Textiles and Society in Bradford and Lawrence, USA, 1880-1920

J.A. Jowitt

(First published in 1991 in volume 5, pp. 3-24, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)

The research for this article has been funded by grants from the British Academy the Pasold Research Fund and the University, of Leeds.

In January 1893 Bradford was the somewhat unlikely venue for the inaugural conference of the Independent Labour Party. Unlikely, in that Bradford and the surrounding West Riding were one of the great bastions of the Gladstonian Liberalism. It was an area synonymous with the self-help institutions of Victorian England the Temperance Society, the Mechanic's Institute, the Building Society, and the Mutual Improvement Society. More importantly it was an area where trade unionism was notoriously weak, not least amongst the largest element in the labour force, the woollen and worsted workers. As the German commentator von Schulze-Gaevernitz remarked:
"Although the oldest English industry, it is still badly organised. …as a general rule the conditions resemble those in Lancashire fifty years ago… Their position is insecure and miserable."1

And yet out of these seemingly difficult conditions, largely through the experience of the Manningham Mills Strike of 1890-91 , there emerged an independent working class party of great strength and vitality. Bradford had the largest single branch of the party up to the First World War; in 1906 it elected Fred Jowett to the House of Commons: it provided a model of municipal socialism for other cities with the introduction of council housing, municipal welfare service, and a progressive and dynamic educational system. By 1914 the party was polling more than 40% of the vote in local elections and at the Coming of Age Conference of the ILP in Bradford in 1914, JH Palin, local trade unionist and councillor, greeted the delegates by declaring that:
"of ordinary historical associations, Bradford has none. In Domesday Book it is described as a waste, and subsequent periods of capitalist exploitation have done little to improve it… The history of Bradford will be very largely the history of the ILP."2

Although Palin's remarks undoubtedly owed more to local pride than to objective analysis, it did reflect the authority and influence which the Labour Movement had acquired in Bradford.3

On the other side of the Atlantic, in Lawrence, Massachusetts (often referred to in the Bradford press as 'the Bradford of America'), there erupted a labour dispute in 1912 which not only captured the headlines of the American press but was also closely observed throughout Britain and Europe. This was in a city which prior to 1912 enjoyed a reputation for harmonious and trouble-free industrial relations. In 1880 its quiescence had been contrasted to the turmoil of Fall River. The massive mill building boom of the period 1890-1910 had been developed on the assumption of labour quiescence, and up to 1912 there had been no overall textile strike in Lawrence.4 Yet it was in Lawrence that a conglomerate mass of over 20,000 poor, largely immigrant, textile workers, speaking some forty-five dialects, succeeded in demonstrating a remarkable class solidarity in the face of opposition which Bill Haywood described as "the courts, police, detectives pulpit, press, soldiers and legislature".5 The workers' victory was the forerunner of a wave of industrial conflicts that swept New England; it marked the high water point of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the Eastern USA and seemed to commentators in all parts of the political spectrum to herald a new era in the history of Labour in the United States. It utilised forms of collective action which were new to the Eastern cities: mass picketing, the use of women in confrontational situations, and the transportation of strikers' children to other areas. As Mary Vorse said:
"It was a new kind of strike. There had never been mass picketing in any New England town. It was the spirit of the workers that seemed dangerous. They were confident, gay, released and they sang. It was an innocent strike, yet it had an explosive quality."6

From 1912 Lawrence became one of the storm centres of labour conflict in the New England textile industry through to the 1930s.

The Manningham Mills strike and the emergence of independent working class politics in Bradford and the rise of industrial militancy in Lawrence represented in the starkest terms the breakdown of corporate and employer paternalism. Throughout the nineteenth century both cities had acquired reputations as examples of successful company paternalism. As a number of historians have argued, textile towns were strikingly successful in adopting modern factory production and creating a factory proletariat without accompanying radical or revolutionary movements. As Patrick Joyce has shown, employer hegemony was strikingly successful:
"The now unsmoking chimneys of the factory towns had dominated not only the physical but the mental landscape of these years to an extent that is difficult now to realise. What a contemporary called 'the rule of tall chimneys' had entered into workpeople's lives to a degree that made their acceptance of the social regime of capitalist industry a matter of inward emotion as much as of outward calculation."7

During the period 1880 to 1920 this attitude was radically transformed, and it is this transformation and its consequences which will be examined in this paper: how the men, women, and adolescents who made up the textile labour force in these two cities responded to the changes that were taking place in late nineteenth and early twentieth century capitalism.

