native soil. In some of the New England textile cities they sleep on the floor, from fourteen to seventeen in a room. They waste no money on even the cheapest restaurants, but eat in the same way in which they sleep—on the basis of hoboes and tramps. But they are as non-typical in their way as the published case of four families in five rooms, or one to which I was sent where sixteen persons (mostly boarders) lived in three rooms.
Lawrence is not wholly to blame for her congestion. In large measure overcrowding has come from under-letting. It should be stated that in some of the most congested houses money is being saved each week. Many families who crowd together in one or two rooms receive the same wages as those who live in entirely decent surroundings.
To form a proper estimate of the Lawrence strike some knowledge is necessary of the community in which the conflict occurred. The mills, which have practically built up the city, are owned mainly by a large body of nonresidents, who have little knowledge of the place or its problems. Paying no taxes, they have no interest in the municipal government. The resident mill officials are very able men, but they have their important business duties and feel no call to engage in politics. The mills, until two years ago, paid only a tax on their real estate and machinery (no franchise tax), yet they dumped into Lawrence thousands of operatives who, while paying not a single dollar toward the support of the city, must at the city's expense be educated, policed, safeguarded from fire, watched over in the matter of sanitation and health, and generally given all the privileges of city planning and administration. To cater to the wants of 30,000 factory-hands there have come into Lawrence many small store-keepers, clerks, sales-people, and mechanics in all trades, none of them owning much taxable property. There are no wealthy persons living in Lawrence. Naturally the taxes are high; the one cry from the taxpayer is, 'Keep down the taxes'; and his last concern or desire is to do anything for the foreigners who herd like cattle, outrage health and decency, and raise the tax-rate. It is a fact that the curriculum of the Lawrence schools (especially the evening schools) has had to be practically made over to provide for the teaching of English on a most extensive scale as the first step in the education of these non-tax-payers.
Into this puzzle of government few persons cared to enter; so the grafter entered and plundered the city of what little was left. Bankrupt and almost helpless, the State legislature came to the relief of Lawrence and provided it with a new charter, safeguarded against corruption. Loans were raised, and a fresh start was made under a new government of upright men. They had been in office just a fortnight, and were wholly inexperienced in their duties, when the strike came. That it should have almost paralyzed the city government was to be expected. The police force was unable to cope with a mob of from 5,000 to 9,000 highly inflammable men, and the mills would unquestionably have been damaged had not the Governor called out the troops. But Lawrence, with the help of the militia staggered through its task. The new city officials have learned a great deal. So have the citizens. So, too, have the mill agents. Best of all, public sentiment has been informed and is already working for many improvements.
The strike at Lawrence has forcibly called public attention to an organization as yet little known in the East—the Industrial Workers of the World. It would be misleading to speak of it as a 'labor organization,' for that expression has come to have a very definite meaning in the last quarter of a century, and the aims and methods of the I.W.W. are wholly contrary to such an interpretation. The I.W.W. is an anarchistic organization, pure and simple. It makes no concealment of its nature or object. Its aim is the overthrow of the existing social order, the taking possession by labor of all the machinery of production and the driving out of the capitalist class. The organization was conceived in the brains of two men as recently as 1904; the project was discussed in that year in Chicago by a small body of chosen spirits. They sent word to all labor organizations inviting a conference. Those who responded came from the West, where the strength of the I.W.W. is still found. Six months later they held their first convention. The backbone of the movement was the Western Federation of Miners, the organization presided over by Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone, and made famous by the dynamite work of Harry Orchard.
In 1908 the I.W.W. (then three years old) divided into two factions, and it still remains divided. Both agree on the end to be attained, but the Detroit faction believes this end should be attained in a democracy by the ballot, while the Chicago faction (strongly anarchistic) believes in 'direct action.' Haywood and Ettor are of this latter group. In seven years, despite division, the I.W.W. has gained great headway, spreading like a pestilence through the north-western lumber camps and the metalliferous mining fields. Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and California are hot-beds of the movement. In the great strike at McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, in 1909, they served notice on the State constabulary that for every person it killed a life would be demanded by the strikers, and they kept their word. In one battle ten strikers were killed, and the I.W.W. collected its ghastly toll. This civil war resulted in a victory for the strikers.
