‘On the Picket Line in Little Falls’ by William D. Haywood from the International Socialist Review. Vol. 13 No. 7. January, 1913.
“With heads uncovered, swear we all, To bear it onward till we fall. Come dungeons dark or gallows grim, This song shall be our parting hymn.” From The Red Flag.
WITH facts for a fulcrum and mediums that the details of the strike sentiment for a lever, we can move the world!
The world of labor is being slowly moved by economic conditions such as present themselves at Little Falls, N.Y. where women and children and men are struggling for bread. The facts regarding the situation there inspired Helen Keller, the world’s prodigy, to give voice to the heart pulses expressed in the letter printed on the opposite page.
By the rarest good chance John Macy, whose wife is the teacher and companion of Helen Keller, came to Little Falls. A member of the Industrial Workers of the World, he took up his part of the battle by getting the books and accounts of the strikers in shape, by writing articles and reports. It was through him and other mediums that the details of the strike and its attendant miseries reached the blind girl at her pleasant home at Wrentham, Mass. Sitting at her desk and surveying the mysterious lines in “The Hand of the World,” she sees what philosophers, politicians and priests cannot see; have never seen. She reads unerringly the destiny. of labor. Understanding the need of toil, she reaches out and puts in the hand of the world, not a dole of charity but a token of love—part of labor’s own.
John Macy read her letter to the strikers at a regular meeting held at Slavoc Sokel hall .Helen Keller has never spoken to such an audience before. There were none but workers there, men and women, boys and girls, who knew but little English and were of many tongues. It was explained to them that they were listening to the words of a girl who was deaf and blind; one who had overcome afflictions more severe than their own.
They could not understand the meaning of many of her words. But they were like a mother’s crooning, soothing a wounded child. The letter was a heartfelt greeting from a sincere friend. They felt the sentiment and the sympathy it contained. Their eyes streamed with tears. They burst into a hearty cheer. Helen Keller will get a set of resolutions signed by the strikers in many languages.
She may never see the embossed words, or names attached to the resolutions, but she will know their meaning—they are written by “The Hand of the World.”
Other remarkable letters were received by the strikers, one from a “friend” who had been saving his money to buy an overcoat. He had laid by ten dollars. He sent it all to the strikers saying he could get along without an overcoat if the money would help the strikers to win more bread. It is such sentiment and support that has instilled in the Little Falls strikers the spirit of solidarity that knows no defeat.
Some who sympathize with the Industrial Workers of the World principles and methods have sent letters with money and others have come in person to render what assistance they can to the strikers.
After the trouble precipitated by the police on October 30th, last, the organizers on the ground, Ben J. Legere and Phillipo Bocchino, with nearly all the members of the strike committee, were thrown into jail where they have been held ever since, awaiting the action of the grand jury.
After a farcical hearing, Legere and Bocchino were committed to jail and held for bail of $15,000. Murlando, one of the strikers, was held in the sum of $10.000 and the others in some instances ranging from $50 to $5,000. The story of the so-called riot was told in the following proclamation issued by the strikers:
The blood-thirsty, murderous cossacks have shown their hand.
Police thugs of Little Falls throw off the mask and do the dirty work for the gang of bloodsuckers who own the mills in Little Falls.
Today in Little Falls was seen a spectacle which has not been witnessed before anywhere outside of Russia.
Today the gang of fiends in human form who wear the disgraceful uniform of the police in Little Falls, deliberately went to work and started a riot.
It was the most brutal, cold-blooded act ever done in these parts. Nothing under heaven can ever justify it and the soul of the degenerate brute who started it will shrivel in hell long, long before the workers will ever forget this day.
The workers in the mills of Little Falls have been on strike for four weeks against an inhuman oppression of the mill-bosses. An incompetent law has been used by these mill-owners’ to reduce the wages of the workers from fifty cents to two dollars a week.
Hundreds of these workers were already existing on a starvation wage averaging about $7 per week.
They resisted this robbery by the mill-owners.
They went on strike.
The police showed at the beginning that the filthy money of the mill-owners can corrupt all authority by attempting to suppress free speech in Little Falls. Several speakers were arrested. Then the strikers organized in the Industrial Workers of the World.
They began peaceful picketing at the mill where many American workers, mostly girls, were playing the part of scabs.
