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The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike

Document 5

The Labor War at Lawrence

       "We were drowning men ready to grasp at a straw when the Industrial Workers of the World appeared to save us," said more than one striker in Lawrence.

       Up to the present time, the Textile Workers of the American Federation of Labor have failed to organize the unskilled and underpaid workers. Blocked by the mill interests, they have been defeated in their larger efforts for the skilled workers, and they have neglected the interests of the unskilled.

       In the past the foreigners have been the element through which strikes in the textile industry have been lost. This is the first time in the history of our labor struggles that the foreigners have stood to the man to better their conditions as underpaid workers. The Textile Workers had only one permanent organization at Lawrence at the beginning of the strike (the Mule Spinners Union), while the Industrial Workers of the World had not any direct organization within the industry. Many of the unskilled workers, however, had independent unions not affiliated with any national organization. John Golden, the official head of the Textile Workers of America, instead of remaining in Lawrence and fighting for the interests of the workers, went to Boston and was reported to have denounced the strike as being led by a band of revolutionists, thus leaving them to be organized by any persons who might choose to use or help them. This was the first time in the history of the American Federation movement that a leader failed the people in his industry.  

       Members of the Industrial Workers of the World sent for Joe Ettor and in four days he organized a fighting unit such as never existed in New England before. At the head of it was a strikers' committee representing eighteen nationalities and composed of fifty-six members, each with an alternate trained to act in case of the disablement of his principal. This committee was organized, not to represent the Industrial Workers of the World, but to win the strike.

       Nothing was so conducive to organization by the Industrial Workers of the World as the methods used by the three branches of the American Federation of Labor. These were the Lawrence Central Labor Union, the Boston Women's Trade Union League, and the Textile Workers of America. Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and unbelievers -- men and women of many races and languages -- were working together as human beings with a common cause. The American Federation of Labor alone refused to cooperate.

 -- Mary K. O'Sullivan, "The Labor War at Lawrence," April 1912

10.  According to O'Sullivan, how and why did the American Federation of Labor fail the striking workers?

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11.  According to O'Sullivan, how and why did the Industrial Workers of the World help the striking workers?

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