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.