In New England (outside of Lawrence) the I.W.W. has some strength in New Bedford and in Providence. They have no power in New York State, but they are very strong at Paterson and West Hoboken, N. J. The famous preamble to the constitution of the I.W.W. has been called a vicious document. It was written by a man named Hagerty, and it can be condensed into one word, 'War.' One day I told Haywood that I should like to talk over that preamble with him, as I had heard it called a terrible document. He merely smiled, and said that he hoped it was terrible. Told once that his organization was 'incendiary,' Haywood replied, 'That's what we have been trying to tell you people. Glad you see the point!' Thus there is no evasion, no subterfuge, and no attempt to conceal the end to be attained or the method of attaining it. The end is social revolution; the method or tactics may be understood by the following extracts from a pamphlet issued by the I.W.W.: —
'As a revolutionary organization the Industrial Workers of the World aims to use any and all tactics that will get the results sought with the least expenditure of time and energy. The tactics used are determined solely by the power of the organization to make good in their use. The question of "right" and "wrong" does not concern us.
'No terms made with an employer are final. All peace, so long as the wage-system lasts, is but an armed truce. At any favorable opportunity the struggle is renewed.
'The organization does not allow contracts with the employers. It aims, where strikes are used, to paralyze all branches of the industry involved, when the employers can least afford a cessation of work—during the busy season and when there are rush orders to be filled.
'Failing to force concessions from the employers by the strike, work is resumed and "sabotage" is used to force the employers to concede the demands of the workers.
'During strikes the works are closely picketed and every effort made to keep the employers from getting workers into the shops. All supplies are cut off from strike-bound shops. All shipments are refused or mis-sent, delayed and lost if possible.
'Strike-breakers are also isolated to the full extent of the powers of the organization. Interference by the government is resented by open violation of the government's orders, going to jail en masse, causing expense to the tax-payers—which is but another name for the employing class.
'In short, the I.W.W. advocates the use of militant "direct action" tactics to the full extent of our power to make them.'
This is not political socialism. It is not anything political or theoretical. The I.W.W. does not talk, write, or argue. It acts! It cares nothing for 'right' or 'wrong.' It openly defies government by law, and announces that it will use any violence it can commit.
The organization has no president; it has a General Executive Board of five men. Two of these are in the West, two are on the Pacific coast, and one (Ettor) is in the East. When I arrived in Lawrence Ettor was under arrest, but by permission of the authorities I spent half a day with him in jail. He is very different from Haywood, and quite unlike Trautmann, or Yates, or Thompson. He spoke unreservedly, and (after we had cleared up his first insincerity) with frankness. He told me things that I do not feel justified in repeating, yet he asked no pledge of secrecy. On the other hand, Haywood served notice upon me at the start that I could never have any conference with him unless he had some friend in the room, presumably as a witness. Haywood has been credited with not wishing the Lawrence strike to be settled, but with using the situation solely as propaganda for a demonstration of the I.W.W. The assumption is warranted, but nevertheless untrue. I know from inside sources that he was most solicitous to end the situation, — far more so than his appearance and words indicated. The I.W.W. does not believe in long strikes. To use its own words: 'A strike that cannot be won in four to six weeks cannot be won by remaining out longer. The employer can better afford to fight one strike that lasts six months than he can six strikes that take place in that period.'
It is impossible to see the advent of this new force in the labor field without contrasting it with the trade-unionism of the last quarter-century as embodied in the American Federation of Labor. Each organization has its good and bad points. The I.W.W. organizes industrially; safeguards unskilled labor (giving it an equal voice); and encourages every worker to learn a trade. The A.F. of L. organizes by crafts; does little for unskilled labor; and prevents the learning of some trades. The I.W.W. asks no recognition by employers; refuses to recognize them; signs no agreements; makes no effort to control its members from striking; and considers no peace assured. The A.F. of L. demands recognition by employers; recognizes them; signs agreements with them for long periods; enforces these agreements on the workers; controls its members from unauthorized strikes and precipitate action; and guarantees that settlements shall bring peace. Both organizations at times resort to violence, and both commit the economic folly of restricting output. The great divergence between them can be expressed in one sentence: The A.F. of L. is a responsible body. Never forget that! It is selfish, shortsighted, unprogressive, and at times vicious, but it is the best thing that Labor has been able to evolve for collective bargaining.
