History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview
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The Lawrence Strike


By the spring of 1911, the I.W.W. in the East was in a state of quiescence. The organizing drive in steel had netted few permanent results, and even though the I.W.W. had more locals in Pennsylvania than in any other state in the Union, the majority were inactive.1

Late in 1910, the I.W.W. seemed about to make a startling breakthrough in the shoe industry. The field was ripe for militant organization. The vast majority of the shoe workers, most of them unskilled, and a large percentage Italians, were unorganized. In September 1910, Joseph Ettor came to New York from McKees Rocks and spoke in English and Italian at a big meeting of shoe workers. (Several I.W.W. organizers, including Gurley Flynn, joined Ettor.) Soon 150 men were organized in Local 168, I.W.W. In mid-November, the local had grown to 450 members and was supporting strikers in two Brooklyn factories where the workers had come out in sympathy with several Italians who had been fired for union activity.2 Inspired by these strikes, the workers of the Wickert & Gardiner Co., organized by the A.F. of L.'s Boot and Shoe Workers Union, asked the union to negotiate a raise in their wages. The union replied that the contract ran until April 1911 and contained the usual clause outlawing strikes. Infuriated, the workers, most of whom were Italians, struck anyway and joined the I.W.W. The Boot and Shoe Workers fined each of them $10, suspended them from the union, and began to fill their places with shoemakers from Boston and Philadelphia and unskilled laborers hired from an Italian labor contractor in New York City.3

Under the leadership of the I.W.W., the strikers fought back against scabs, police and private detectives. The strike spread to nearby factories until about 3,000 men and women were out by the end of December. The I.W.W. began mass picketing around each of the strike-bound plants, and launched a defense fund to sustain several thousand strikers. The fund received contributions from a number of A.F. of L. unions, especially


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