‘The Strike at Little Falls’ by Phillips Russell from International Socialist Review. Vol. 16 No. 6. December, 1912.

Strikers in front of Slovak Hall. Matilda Rabinowitz, Front Row, Fourth from Left.
‘The Strike at Little Falls’ by Phillips Russell from International Socialist Review. Vol. 16 No. 6. December, 1912.

ON October 1 of this year a law went into effect in the state of New York making it illegal for female industrial slaves to work more than 54 hours a week. Some employers immediately took advantage of the situation and paid their workers what they call “pro rata”—that is, they punished the beneficiaries of this law by reducing the contents of their pay envelopes to correspond with the reduced number of hours. Departments of industry are so closely connected nowadays that the men were affected in an equal degree with the women.

Slaves in most parts of the state seem to have received the reduction with submission, but not so the employes of the knitting mills in Little Falls. When their second pay day came around and they found their $7 envelopes short from 60 cents to $2, they did what the mill workers of Lawrence did in a similar situation —they rebelled.

First parade of the walkout.

On October 10 more than 1,500 workers, embracing nearly all the departments in the Phoenix and Gilbert Knitting Mills and four nationalities— Polish, Slavish. Austrian and Italian—walked out and poured into the streets to the sound of “Тhе Marseillaise.” The Americans stayed and scabbed.

The revolt was entirely spontaneous and most of the workers were uncertain of what to do next, but a few of them knew. They appealed to the one organization that can handle such a situation—the I.W.W. Organizers Fillippo Bochino and Fred Hirsh came hurrying from Rochester and Schenectady respectively, and the battle was on.

The first few days were quietly spent in putting the strike on an organized basis, and then as the need for a good chairman for the strike committee became evident. Benjamin J. Legere, a fighting Socialist and graduate of the Lawrence school was sent for. Though he was just entering on a short vacation after several months of exhausting work agitating for the Ettor-Giovannitti defense, he arrived promptly. He showed the strikers how to form a mass picket line that moves in an endless chain and helped to get all the different committees in working order.

Robert A. Bakeman, a clergyman who, as he later expressed it in police court is “now an honest man,” as a member of the street cleaning force in Schenectady, came up to speak to the strikers. He told the police that he intended to speak in the open air and no objection was made. But Chief of Police James Long soon afterward found occasion to visit the office of Manager McLaughlin of the Phoenix Mills and when the chief emerged it was with his club gripped in his hand. He ordered Bakeman off his soap box, and when Bakeman refused, he was arrested. George Lunn, Socialist Mayor of Schenectady, then came up to address the strikers and promptly got arrested, together with his wife. Other arrests followed thick and fast. Speakers were pulled off the box in Clinton Park, near the mills, while reading from the Constitution of the United States, from the Declaration of Independence and even from the Bible. Mayor Lunn declared that he would rot in the city jails before he would yield his constitutional rights and stop speaking on the streets.

Mayor Lunn, Robert Bakeman and Chief Long right before Mayor Lunn’s arrest.

The fuss that followed, however, was not liked by the mill owners and the city authorities, and the free speech fight was soon won as far as Clinton Park was concerned.

But the strike went on. Very quietly. Too quietly. That mass picketing was dangerously effective and it became necessary to break it up. So Chief “Dusty,” now “Bully” Long, ordered out his force of six regular men, augmented by a motley assortment of specials, detectives, plain-clothes men, and private guards, on the morning of October 30 and placed them near the door of the Phoenix Mills. Still nothing happened until, so the strikers say, Chief Long prodded a young girl in the breasts with his club. Repressed bitterness then burst forth. A general melee occurred in which strikers, men and women alike, were beaten senseless to the ground. Detective Kenney, from an Albany corporation, was cut slightly in the ear and rear pants, and two shots were fired, one of which struck Policeman Haley, a new member of the force, in the leg.

It was first announced that a girl had done the cutting of Kenney. Then it was Legere that did it. The detective is over six feet high and probably weighs close to 200 pounds. Legere is short and slight and friends who know the smiling boy, who used to write plays in Bridgeport, Conn., were astonished to hear him depicted as such a bloody and murderous character. The strikers say it was a bullet from the revolver of an agitated “special” that struck Haley, but the police contend it was Bochino, who is a foreigner and therefore a suspicious and dangerous character.

Schenectady Socialists arrive to take part in free speech fight.