The strikers, with a band and banners bearing appeals for support, began to parade each morning before the mills to encourage the other workers to come out. They did not interfere with the scabs in any way and by this means of peaceful demonstration the strikers won over every day some of those who were working.
The mill-bosses were baffled. They could not understand this new and peaceful mode of picketing. As the strikers kept moving at all times the police could find no excuse to inter- fere. But today the craven brutes MADE an excuse.
Every day more workers joined the picket- line. The first day one of these blood-thirsty police animals tried to start a riot by slugging a girl who stepped from the line to speak to a friend. He was number three who showed his cowardice and animal ferocity today by cruelly clubbing helpless prisoners and defenseless strikers.
On Friday the police struck the first blow when they tried to break up the picket line at the Rex mill and arrested one of the strikers’ organizers.
Policeman number two, who fired the first shot today and whose aim was so bad that he hit one of the special bloodhounds instead of the striker he wanted to kill, was the one who led the assault upon the strikers’ line at the Rex mill.
In spite of all this oppression and provocation the strikers stood firm, refrained from one single act of violence and gained many new supporters.
Yesterday many workers joined the ranks of the strikers and one mill was completely tied up.
Then the mill-owners got desperate. Many girls in the Phoenix mill were forced to go home because there was no work left for them. A rumor spread that the Phoenix mill would have to close down today. The bosses, however, tried two more plans.
First, they brought in a herd of scabs from Utica.
Second, they set the stage for the tragedy of this morning.
The picket-line today was stronger than ever. Everyone was peaceable. No one called scab. All were singing as they marched.
When the line reached the Phoenix mill there were thirty or forty thugs there under the leadership of the mill-owners’ chief, the brutal, ignorant tool of the cowardly millionaire anarchists who use the police to beat the mill-workers back into slavery.
He started the riot. He did it deliberately, and it was undoubtedly the result of a pre- arranged plot.
The picket-line was absolutely peaceable and orderly. They were acting just as they always have, making way at all times for anyone wishing to cross the street. The strikers are absolutely blameless.
But the chief did not want peace. He wanted a riot to help the bosses break the strike by breaking the heads of the defenseless paraders. So he picked out Antonio Prete, member of the strike committee, who was walking alone in the middle of the street and hit him with his club. Strikers ran to defend him and then his thugs began their murderous assault with clubs and guns upon the helpless women and men in the picket line.
One policeman, number two, shooting at a striker who was running away, hit another policeman in the leg.
The strikers went for protection to their hall, but the murderous bloodhounds assaulted them. They broke into the hall, drove everyone out, smashed everything in sight and fired several shots into the cellar in the hope of shooting I.W.W. organizers whom they thought were hiding there.
This assault on the strike headquarters is the most high-handed outrage that has ever occurred in these parts.
The whole trouble today was very clearly a police plot to break up the strikers’ union.
The strikers were unarmed and helpless. The police are entirely responsible for everything that happened and will be held account- able.
The chief of police has been constantly threatening to “get” the strike leaders. Several other police officers have made vicious threats; one of them against the life of the chairman of the strike committee, Legere, who was rescued from the police today by the strikers.
Many of the friends and relatives of the police have made threats of organizing an “entertainment” committee to “run Legere and his crowd out of town,” as it was expressed by one of them.
The whole machinery of law in Little Falls has been set to work most viciously in the interest of the mill-owners ever since the day when the prosecuting attorney began to “persecute” the organizers who spoke to the strikers because, as he said, “he didn’t like their looks.”
The strikers have never fired a shot, yet they are charged with the shooting done by a policeman.
The police have finished their foul and dirty work by “beating up” the prisoners in the police station.
Let every lover of freedom and justice hear the cry of the oppressed strikers of Little Falls. Can these inhuman brutalities be carried out with impunity in America?
A foul and slimy press has spread a lying story of today’s struggle throughout the land. The strikers cry for justice.
Let the truth be known. Let every voice and every hand of every liberty-loving worker in this land be raised in a thunderous protest against this attempt on the part of a band of murderous officials to turn an American city into a Russian shambles.
Let the workers in every mill and factory in the Mohawk valley go out on strike as a pro- test against this fiendish brutality, and make demands upon your bosses for better conditions. Workers take up this fight and help us win. Our fight is your fight.
