Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Workers taking to the streets: An American tradition...

Ralph Fasanella Great Strike -- Lawrence 1912

"It was a wonderful strike, the most significant strike, the greatest strike that has ever been carried on in this country or any other country. And the most significant part of that strike was that it was a democracy. The strikers had a committee of 56, representing 27 different languages. "

Bill Big Haywood Description of the 1912 Lawrence millworkers strike

Yesterday as I heard reports of the various demonstrations I found myself thinking about how much this outpouring in the streets is in line with the tradition of American workers fighting for their rights. I was thinking in particular of the Great Strike in Lawrence in 1912. I should add that the City of Lawrence (Massachusetts) is just a 15 minute drive by car from the City of Haverhill where I live.

The quote by Big Bill Haywood (courtesy of Billmon) highlights the fact that the strikers, mostly women, were immigrants who spoke 27 different languages. Many were brought from Europe by the owners of the woolen mills to provide cheap labor.

The strikers were dealt with viciously with two teenagers killed by police in the streets. It is worthy to note that these poor exploited women received little support from the media or the politicians at the time. They were completely demonized by the Boston newspapers.

Each year on Labor Day Weekend the people of Lawrence remember their ancestors who fought successfully in the streets for fair compensation and safe working conditions. Their story should inspire those who are currently working for the rights of those who are more recent arrivals in the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

The Great Strike is memorialized in the painting by Ralph Fasanella shown above. This painting is on display in the Heritage Museum in Lawrence, Massachusetts.