HS Unit III

Lesson C: The Right to Strike?

Key Questions

  1. Why do workers go out on strike?
  2. What are the risks involved in joining a strike? What are the benefits?
  3. What factors contribute to the success or failure of a strike, from the workers' and the owners' points of view?

Primary Sources

Document HS III-3: “Shoulder to Shoulder with Our Fathers, Husbands, and Brothers”: Excerpts from New York Times Report on Lynn Strike, 1860

Document HS III-3: “Shoulder to Shoulder with Our Fathers, Husbands, and Brothers”: Excerpts from New York Times Report on Lynn Strike, 1860

….The streets were thronged with girls of various ages and sizes—some twelve years old, and others forty….

The hall was filled to its utmost capacity. The ladies were such as you can imagine free, self-supporting, fearless, happy women to be. We have seen many assemblages of women, but have never beheld a more intelligent, earnest, "peart" set, than were in Liberty Hall last night.

The object of the meeting was the hearing the reports of the Committees who had been deputed to make a list of reasonable prices, and to solicit the girls of Lynn and the surrounding towns to join the strike movement.

There are two classes of workers—those who work in the shops and those [who] work at home—the former use the machines and materials of the bosses, while the latter work on their own machines, or work by hand, furnishing their own materials. It is evident that the latter should receive higher pay than the former, and the report not having considered this fact, was subjected to severe handling. The discussion which followed was rich beyond description—the jealousies, piques and cliques of the various circles being apparent as it proceeded. One opposed the adoption of the report because “the prices set were so high that the bosses wouldn’t pay them.” Cries of “Put her out,” "Shut up,“ "Scabby,” and “Shame!” arose on all sides, but, while the reporters were alarmed, the lady took it all in good part, and made up faces at the crowd….

Two ladies, one representing the machine interest, and the other the shop girls, became very much excited, and were devoting themselves to an expose of each other’s habits, when the Chairman, with the perspiration starting from every pore, said in a loud and authoritative tone of voice: ”Ladies! look at me; stop this wranglin’. Do you care for your noble cause? Are you descendants of Molly Stark or not? Did you ever hear of the spirit of ‘76? [yes, yes, we’ve got it.] Well, then, do behave yourselves.”

All parties proposed to adjourn to Tuesday night, when they would have speeches and be more orderly. canvassing Committees were appointed to look up female strikers and to report female “scabs.” And with a vote of thanks to the Chairman, the meeting adjourned.

New York Times, February 29, 1860

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Document HS III-4: Getting Organized: Statement Issued by the American Federation of Labor

Document HS III-4: Getting Organized: Statement Issued by the American Federation of Labor

American Federation of Labor Pamphlet
Library of Congress, Printed Ephemera Collection; Portfolio 209, Folder 7c.
Created in Washington, n.d.

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Document HS III-5: Children at Work in the Mills: Excerpts from Congressional Hearing, 1912

Document HS III-5: Children at Work in the Mills: Excerpts from Congressional Hearing, 1912

Testimony at the Hearings on the Strike at Lawrence, Massachusetts

CHAIRMAN. Camella, how old are you?

Miss TEOLI. Fourteen years and eight months.

[…]

CHAIRMAN. How many children are there in your family?

Miss TEOLI. Five.

CHAIRMAN. Where do you work?

Miss TEOLI. In the woolen mill.

CHAIRMAN. For the American Woolen Co.?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. What sort of work do you do?

Miss TEOLI. Twisting.

[…]

CHAIRMAN. How much do you get a week?

Miss TEOLI. $6.55.

CHAIRMAN. What is the smallest pay?

Miss TEOLI. $2.64.

CHAIRMAN. Do you have to pay anything for water?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. How much?

Miss TEOLI. 10 cents every two weeks.

CHAIRMAN. Does your father work, and where?

Miss TEOLI. My father works in the Washington.

CHAIRMAN. The Washington Woolen Mill?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. How much pay does he get for a week's work?

Miss TEOLI. $7.70

CHAIRMAN. Does he always work a full week?

Miss TEOLI. No.

CHAIRMAN. Well, how often does it happen that he does not work a full week?