Bradford and Lawrence were the worsted textile capitals of Britain and the United States. Of Bradford it has been said that 5/6 of the wool consumed in the United Kingdom passed through its factories at some stage in production and marketing. An American visitor commented that:
"there are more mills, manufacturing worsted in one form or another, in and about Bradford, than all the textile mills of every description located in Fall River, New Bedford, Lawrence, Lowell, Providence and Manchester, NH."8

It was one of the great boom towns of the Industrial Revolution. In 1800, it was little more than an overblown village, with a population of 13,000. By 1851 its population had grown to 103,000, and it was already the worsted textile capital of the world. This remarkable population growth, which made it the fastest growing industrial town in England, was fuelled by the expansion, mechanisation, and concentration of the worsted textile industry. In 1800 it possessed one small solitary spinning mill; by 1851 this number had grown to 129. This industrial and urban growth produced in its wake social and political dislocations. The replacement of hand labour and the coming of the factory led directly to the Great Bradford Strike of 1825, a twenty-three-week long dispute which saw the defeat of the weavers and combers and a further twenty-five years of political conflict culminating in Chartism and revolutionary unrest in 1840 and 1848.9 On the social front Bradford became synonymous with dirt, disease, and death. The public health situation was so bad that it induced one German to compare his entry into the town with a descent into hell:

Every other factory town in England is a paradise in comparison to this hole. In Manchester the air lies like lead upon you; in Birmingham it is just as if you were sitting with your nose in a stove pipe; in Leeds you have to cough with the dust and the stink as if you had swallowed a pound of Cayenne pepper at one go - but you can still put up with all that. In Bradford however, you think you have been lodged in no other place than with the Devil incarnate. If anyone wants to feel how a poor sinner is perhaps tormented in Purgatory, let him travel to Bradford.10

In the mid 1840s Dr Scoresby, the vicar of Bradford, wrote a book that contrasted social conditions in Bradford and in Lowell, very much to the advantage of the latter.11 At the same time as he was writing this work, Lawrence was being created as yet another profitable planned textile community, a copy of the strikingly successful textile community of Lowell, a few miles further upstream on the Merrimack river. Conceived by the 'Boston brahmins' as an agency both of profit and of moral improvement it was however conceived at a point when the parameters of the early industrial communities such as Lowell were already beginning to be undermined by mass immigration.

From 1850 through to the early 1880s both Lawrence and Bradford were home to attempts to develop a paternalistic ethos. In Lawrence paternalism was the clearly expressed policy of the Essex Company which developed the town and the individual mill corporations. Although undoubtedly in much of the situation the rhetoric masked the reality, individual corporations attempted to develop a spirit of class unity. This was most clearly seen in the work of the Pacific Mills, which earned a special prize at the Paris Exposition in 1867:
"for developing a spirit of harmony among all those cooperating in the same work, and have provided for the material, moral and intellectual well-being of the workmen."12

In Bradford paternalism emerged as a dominant ideology after 1850 as a direct response to the social, political, and environmental chaos that had engulfed the West Riding in the age of mechanisation. By 1850 the process of mechanisation had been completed and the industry entered a relatively stable period, for the period 1850 to 1873 was the great heyday of the Bradford trade, an era of free trade when Bradford's industrial supremacy allowed it to dominate the world worsted trade.13 During this period the employers attempted to inject a paternalistic ethos into developments such as the model industrial communities of Saltaire and Ripleyville, the development of work trips, dinners, and annual excursions to the millowners' mansions, the introduction of dining rooms and a whole range of factory-based leisure activities such as brass bands and cricket clubs. Outside the workplace it saw in the development of the Liberal Party an attempt to build a political organ which would encompass both masters and skilled working men in a party stressing civil and religious rights and class cooperation.14

