The Windham Textile & History Museum has planned a series of programs entitled “A Look at Labor.” The public is invited to come and learn more about the labor issues surrounding the strike.
On Labor Day, the Windham Textile & History Museum held a reenactment of a 1912 Willimantic Labor Strike. People were invited to dress as mill workers circa 1900-1912 and learn two or three labor songs with music historian Rick Spencer. Participants painted messages on picket signs and walked the footsteps of the 1912 strikers. The 1912 strikers were assisted by some national strike organizers from the IWW Union known as the Wobblies. A few famous Wobblies appeared and shared excerpts from their actual speeches including an inspirational speech by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, brought to you by Becky McHenry.
Also, in conjunction with the event…
Sunday, September 21 at 4pm
“The 1925 Strike in Willimantic: the Forgotten Files of David Moxon.”
Prof. Jamie Eves, PhD discussed the American Thread Strike of 1925.
Sunday, November 16 at 4pm
“Little Bread and Roses Strikes of 1912.”
Prof. Anna Kirchmann, PhD discussed how the Willimantic’s strike was inspired by events in Lawrence, MA.
The April 1912 Strike in Willimantic occurred about a month following the famous and successful “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, MA. More than 1000 workers from the American Thread Company went on strike to protest the company’s failure to give a 10% wage increase. The workers were mostly unskilled Polish, Italian, French Canadian and Syrian women. The management thought the protest could be easily crushed because most of the women were not fluent in English. However they managed to send for union representatives from the Industrial Worker’s of the World or the IWW. One of the leaders, 22-year- old Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, arranged for interpreters and urged the strikers to parade down Main Street and not to become involved in violence. Flynn has been described as “an East Side Joan of Arc.”
Inspired in part by the bigger Bread and Roses textile strike in Lawrence, MA, female and immigrant workers at several of Willimantic’s textile factories (included American Thread) staged wildcat strikes. And as in Lawrence, when the the more moderate United Textile Workers union declined to lead the strikes, the radical Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies) — including their fiery orator Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the Rebel Girl — came to Willimantic to lead the strikes.
The program was funded in part by a grant from the Connecticut Humanities.
The programs are part of Connecticut at Work, an initiative created by Connecticut Humanities that explores the past, present and future of work life in Connecticut. The initiative features the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition “The Way We Worked” which will visit the Nathan Hale Homestead through September 14.
Connecticut at Work travels across the state through December 2014. The program features the Smithsonian Institution’s The Way We Worked Exhibition, with stops in seven communities: New Haven, Torrington, Hartford, Waterbury, Coventry, Stamford and Groton. Surrounding communities are adding local focus with community history exhibits, book and film discussions, author talks, performances and more. Connecticut at Work is an initiative of Connecticut Humanities, a non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the Coventry region, Connecticut at Work is a partnership with Connecticut Landmarks. The Connecticut tour of The Way We Worked is made possible by Connecticut Humanities and Historic New England. For a calendar of events and more information, visit http://cthumanities.org/ctatwork.
Photos (except B&W) by Annie Clark.