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Webisode 9: Working for Freedom
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A Man in an I.W.W. Hat
Segment 8
Page 2

It was in Lawrence, Massachusetts, that the Wobblies had their finest moment. The legislature passed a law saying that women and children couldn't work more than fifty-four hours a week. The owners of the textile mills in Lawrence weren't going to accept that! Women and children had been working fifty-six hours. The owners speeded up their machinery so workers would produce as much in fifty-four hours as they had in fifty-six (they had to work faster to keep up). Then they took two hours' pay (about 32 cents) out of each wage envelope. Since the average worker earned about $7 a week, 32 cents—the price of three loaves of bread—was a lot. The American Woolen Company's net profits in 1911 were close to $4 million. The president of the company, William Wood, made this comment: Hear It Now - William Wood "To pay for fifty-four hours' work the wages of fifty-six would be equivalent to an increase in wages, and that the mills cannot afford to pay."

It was January of 1912, and bitter cold, and when they got their envelopes with less money than the week before, some women left their looms. Before long 25,000 millworkers had walked off the job. Most were foreign-born, and many had come to Lawrence after reading advertisements in their native lands telling of opportunities in the mills. When they got to Lawrence they found that their pay barely kept them from starving. They wanted more than just enough to eat. So they picketed with signs that said, "We Want Bread and Roses, Too." But they didn't have a real leader, so they appealed to the IWW for help See It Now - A Man in an I.W.W. Hat . Big Bill Haywood was soon on his way east Check The Source - The Buccafori Defense: A Speech by William D. Haywood. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came too. Flynn had chained herself to a lamppost in Spokane, Washington, after officials began jailing Wobblies for having meetings to protest job-hiring methods. But it was twenty-six year-old Joe Ettor who turned out to be the leader in Lawrence. He spoke several languages and was a terrific organizer. He said: "You can hope for no success on any policy of violence. Violence means the loss of the strike."

But there was violence at Lawrence. It was police violence. Strikers were the victims. The mayor said, "We will either break this strike or break the strikers' heads." Militia were brought in. Then detectives pretending to be striking workers smashed streetcar windows and tried to start a riot. The strikers stayed orderly. Joe Ettor made sure of that, as Collier's magazine reported: "It is wrong to charge that the doctrine of the I.W.W. at Lawrence was a doctrine of violence; fundamentally it was a doctrine of the brotherhood of man."


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Did You Know?
The American Woolen Company's Lawrence, Massachusetts mill was the largest cloth-producing factory in the world at the time—thirty acres under one roof.


Did you know that Freedom is adapted from the award-winning Oxford University Press multi-volume book series, A History of US by Joy Hakim?



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