‘The Ipswich Strike’ J.S. Biscay from International Socialist Review. Vol. 14 No. 2. August, 1913.
IPSWICH, Mass., a town of 6,000 people, is one of the first settlements in New England and is noted for Its notorious Ipswich Mill, where men, women and children worked for from $2.00 to $6.00 a week, often being cheated of even these scant earnings. One of the stockholders of this mill is Supreme Judge Caleb Loring and another is Bishop Lawrence. Both are highly respectable and patriotic gentlemen.
Until last fall this mill had a profitable habit of confiscating the wages of any worker that quit without giving two weeks’ notice. The 54-hour law was also meaningless to the millowners, who worked their slaves as long as they pleased.
But along came an I.W.W. organizer in the shape of C.L. Pingree, who at once made such an awful noise about robbing the workers and defying the 54-hour law that the millowners were forced to post notices asking all who had quit work in past years to call for their confiscated wages. In a few months the Ipswich Mill paid back more than $60,000 of loot to the workers. The 54-hour law was suddenly· discovered and enforced. This happened in 1912, and of course the fossilized citizens began to hate the vulgar I.W.W. for thus disturbing the historical revery of the mortuary town. The slaves were so pleased that many joined the I.W.W.
On April 22 the workers of the Ipswich Mill walked out, demanding an increase in wages. The great majority of these were called “ignorant foreigners” and their numbers were so large in the mill that they closed down the hosiery plant. For about a month the mill lay idle. In the meantime the sleepy citizens worked themselves into the proper spirit of indignant patriotism and persuaded the English-speaking workers to return amid much rejoicing. Out of 1,500 strikers a couple hundred began to scab. The Greeks and Poles stood solid.
Scabbing proved so distasteful on a few dollars a week that even the hide-bound natives began to quit in bunches. Extra sluggers were brought in from Lawrence, Salem, Beverly and other places to terrorize the strikers. Soon the town funds shrunk into a deficit and some excuse was needed to appropriate more police money. The taxpayers were grumbling at the unnecessary expense. A special meeting of town officials was called for the evening of June 10 to devise means of raising money.
On this evening the strikers paraded before the mill as usual. The scabs began to make some disturbance, elbowing and pushing strikers about the street. Instead of keeping order the police began to arrest some of the strikers. A group of workers gathered about a 16-year-old girl that was being dragged about the street by three specials. None of the strikers lifted a hand. Suddenly, as if on an agreed signal, the police and specials charged the strikers with drawn clubs and revolvers. They began to club. and shoot the workers, who had no chance to get away. Other police were stationed down the street and hemmed in the victims, leaving no opportunity of escape. Some climbed the fence, while others escaped through the yards. One woman was instantly killed with a bullet in the head while standing in her own yard. Ten more went to the hospital to recover from club and bullet wounds. Most of these were women and girls. None of the police was hurt, as the strikers had no chance of self-defense.
That evening the town appropriated $12,000 for the police.
Following this brutal attack nineteen strikers were thrown into jail charged with “riot,” while Organizers Nathan Herman, C.L. Pingree and wife were charged with murder and riot. Parades were forcibly stopped, meetings in the hall broken up and an ordinance against free speech and public assemblage was passed.
In desperation the strikers took refuge in the Greek churchyard, where for a time their meetings were not molested by the authorities. Recently even these meetings have been suppressed under the by-law that was made as an excuse for this very occasion.
During the hearing of the “riot” charges only witnesses were allowed in the court room. Citizens were not barred even from inside the railing. Radical reporters were denied admission. I was barred from the court until I produced credentials as a newspaper reporter. My press dispatches were held up until I made a deposit and got authority. Editor Edwards of the Leader, a Boston Socialist weekly, was thrown out of the town hall where the court holds session. I was threatened with violence by one of the specials at the court room door for writing and sending out news from Ipswich. In the meantime the foundry of “justice” was operating against the strikers.
During the hearing, Judge Sayward referred to the I.W.W. in the most violent language. He called the strikers “dupes,” “fools,” and other choice names becoming a man of the mill-owned bench. He stated that Herman and Pingree were responsible for the murder, even if an officer fired the fatal bullet. This was before there was even a hearing of the murder charge and before the inquest. Two days later and after the inquest, which was never made public, Prosecuting Attorney Attwill of Salem fame advised the mummified judge that in his opinion there was nothing to warrant holding the organizers on the murder charge, as an officer fired the bullet. The judge then turned a complete “flip-flop” and stated that for some days he had been of the same opinion. Then murder charges were thereupon squashed. Thirteen, including Herman and Pingree, were bound over to the grand jury charged with riot.
Following this came the arrests of outside speakers for daring to address the strikers at the Greek church. L.J. Grikstas of Brighton, A.K. McMillain of Beverly, Gustav Andeberg of Lynn and John Murphy of Lawrence—all Socialist speakers—were arrested as violent persons and quickly sentenced to three months for addressing the strikers. Their cases have been appealed and will come up again in September. During the trials of these speakers the “court” ruled that the presence of any speaker at the Greek church was enough for him.
The “citizens” began to hold meetings to lay plans for a “vigilante” squad to run the organizers and speakers out of town. A half-witted detective found a “bomb” which proved to be some cast-off overalls rolled in a bundle. This only caused a laugh about town. A “flag day” for July 4th was at once decided upon as the usual mode of procedure against the awful I.W.W. Then an effort was made to break the solid ranks of the strikers by persuading them to take part in this demonstration. The strikers refused to “demonstrate” with thugs and scabs, and the demonstration proved a costly fizzle.
Despite all these odds the strikers are standing firm, with the intention of winning or leaving the town. For the first ten weeks of the strike there was no outside aid. Some collectors have been sent out and appeals for funds are being circulated. A defense league has been organized locally from among the strikers and branch leagues are being formed in other places. Funds are badly needed. As there have been threats of stopping strike relief, the strike committee urges that all funds be sent to the Ipswich. Defense League, Box 282, Ipswich, Mass.
The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v14n02-aug-1913-ISR-gog-ocr.pdf