Let us stand together and win.
Join the I.W.W. for one big union of all the workers and victory.
Little Falls Strike Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World. P.O. Box 458, Little Falls, N.Y.
As soon as the authorities found that this proclamation was being circulated, they went at once to Utica, twenty miles distant, arrested the printer, confiscated 3,000 of the proclamations and dragged the publisher to Little Falls, without warrant or authority, where he was later released.
The many arrests, the brutality shown the prisoners after they were thrown into jail and other outrages by the police and hired thugs of the company, caused a state of excitement among the strikers that was only subdued by the arrival of Matilda Rabinowitz. She came from Bridgeport, Conn., formerly Russia. It was she who reorganized the shattered forces and got the committees in working order, electing others to take the places of those imprisoned. Miss Rabinowitz is as small in person as the smallest striker, yet disciplined as she is in the Industrial Workers of the World principles, she is shaping the mighty force that means victory. A book could be written about Matilda.
Others came, among them Jessie Ashley, a lawyer and sterling friend of the oppressed. She came from New York City as counsel to prepare for the legal end of the battle, paying her own expenses and contributing $100 to the strikers’ fund, making $1,100, and more, that she has contributed to the strikers at Lawrence and elsewhere.
The Socialists of Schenectady, Mayor Lunn, Robert Bakeman and John Mullin and others were on the job from the beginning. Comrades Kruise, Wade and Mullin came early, rolled up their sleeves and entered the culinary department, known in the strike quarters as the soup kitchen.
Money, supplies, groceries and clothing have been abundantly contributed by the Relief committee organized among the Socialists of Schenectady. The Citizen, a Socialist paper, has given publicity to the disgraceful conditions at Little Falls. All of which the strikers deeply appreciate and, while they cannot vote. as most of them are women and children, still they are in the vanguard, and on the picket line. They are marching to the music of the Marseillaise, onward to industrial freedom.
M. Helen Schloss, who is shown behind the bars on the cover, is a woman of Spartan mold, a Socialist of four years’ standing; well known at the Rand school in New York. She came to Little Falls and took a position with the Twentieth Century Club, a fashionable charity association, to investigate tuberculosis, which is prevalent among the mill workers. When the strike began, she took up the cause of the women on the firing line and joined forces with them. This lost her a salaried position and landed her in jail where she was held for eleven days. She was charged with inciting to riot and is only now enjoying her freedom under bond of $2,000.
Recently she has been arrested again while investigating the cases of some strikers who had been thrown into jail without warrant. Her unusual activity on behalf of the oppressed caused her to be looked upon with suspicion by the authorities who are under the control of the mill owners. A board of physicians, appointed by the chief of police, known as “Bully” Long, discovered nothing more serious the matter with her than a brilliant mind, a sterling character and a warm heart.
In spite of all the bitter persecution, which Miss Schloss has endured, she is still lending her strength to the strikers’ cause.
Out of the West comes the young blood of the revolution, ever willing to fight for the political right of freedom of speech, always giving more than they take, but willing, if broke, to live providing Algernon Lee will permit them on a one 7-cent meal a day until they are privileged to go to jail for the cause of labor.
After all it is the strikers themselves who are making the real struggle. They revolted against a reduction of wages that came when the 54-hour law went into effect, reducing their meagre incomes from 50 cents to $2.00 a week. As a direct result of the firm stand made by the Little Falls strikers, wages of other men, women and children employed in similar industries at Utica, Cohoes and other knitting mill centers have been restored and even the strikers at Little Falls have been promised 60 hours’ pay for 54 hours’ work, but they are demanding a 10 per cent increase and a 15 per cent increase for night work. This is what the employer gets when he drives his workers to organize in the Industrial Workers of the World.
If you want to help the mill slaves at Little Falls in this struggle for better condition, follow the-example of Helen Keller, Jessie Ashley and Helen Schloss. Send your contributions to Matilda Rabinowitz, Box 458, Little Falls, N.Y.
Later. Chief of Police “Bully Long” has closed up the strikers’ soup kitchens in order to force them back to work. This wrought great hardship on the women and children. But Schenectady threw open her municipal doors and buildings and gathered in some of the children. These and more will be cared for by Socialist “strike parents” till the strike is won.
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/v13n07-jan-1913-ISR-go-ocr.pdf