Shortly after this affair the strikers and the strike committee were holding a meeting in The Slovak Sokol Hall, the principal social center of the working population, when the door was thrown open with a crash and the police and hired guards burst in. Women, who composed the majority of the audience, were hurled right and left. Men who protested were struck on the head. Furniture was overturned. The musical instruments of the Slovak Band were broken and battered. One cop who happened to notice the framed charter of the local textile union of the Industrial Workers of the World, drove his club through the middle of it. It hangs in the hall now, its broken glass held together by an edging of red ribbon, with a knot of red covering the hole made by the club. All the members of the strike committee and all persons suspected of being connected with the strike were arrested and dragged to the local lock-up, a place so vile that the State Prison Inspector has threatened the town with mandamus proceedings unless it is cleaned up.

Legere, however, could not be found. The building was searched for him and the police, not wishing to investigate the dark cellar, fired three shots into it at random, any one of which might have killed Legere had he not already been taken to a place of safety by a devoted band of workers. He went to Utica that night, got some needed printing done, sent off some messages, and then returned to Little Falls where he was immediately arrested and taken to the county jail at Herkimer, another place that has been condemned by the State Prison Inspector.

Bakeman, Hirsh, Bochino and George Vaughan of Schenectady, were already there, along with thirty-nine others, strikers and sympathizers. When visited later, some of them were still wearing the bloody shirts that they wore when arrested. They were joined by Miss Helen Schloss, a young Socialist woman of New York, who for several months had been a tenement investigator for a club of the well-to-do women of Little Falls. Despite warnings from her lady employers, Miss Schloss cast her lot with the strikers, gave up her position, joined the relief committee, and went out on the picket line with the workers. For this she incurred the enmity of the police and her spectacular arrest by Chief Long himself followed. She was put in Herkimer jail on a charge of “inciting to riot” and as a special honor was given the cell occupied by Chester Gillette, electrocuted for the murder of his sweetheart. She was finally released on bail and went right back to work in the relief kitchen.

Phoenix Mill on right.

The stories the strikers tell of their treatment by the police both before and after arrest cannot be told in print. There are any number of them who say that they were visited at night in their cells by the police and terribly beaten. “They carry marks to show. One young boy, who later came to the relief kitchen but could not eat, told with starting eyes of a revolver held at his head by one policeman while another wreaked vengeance upon him with a club. One ear, black with bruised blood, told the story. Women strikers fared little better. On the picket line they were daily greeted with obscenities and filthy remarks by a picked crew of special policemen.

It is worthy of mention here that. five of these special policemen who carried brand new clubs and used them on the ‘lightest excuse were members of the Jack Spinners Union of the United Textile Workers, with John Golden as president, a gentleman high in the councils of the American Federation of Labor. Mr. Golden first gained fame by offering help to the police during the Lawrence strike. Other members of this union were so indignant at the spectacle of union men acting as strong-arm men for the bosses that they came over to a meeting of the strike committee and asked to be admitted to the I.W.W.

Despite all these things the spirit of the strikers remained untamed. The night after the raid on their hall they got out their battered musical instruments and played “The Marseillaise” and “The International” while all joined round and sang as if they had not just passed through a Russian pogrom. Nothing seemed to daunt them. The fiercer the assaults upon them the higher rose their songs of revolution. The darker seemed their prospects, the more intense became their devotion. A wonderful, wonderful band! No one who ever saw will ever forget them.

Though a little upset for the moment, those who remained unjailed or unbeaten sent out the word and help was soon coming. Next to arrive was Matilda Rabinowitz, a dark-eyed, magnetic little girl who knew not weakness or weariness till the strike was on its feet again. Mrs. Kruesi, Mrs. Wade and Mrs. Mullen, efficient women from Schenectady, came up to take charge of the relief and were soon feeding forty persons daily at a cost of seven cents each, besides passing out supplies for many families.

Meantime the respectable citizens of Little Falls entertained themselves by holding a mass meeting of protest against the hideous presence of the I.W.W. in their midst. Unanimously they voted approval of the firmness and moderation of the police!

Imagine their horror the next day when they learned their actions had merely served to bring the looming figure of Bill Haywood into the situation. The fright that was evident when the news got abroad was almost comic. But Bill brought nothing into the situation save peace and renewed confidence. Under his experienced counsel the new committees soon learned what to do and how to do it and spirits increased from day to day.

As this is written the strike is in its fifth week. Mayor Lunn refused to pay a $50.00 fine and has been sentenced to 50 days in jail. Owner Gilbert shows a disposition to settle but Manager McLaughlin, of whom not a citizen has been heard to speak a decent word, continues to hold out obstinately. Meantime the strikers must be provided for and Legere, Bochino, and the others, whom the authorities will make every effort to put into the penitentiary for a term of years, must be defended. The rancor of the city authorities and the mill owners against these men is poisonous. A dollar sent to Matilda Rabinowitz, Secretary Defense Committee, Little Falls, N.Y., will be a dollar well spent.

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/v13n06-dec-1912-ISR-gog-ocr.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s