After 1875 both textile centres underwent significant changes. In the case of Bradford the beginnings of the decline of its staple worsted industry emerged during this period. The onset of decline was brought on by a number of factors. First there was a change in fashion which adversely affected it. From the later 1830s Bradford had concentrated almost entirely on the production of women's dress goods produced from mixed fibre cloth. This cloth invariably had a cotton warp, and with this was mixed a variety of wefts, including wool, silk, mohair, and alpaca, which together produced a hard lustrous material. In the 1870s the fashion changed towards a softer more free flowing type of cloth, usually made from all wool worsteds. This latter type of material had been virtually ceded to the French producers as early as the Great Exhibition in 1851. The second problem was the growth of the worsted industries elsewhere in the world, not least in America. The bulk of these new competitors developed behind high protectionist tariffs. The culmination of the development of protectionist barriers came in the 1890s when the McKinley and Dingley tariffs decimated the Bradford trade with the United States. Finally there were the general problems created by the so-called Great Depression, which witnessed a clear fall in profits at a time when they were urgently required for re-investment in plant, machinery, and new products.15

The response of the Bradford trade was to relinquish the women's dress goods market in all wool worsteds to the French. To attempt to compete with the French would have required a total reorganisation of the trade, as well as re-equipping and modifying the nature of the labour force. It would have had to introduce French combing and drawing, but most important, it would have had to introduce the mule. Instead the industry turned towards new products. It successfully developed a mass market in men's suitings and overcoating, and furnishing fabrics. All these were produced under the existing system of production, using existing machinery and the existing labour force of women and juveniles. Further it increasingly concentrated on the domestic market and on Imperial markets, whose tariff policies could be controlled from Westminster. Lastly and most importantly it responded to the growth of foreign competition by supplying its competitors with the materials for textile production. The period up to the First World War saw a massive increase in the export of spun yarn, and then as spinning capacity developed on the continent, a major expansion in the export of tops (combed wool).


(000 yards)
(000 lbs)
(000 lbs)
1870-74 323,970 37,744 -
1875-79 252,753 30,824 -
1880-84 243,803 32,158 -
1885-89 245,592 43,457 -
1890-94 190,253 46,092 9,543
1895-99 174,755 60,578 22,403
1900-04 153,900 54,511 35,163
1905-08 172,933 53,485 36,143
1909-13 174,345 61,854 41,851

As important as structural changes to which the Bradford trade was being subjected were local developments involving the employing class. The paternalistic ethos which had been developed in the third quarter of the century increasingly broke down in the years towards the end of the century. Many of the first generation manufacturers died during this period and they were replaced by a generation who generally were neither interested in their firms nor in Bradford. The majority were educated at public schools and Oxford and Cambridge, and they aspired not to a career in the mill, but to more respectable avenues such as the armed services or the professions, or in particular the law, politics, or the life of a gentleman of leisure. Henry Mitchell's son was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and went into the army, as did H.W. Ripley's son. Matthew Thompson's son became a leisured gentleman, Alfred Hutton became a Liberal politician, as did Percy Holden Illingworth, son of prodigious entrepreneurial forebears in Henry Illingworth and Mary Holden. They aspired after a higher social position than the mill could bestow in English society. These aspirations were also reflected in the transference of both money and personnel from Bradford to landed estates throughout the United Kingdom. The Fosters of Black Dyke Mills purchased Hornby Castle; Angus Holden acquired the Nun Appleton Estate; Francis Willey Blyth Hall; Sir James Roberts bought seven thousand acres in the Scottish Highlands; and largest of all, Samuel Cunliffe Lister bought two North Yorkshire estates for 3/4 million pounds.17

The movement out of the town led not only to a lessening of interest in the firm and its workforce but also to an attitude which was more concerned with extracting as much profit as possible for conspicuous consumption elsewhere. The necessity for larger profits, the reluctance to invest capital, and the worsening economic situation all conspired to lead to a squeeze on labour.

From the 1880s machinery was increased in size and speeded up. As the Bradford Observer noted:

One weaver will now mind in 2 looms as much as 11,000 to 12,000 ends for practically less wages than were once paid for minding 2 looms with a matter of 800 ends each.18

The number of machines per worker was markedly increased: in Mohair spinning one worker per frame was replaced by one operative looking after six machines. There were constant attempts to replace male labour by the cheaper female labour. Clearly this was not an easy process in an industry which was heavily female dominated.19 There was also a clear increase in half-time workers, children who spent half-a-day in the mill.