Miss TEOLI. He works in the winter a full week, and usually he don't in the summer.

CHAIRMAN. In the winter he works a full week, and in the summer how much?

Miss TEOLI. Two or three days a week.

[…]

CHAIRMAN. Now, did you ever get hurt in the mill?

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. Can you tell the committee about that — how it happened and what it was

Miss TEOLI. Yes.

CHAIRMAN. Tell us about it now, in your own way.

Miss TEOLI. Well, I used to go to school, and then a man came up to my house and asked my father why I didn't go to work, so my father says I don't know whether she is 13 or 14 years old. So, the man say you give me $4 and I will make the papers come from the old country saying you are 14. So, my father gave him the $4, and in one month came the papers that I was 14. I went to work, and about two weeks got hurt in my head.

CHAIRMAN. Now, how did you get hurt, and where were you hurt in the head; explain that to the committee?

[…]

Miss TEOLI. The machine pulled the scalp off.

CHAIRMAN. The machine pulled your scalp off?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. How long ago was that?

Miss TEOLI. A year ago, or about a year ago.

CHAIRMAN. Were you in the hospital after that?

Miss TEOLI. I was in the hospital seven months.

[…]

CHAIRMAN. Did the company pay your bills while you were in the hospital?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. The company took care of you?

Miss TEOLI. The company only paid my bills; they didn't give me anything else.

CHAIRMAN. They only paid your hospital bills; they did not give you any pay?

Miss TEOLI. No, sir.

[…]

CHAIRMAN. Did they arrest your father for having sent you to work for 14?

Miss TEOLI. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN. What did they do with him after they arrested him?

Miss TEOLI. My father told this about the man he gave $4 to, and then they put him on again.

Hearings on the Strike at Lawrence, Massachusetts, House Document No. 671, 62nd Congress. Reprinted in Rebel Voices: An I.W.W. Anthology, ed. by Joyce L. Kornbluh (University of Michigan Press, 1964).

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Document HS III-6: Boston Policemen Defy Chief to Organize Union: Excerpts from The Boston Globe, 1919

Document HS III-6: Boston Policemen Defy Chief to Organize Union: Excerpts from The Boston Globe, 1919

BOSTON POLICEMEN ORGANIZE UNION IN DEFIANCE OF CHIEF:

OATH ADMINISTERED AMID MEN'S CHEERS

The Boston Policemen's Union is a reality. At two meetings of the patrolmen of this city, which were attended by about 1,400 men, the charter, granted by the American Federation of Labor, was accepted and the oath was administered to every man, amid cheers and applause.

. . . The fear that was supposed to obsess the policemen caused by the order of the Police Commission Edwin U. Curtis that they may not join a labor union, and by the report that all members would be discharged was shown to be missing by the large number of men who accepted nomination for office.

. . . [The] Report that the entire membership of the new union comprised of troublemaking young men was proven untrue by the number of men with four or five or six service stripes on their arms who entered the hall in full uniform.

The men in uniform made no attempt to conceal their identities, and if the alleged threatened action of Commissioner Curtis to discharge all union members is carried out, he can "fire" virtually every patrolman in the city.

The Boston Globe, August 16, 1919

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Document HS III-7: “New Bedford Handicapped”: Manufacturers Announce Wage Cut, 1928

Document HS III-7: “New Bedford Handicapped”: Manufacturers Announce Wage Cut, 1928

Content coming soon.

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Document HS III-8: “Fighting Mad”: Remembering the New Bedford Strike of ‘28

Document HS III-8: “Fighting Mad”: Remembering the New Bedford Strike of ‘28

The ten-cent wage cut imposed by the mill owners broke the camel’s back — workers were real angry, and even though most of the workers were unorganized they poured out of the mills fighting mad. They were fed up with the wage cuts and the speedups, and it was almost as if everything was organized beforehand, but it wasn’t. When the Textile Council rejected the ten percent cut and announced that they were gonna strike, all the unskilled people that they paid no attention to got out there. And they became the [main] force of the strike.

Oral history interview with Joe Figudiredo

Quoted in The Strike of '28, by Daniel Georgianna with Roberta Hazen Aaronson (Spinner Publications, 1993).

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