Sooner or later the labor of our mills, both skilled and unskilled, will have to be organized, but it must be a responsible organization, that shall permit no violence, stop the despotism of the closed shop, insure business stability through trade agreements, exact and observe high standards, and sanction no abuse of power or privilege by either side. The right of Labor to bargain collectively is fundamental, and it has accomplished more for the uplift of the workers than all the philanthropy we have evolved. The capitalist who does not admit the inherent fairness of collective bargaining really affirms that capital may combine into a huge unit, and that there is then no disparity in a bargain made between a large unit and an atom. Such a man is by his attitude hastening the day of social revolution. Let him read the story of the multiplied strike in England last June and July, and see the handwriting on the wall.
The I.W.W. is merely the syndicalism of Europe, with its triple weapon of the multiplied strike, the sympathetic strike, and the general strike. It stands for war, but war without the Geneva Convention, and with no provision for the rights of noncombatants. It is private warfare, which the laws of civilization for centuries have prohibited. A conflict on a large scale is inevitably coming. Every public man in this country who has his ear close to the ground knows it is coming. Ask President Taft, if you are a Taft man. Ask Colonel Roosevelt, if you follow him. Each will admit that the conflict is certainly coming if some radical step is not taken to check it. A recent Commissioner of Labor in New York State said to me not long ago, 'You may like the labor unions or not, but the time is coming when you will be grateful to them as the only thing that stands between you and anarchy.'
The need of the hour is clearly indicated. It is, as Mr. Brandeis points out, a great opportunity for conservative trade-unionism. The rioting at Lawrence reveals the I.W.W. tactics in normal operation, while the spectacle of a few thousand lawless strikers forcing many thousand peaceable persons out of an employment which they wish to pursue, is a glimpse of I.W.W. despotism. Haywood and Ettor are seemingly outraged at any attempt to curtail the right of free speech, yet they themselves deny to thousands of non-belligerents the right of free labor, which is vastly more important.
It would be unjust to speak thus of the I.W.W. leaders without clearly explaining that these opinions do not for a moment apply to the Strike Committee at Lawrence. The reader must differentiate between the strikers themselves and an organization which merely used them as pawns in its attack upon the existing order. In the strictest sense the I.W.W. neither ordered the strike nor concluded it. The Strike Committee was composed in large part of men and women who deserved the highest respect for their sincerity, a real regard for their ability, and true admiration for their devotion to a cause.
The Lawrence strike is ended, but we must not let it pass without learning some of its lessons. The fact of eighteen diverse nationalities among the workers in one mill has been, for the first time, shown to be no barrier to a perfect solidarity of brotherhood in a common cause. The bonus system as now practiced in textile mills, while fair in theory, has certain vicious features which cannot be countenanced. The way to make anarchism grow in this country is to refuse to allow organization and collective bargaining. Absentee ownership in a factory should not exempt stock-holders from all interest in the lives of their laborers. Finally, the presence in this nation of congested masses of vaguely-understood foreigners who absolutely refuse American standards of living should turn us to a careful consideration of our immigrant laws.
The Lawrence strike has cost the community millions of dollars. It has caused suffering and privation to 50,000 persons, and it will later collect a grim toll through infant mortality. Yet if all this has brought but the single return of awakening public opinion to the dangers ahead, this wretched conflict has been a blessing in disguise.
- “Wages of Lawrence” necessitates a word about the bonus system. It is a method of cumulative reward to each operative for increased output within one month, provided only one day has been lost from work. Seemingly fair, it really causes hardship. Women work when wholly unable to work because they cannot afford, by losing a second day to lose a month's bonus. Further, the system encourages favoritism. Thus, the loom-fixer's bonus is dependent on his weaver's bonuses, and he naturally favors those weavers who are ahead of their schedule. A weaver who is behind is kept waiting while a loom is arranged for some weaver who is sure of her bonus. This dependence of one worker's bonus upon another's extends through many processes. – THE AUTHOR. ↩