The pressure on the labour force was increased by a change in the organisational structure of the trade. In the mid-nineteenth century the industry had been made up of a large number of small mills with a much smaller number of large vertically integrated mills. It was these larger vertically integrated mills, the dominant force in the development of paternalism, who were the worst hit by the decline of manufacturing: seen most symbolically by the bankruptcy of Salts in 1892.20 Increasingly there was a fragmentation of firms, so that by 1889 there were some 338 different mills in Bradford borough. An increasing number of firms worked on a commission basis, furthermore, and commission firms were notorious for their cheap wage policies.

Worsted Woollen
1880 18,639 85,202
1890 42,979 76,915
1900 57,008 68,893
1905 69,521 72,747
1910 111,012 52,180

In Lawrence a very different situation existed. The American worsted industry, virtually non-existent in the mid-nineteenth century, grew rapidly in the period up to the First World War.

Lawrence was at the heart of growth of the American worsted industry, so that by 1910 it was producing around 20% of all United States worsted goods. This growth was in large vertically integrated mills. The Arlington Mills, created in 1865 and concentrating on worsted production, employed 600 workers in 1877, rising to 2,400 in 1891, and 7000 by 1925. The Pacific Mills, which in 1880 already employed 5,500 workers, remodelled and enlarged its factory to include some 23 buildings. But the largest single source of expansion was the establishment and growth of the American Woollen Company. In 1899 it was incorporated with eight mills throughout New England. It rapidly concentrated itself in Lawrence, where it owned the Washington Mills. In the first decade of the twentieth century it built the Ayer and Wood Mills, the latter the largest worsted mill in the world. By 1912 it was employing around 14,000 workers in Lawrence. Unlike Bradford, with its plethora of small specialised interlocking firms, Lawrence was dominated by a small number of very large firms. In 1912 five firms controlled 98% of the spindles and 90% of the looms in Lawrence. Alone the American Woollen Company owned 62% of the spindles and 34% of the looms. Lawrence mills had on average five times as many spindles and twice as many looms as Bradford firms, and they employed on average four to five times as many workers. Fosters of Black Dyke Mills, the largest spinners in Bradford, had 60,000 spindles compared to 215,000 in the Wood Mill. The largest weaving firm in Bradford operated 1,400 looms compared with the 3,416 in the Pacific Mills in 1912. Although Bradford depended heavily on the worsted industry, which remained the biggest employer of labour through to the 1960s, it was never the single industry city that Lawrence had become by the first decade of the 20th century. In Bradford 17% of adult males, 50.2% of adult women, and 63% of the children relied on the textile industry for employment, whereas in Lawrence the textile mills employed 75% of adult men, 93% of adult women, and 90% of children employed under 16.23

No of Spindles No of Looms Spindles/Firm Looms/Firms
1895 129,024 5,274 25,804 659
1900 176,708 5,740 22,088 820
1912/13 568,144 10,323 71,018 938

The massive expansion in the Lawrence textile industry also fuelled a massive influx of immigrants into Lawrence. The population more than doubled in thirty years between 1880 and 1910, and the bulk of this expansion was made up of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. By 1910 48% of the population was foreign born, many of whom had come between 1905 and 1910 when the population had grown by 15,000.24 The new immigrants were concentrated in the textile mills for as J.T. Lauck wrote:
"Only about one eighth of the woollen and worsted operatives at the present are native Americans. Slightly more than three fifths are foreign born, chiefly immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe."25

Wage levels reflected ethnic divisions. The average earnings for each week for each nationality are so described in Table 4.

Race Average
Per Week
Scottish $11.42
English 11.39
German 11.17
French 11.07
French Canadian 10.80
Irish 10.21
Hebrew, Russian 9.07
Russian 8.59
Polish 8.01
Lithuanian 7.98
Syrian 7.53
Armenian 7.46
North Italian 7.35
South Italian 6.84

Different nationalities were mixed in the mills, so that in the Everett Mills the labour force was varied, as shown in Table 5.

