William Dudley “Big Bill” Haywood

1912 and Discontent

The IWW was organized in 1905. Immediately upon its organization, the International Workers of the World would have an impact upon American industry and thus the economic state of the country. It would be 1912, which would bring it’s greatest impact to date. 1912, would bring the attention of the IWW to Lawrence, Massachusetts to the textile mills of the area.

While the early 20th century is often, regarded as the time run by the likes of Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire, John D. Rockefeller’s oil industry, and JP Morgan’s banking prowess, it is often left out that William Madison Wood, chairman of the American Woolen Company had built a textile empire which would led to him to be in the same discussion as the other moguls. His empire controlled the textile industry. As controller of the Lawrence textile mill, Wood would implement a sudden reduction in wages that was accompanied by new legislation in Massachusetts that regulated the number of hours that could be worked by women. [1]

The pay cut would cost families bread on their table.

The Research Methodology

With a focus on Bill Haywood, the research will rely on traditional historical sources, mainly primary and secondary sources. The sources will show the way that Haywood’s economic thought through union organization techniques would have an economic impact on the textile industry. The sources will cover the strike, the grand scheme of Haywood which would allow for a successful strike, and the outcome of the situation.

Primary sources will include the “Proclamation of the Striking Textile Workers of Lawrence” and an ad placed by Bill Haywood in the New York Call which would allow him to implement his winning strategy in the strike. These sources will allow for the analysis of the demands by the workers and the ways which their demands were fought for by the members of the strike through the leadership of Bill Haywood and the IWW.

The Strike

The AFL had long dealt with the textile industry’s union needs. The AFL had negotiated previous deals regarding hours, but they felt that change within the industry was impossible because the large amount of workers of many different ethnicities were impossible to organize in an effective manner. This led the AFL to believe a prolonged strike was an impossibility. Despite this, 23,000 workers stages a walkout that began on July 12, 1912.

The IWW would show up shortly after the outbreak of the strike led by Arturo Giovannitti. Giovannitti would arrive an immediately seek to organize the large group of workers. His first step would be to set up a way for families to be fed during the time of not working and therefore not receiving wages. He would eventually set up a soup kitchen ran by volunteers with food donated from those that were sympathetic to the demands of the workers. [2]

The early strike saw little success and eventually, due to a plot by the Woolen Company, Giovannitti and his co-organizer would be arrested for murder, a charge for which they were eventually acquitted. [3] The charges could be seen a method to break the strike immediately. Fortunately for the workers, within twenty four hours of the charges being levied, a new leader had arrived. IWW veteran, William Dudley “Big Bill” Haywood would arrive on a train, the be greeted by cheers from the workers that he would come to represent. [4]

The Children Leave

A soup kitchen for 23,000 workers is a tall task. When you incorporate the children of the workers, the task becomes that much more difficult. Haywood recognized that if children were starving, mothers and fathers would be more likely to break the strike and have their demands unmet, therefore heading back in to the subjugation of the factory owner again. It would be an idea given to him by an Italian worker, that would make the difference in a broken strike with demands met instead of a broken strike with unmet demands. [5] The children needed to go…

The strategy called for shipping the children of workers to sympathetic union workers in surrounding states of New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. This was a risky move and if it had failed, the strike would have ended disastrously with charges likely following. Haywood would place an advertisement in the New York Call, a union newspaper asking for families to care for the children that would otherwise starve. [6] The children would in turn be temporarily cared for by individuals in the surrounding areas to be returned following the strike. The move played out and became a huge success despite a great deal of criticism from the Massachusetts government. [7]

Haywood’s Impact

The strike lasted nine weeks. In that time frame, the mill had been shut down, makeshift shelters had been built, and there was an exodus of all mill workers’ children. Nine long weeks culminated in a strike won for the workers. Prior to the strike, the workers wages had been reduced. This would’ve costed the workers two loaves of bread per week. On an already meager level of nourishment, this was unforgivable. Following the strike, the raise in wages that came was enough to buy four extra loaves of bread per week on top of the previous salary that the workers had received. [8]

The original proclamation by the workers had called for the workers to become “freed from slavery, starvation.” [9] They were underpaid for the work that they did and this lack of pay was preventing them from taking care of their family. Essentially, the goal of the strike was to come to a point in which the workers would be able to feed their families on the salary that was being paid for the hard work. This was the goal of the IWW and Bill Haywood. This goal would be accomplished through extraordinary and unconventional means that had not been previously seen in America.

With the outcome being a positive one for Haywood, his impact would continue in waves across the United States. The strike would be the biggest win for the IWW since its inception. From this point, they were on the map as a power to be reckoned with. They had become a nightmare for industrial leaders. The organized and sustained effort led by Haywood painted a path for the future efforts of workers and the IWW. Haywood’s work in Lawrence would directly influence the efforts that would be seen in the period of 1916-1920. It would influence the Everett Massacre, the Centralia Tragedy, and eventually the Seattle General Strike.


While not an entrepreneur or a leader of industry, William Haywood had a great impact on economic thought in the early 20th century. He had shown companies that the workers were a force to be reckoned with. His efforts and the efforts of the IWW had shown that taking care of workers may be a better option than dealing with a labor shutdown. The economic effects of Haywood’s actions at Lawrence and the IWW’s continued efforts would shape the first half of the 20th century and change the way that industry saw workers.


[1] Norm Diamond, “Why Teach a 100 Year Old Strike?,” American Educator 36, no. 2 (2012): 38.

[2] Joyce Kornblugh, “Bread and Roses: The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike,” Turning the Tide 21, no. 2 (2008): 2

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Bruce Watson, Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle For the American Dream (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2006), 143.

[6] “Haywood Predicts State-Wide Strike in Massachusetts,” New York Call, Feb. 4, 1912.

[7] “Strikers Send Children Away,” Lawrence Tribune, Feb. 10, 1912.

[8] Mark W Robbins, “Bread, Roses, and Other Possibilities: the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike in Historical Memory,” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 40, no. 1 (2012): 100.

[9] “Proclamation of the Striking Textile Workers of Lawrence,” 1912.