Americans 476   Germans 24
Armenians 48   Hebrew 2
Canadians 98   Irish 83
English 35   Italians 212
French 9   Lithuanians 258
Greeks 6   Poles 188
Russian 16   Welsh 2
Scottish 31   Portuguese 63

Work within the mills was to some extent ethnically segregated, with spinning largely staffed by new immigrants like the Italian and Syrians; groups with previous textile experience such as the Franco-Belgians and Germans were employed in weaving. The English-speaking were concentrated in the higher paid jobs such as woolsorting and in supervisory positions. English speaking women dominated the better paid and more pleasant, typically female jobs of burling and mending.

The situation of the textile workers seriously declined in the period 1890-1912 The American economy was wracked by depressions throughout the period, and wage levels were no higher than they had been in the early 1890s. Conditions at the workplace deteriorated as premium systems were developed. Short time working and bouts of unemployment were common. Further industrial injuries were a common hazard. Continual speed ups and stretch outs were the order of the day. The mill owners were not resident in Lawrence, and within the city itself social conditions seriously deteriorated.

How then did workers in these two cities respond to the worsening situation in the worsted industry? Trade unionism in both Bradford and Lawrence was seriously retarded, even in relation to other textile areas. In 1902 the total membership of the Union of Textile Workers, the craft based union affiliated to the American Federation of Labour, was only 10,600 throughout the whole of the United States, representing 1.49% of the total labour force and 0.46% of the woollen and worsted sector.28 Trade unionism was vigorously opposed by the corporations and the mill agents. As John Golden of the cautious and pragmatic NUTW said, "For years every beginning we have made in Lawrence has been instantly stamped upon by the mill superintendents and their subordinates".29 The power of the agents was considerable: in 1896 the Washington Mills dismissed two employees for refusing to contribute to the flag-fund of the Hanna-McKinley presidential campaign. Following the 1894 strike at the Washington Mill, 900 workers were dismissed, all the strike leaders were blacklisted, and the corporation openly stated that none of them would be reemployed at the mill.30

Bradford trade unionism was also notoriously weak. By the 1880s there were a number of skilled craft unions and one general union. The general union, the Weavers and Textile Workers Association (renamed The General Union of Textile Workers in 1912) had about 5000 members in the West Riding in 1892-93 but declined in the 1890s and early 1900s with a membership that fluctuated between 1500 and 3000. (See trade union membership in Table 6.) Mills were small and often internally specialised; there were large numbers of female and juvenile workers, and each mill paid different rates. As late as 1914 Cole and Mellor wrote:
"Trade Unionism is still in its infancy and none of the serious and pressing problems that affect it have been satisfactorily handled. Craft prejudice, narrowness of outlook, suspicion and benefit hunting are rampant. Indeed compared with any other industry or occupation it is lamentably backward."31

Year General
Union of
Woolcombers Total
1892 5780 692 597 3098 798 102  
1900 2534 748 566 4769 637 151  
1904 2830 745 621 5679 912 236 193,276
1908 4150 868 842 7724 1265 550 278,758
1910 3990 931 926 10538 1826 6500 269,950
1913 7140            
1915 15000            
1918 41850            
1920 90996            
1921 32560            

Throughout the nineteenth century there had been few labour disputes in the textile industry, and when they did occur they tended to be short, small disputes confined to individual mills or even to individual departments.

Between December 1890 and April 1891 there occurred the Manningham Mills Strike, which was to have a crucial effect on local labour history.33 The strike symbolised extremely starkly the division between capital and labour. On one side there was the largest employer in Bradford, Samuel Cunliffe Lister, and behind him the great mass of local employers and local politicians of the Liberal and Tory Parties. On the other side were 4,000 workers, the vast majority of whom were not unionised. As the Yorkshire Factory Times wrote, "The operatives have from the first been fought not only by their own employers at Manningham but by the whole of the monied class of Bradford".34 Although the strike ended in defeat for the workers, it was transformed during its course from a wages dispute at an individual mill into a major confrontation about civil liberties, with the intervention of the municipal authority and police on the side of management. It showed the weakness of trade unionism and the likelihood that this would remain so in the foreseeable future and that the need was for a strategy for the formation of an independent working class party. They would not only be able to control the police but would introduce fair contracts into municipal activity, thereby building a trade union bridgehead in the city. The events of the strike also brought to the fore the handful of Socialists in the city and West Riding textile trade union leaders. Unlike Lancashire, textile trade unionism was weak, but at the same time local leaders were much more politically advanced than their counterparts on the other side of the Pennines. The strike polarised the situation. As Fred Jowett said, "In the Lister strike, the people of Bradford saw plainly, as they had never seen before, that whether their rulers are Liberal or Tory they are capitalists first and politicians afterwards".35 Or as Charlie Glyde put it, "We have had two parties in the past - the can'ts and the won'ts and its time we had a party that will."36

That party, the Bradford Labour Union, subsequently the Bradford ILP, was formed six weeks after the end of the strike From that point it became the main vehicle for local working class advancement, as described by James Hinton:

It is significant that the ILP emerged out of a defeated strike in Bradford, and that the West Riding of Yorkshire, where trade unionism was particularly weak, remained for many years its strongest area of support. The growth of socialist politics in the 1890s represents a search for political solutions where industrial ones had failed. Behind this lay the incompleteness and weakness of trade union orgnisation.37

In addition the ILP captured the local Trades council, thereby building an alliance between the craft unions and labour politics. The party developed rapidly, as the vote at local elections shows. Very early it gained seats on the local Town Council and on the School Board, and it rapidly set about introducing municipal socialism. From the left it was attacked as a party which was only serving to prop up capitalism, but the ILP retaliated by arguing that it had to ameliorate the worst excesses of capitalist society whilst it grew in strength and educated the working class. Its electoral successes occurred not in the slum areas of the town but in the upper working class wards with a high proportion of skilled workers and craftsmen.

Total votes cast Percentage
Year Liberal Tory Labour   Liberal Tory Labour
1891 11,596 11,582 1,310   47.4 47.3 5.3
1892 6,596 6,803 2,693   41.0 42.3 16.7
1893 6,981 6,466 3,867   38.1 39.5 22.4
1894 6,981 6,466 3,867   40.3 37.3 22.4
1895 11,614 11,399 3,089   44.5 43.7 11.8
1896 14,058 14,483 2,907   44.7 46.1 9.2
1897 12,102 13,998 4,521   39.5 45.7 14.8
1898 9,136 9,315 3,795   41.1 41.9 17.0
1899 15,083 15,475 4,483   43.2 44.0 12.8
1900 10,733 13,468 5,599   36.0 45.2 18.8
1901 16,858 17,261 6,825   41.2 42.1 16.7
1902 14,163 18,551 6,601   36.0 47.2 16.8
1903 20,677 19,857 3,894   46.5 44.7 8.8
1904 13,300 13,038 4,732   42.8 42.0 15.2
1905 12,780 16,008 8,147   34.6 43.4 22.0
1906 8,955 16,039 9,083   26.3 47.0 26.7
1907 11,022 10,307 9,356   35.9 33.6 30.5
1908 12,106 14,518 11,387   31.8 38.2 30.0
1909 10,462 13,514 10,647   30.2 39.0 30.8
1910 8,759 9,257 9,789   31.5 33.3 35.2
1911 13,905 14,680 12,845   33.6 35.4 31.0
1912 10,947 12,249 10,748   32.2 36.1 31.7
1913 12,507 11,454 18,125   29.7 27.2 43.1

The 'red wards' were not in the slums, for as a local activist E.R. Hartley explained:
"The South Ward is a Liberal anti-Labour ward. What we have to think about the position is very little. It is not from people such as these are to be found in this locality that our emancipation will ever come. Socialism is a science of government. It requires intelligent men and women to grapple with its tenets and to look for such among the mass of unfortunate wretches who make the sum total of wretchedness in the South Ward is to look in vain. The very people for whom we are working and toiling are our worst opponents - bitter and intolerant, unsympathetic and insolent, prone rather to live on charity than upon the rights of manhood and womanhood and if ever such places are captured at all, they must be captured from outside, for not until the death rate, the insanitation and the horrible mode of life are changed shall we ever see the South Ward of Bradford taking an intelligent interest in the affairs mostly concerning it. This is no skit but a sorrowful admission of the plain facts as I see them."39

To this end the party set about demolishing slum property and replacing it with rented council accommodation; the introduction of much more stringent public health measures; the development of the municipal provision of essentials such as coal and milk; pressure for municipal employment schemes; and a whole range of educational welfare reforms, including free secondary school scholarships, swimming baths, school medical and dental inspection, open air schools, and the provision of free school meals and clothing for pupils.

Keir Hardie election notice for East Bradford 1896

There was however, another reason why the ILP was not successful in South Ward and other inner city wards, and this lay in the ethnic composition of the population. Many of these wards by this stage were predominantly Irish and up to 1914 the Irish voted almost solidly for the Liberal party and its call for home rule for Ireland. In addition Catholic hostility to the Labour Party was important. Only when the Irish question was partially resolved after 1918 did the Irish turn to class politics, when during the inter-war years it made up possibly the largest single component of the Labour Party.40

Bradford Trades Council 1899

Ethnic and religious factors were of even greater importance in Lawrence. Throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century ethnic divisions very clearly weakened the labour movement in Lawrence. The spoils system in politics and wage/ethnic differentials in the mills forestalled the development of a viable trade union movement, as well as an independent working class party. The 1912 and 1919 strikes showed very clearly that strikers and socialists were confronted by powerful forces within the working class which were more concerned with keeping down those below them in the social spectrum than with advancing the claims of all working men and women. The largely illiterate immigrant workers who struck twice in 1912 and again in 1919 were confronted not only by the mill owners and agents but also by the hostility of the craft trade unions. In 1919 the Lawrence Central Union and the UTW condemned the strike as being due to the influence of "alien Bolshevik IWW agitators" who had deceived the "non-English speaking non-organised textile workers".41 In 1912 John Golden had actively worked against the strikers. They were opposed by the civic authorities who blocked public meetings and demonstrations, whenever possible. They utilised the police, reinforced by officers from other forces, to arbitrarily assault strikers and others who they suspected of involvement. The assaults on Anthony Capraro and A.J. Muste in 1919 were only the public tip of a very large iceberg of violence.42 They were opposed by the local legal establishment: Judge Mahoney declared at one point "there is no such thing as legal picketing".43 They had to face the illegal provocations of their opponents, seen most clearly in the clumsy attempt in 1912 to plant bomb-making equipment on them. They had to face the growing power of the local bourgeoisie in local citizens' committees and in vigilante groups described by David Montgomery as "an aroused babbitry".44 They had to face the hostility of the Catholic Church, a potent factor in Lawrence, particularly amongst the new immigrants. In Lawrence both Father O'Reilly at St Mary's and Father Milanese of Holy Rosary were bitter opponents of the strikers. In 1919 Milanese said that the Italian strikers had been deceived by "those who are sworn enemies of the Priesthood, of Catholicism, of your faith and of your religion".45 In both strikes the new immigrants were confronted by the hostility of the English speaking workers:
"Clad thus in the same mantle of opprobrium, the denizens of Lawrence's Little Babel have come to see one another more or less as comrades in opposition both to their employers and to their English speaking unionised fellow workers."46

Anthony Capraro stated openly that in 1919 the Irish Americans had been "the greatest enemies of the strikers".47

Faced by such opposition the strikers relied upon the mass involvement of workers in large scale picketing and demonstrations and on the support of community organisations. Without trade union support, except in 1919 from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, they had to turn inward to their ethnic organisations, thereby utilising the strongest organisational aspects of the immigrant culture.48 Further, although the strikes both in 1912 and 1919 were run essentially by local workers, they were given invaluable assistance by outsiders, in particular from Joseph Ettor, Arturo Giovannitti, Big Bill Haywood, Anthony Capraro, and A.J. Muste. They provided an indispensable link with the labour movement elsewhere in the United States, often providing access to funds to sustain strikers and providing modes of publicity. The strikers, through ethnic bonds, could create solidarity in Lawrence, but in their battle with the Wool Trust,' they depended heavily on these outside advisors.

Although both strikes in 1912 and 1919 were successful they opened up wide schisms within the Lawrence labour movement. The very ethnicity of the strikers cut off the new immigrants from the English speaking workers. Although there were individuals from both groups who were on the other side in the disputes, in particular a number of English trade unionists amongst the strikers, generally the ethnic hostility acted to preclude alliance in working class political movements or in trade unions. The new immigrants strove continually up to the 1930s to create industrial unions which were perceived as a threat by the skilled workers. Or as in 1919 they looked towards syndicalist or revolutionary groups which again served to divide them from the English speaking inhabitants entrenched in the existing political system. Without the influence that the skilled working classes brought into the Labour Movement in Bradford there was little chance of an integrated move forward. In addition corporate and city resources were utilised to draw a sharp distinction between the new immigrants and the English speaking. The Americanisation programme was deliberately intended to indoctrinate workers with a consensual analysis of American capitalist society. The Booster, the house magazine of the American Woollen Company, was little more than a crude propaganda sheet, attempting to attach workers to the firm by arguing that it was:
"something more than the world's greatest woollen cloth producer. It is endeavouring gradually to weave into the minds, hearts and emotions of the army of its workers, the threads of good citizenship, thrift and better material prospects."49

The radical leaders were picked off by the mills. In Bradford the blackballing of workers was common but generally ineffective, as there were so many firms in the city and surrounding districts. In Lawrence the small number of firms precluded this. In 1914 none of the strike leaders of 1912 was still working in the mills, in 1919 the strike leaders were intimidated by the Palmer raids and the deportation of immigrants. In political terms ethnicity also worked against the creation of an alternative working class or Socialist party. The Democratic party was the party of the immigrant but was controlled locally by the English speaking immigrants who were unwilling to relinquish their positions. The skilled workers in the Lawrence Central Labor Union consistently rejected demands for independent political action at municipal elections. In local elections large numbers of the immigrants did not have the franchise. In 1910 with a population of 85,900 only 8,261 voted in the Mayoral election of that year.50

In the period 1880 to 1920 nineteenth-century textile paternalism broke down under the strain imposed on the labour force by the corporations and employers. The textile industry, however, did not undergo the classic changes expounded by Daniel Nelson in Managers and Workers: Origins of the New Factory System in the United States 1880 to 1920. Many of the managerial techniques he associated with this process were only slowly and tardily introduced, and there were no major technological changes introduced. Rather there was a simple attempt to cut costs - in Lawrence through economies of scale, in Bradford through increased specialisation, basically an attempt to cut labour costs. Further, there remained only a small residual craft component in the mills to oppose these developments. The mule spinners, who have always been recognised as the classic group of skilled craft conscious workers in textiles, were not to be found at all in the Bradford trade, which used cap spinning and women and juvenile workers. Neither were they in Lawrence, as the large corporations basically used the English system of worsted production in this period. There was therefore not the employer/craft worker conflict, so ably described by David Brody and others in a number of other industries, in textiles. The deskilling process and the replacement of craftsmen by machine minders had already taken place in textiles in the early stages of mechanisation. The conflict in Bradford and Lawrence and other textile towns was therefore of a very different nature from other towns and cities in the United States and England.

In Lawrence the rapid growth of large vertically integrated mills meant that it was possible, as in 1912 and 1919, to mobilise opposition and increase pressures on labour in industry wide strikes, something which was impossible in the fragmented Bradford textile industry. In Bradford the worker response took two forms. First textile worker leaders recognised the weakness of their industrial position allied with skilled workers in other industries, also confronted by technological change, to create an independent working class party to defend their rights in the political arena and to introduce at both the national and local level municipal and state socialism. This alliance between the skilled craftsmen and the great mass of semi-skilled textile workers was not possible in Lawrence because of the problem of ethnic divisions. In England it had been possible for craft, general, and industrial unions to co-exist within the trade union movement and for an all embracing Labour Party to emerge which incorporated a range of political philosophies. In Lawrence the conflict between industrial and craft unions was seen as a battle, because essentially it rested on the stronger foundation of ethnic differences. Similarly demands for independent working class political initiatives were strongly resisted by the organ of the skilled working classes, the Central Labour Union.

'Americanisation' was utilised to drive a wedge between the native and older immigrant workers and new immigrants. The strikers were constantly stigmatised for being manipulated by outside agitators In 1919 there was a whole chorus of accusations. Secretary of Labour, William B Wilson said it was "a deliberate organised attempt at a social and political movement to establish soviet government in the United States".51 In retrospect it is difficult to evaluate whether this was a propaganda exercise or whether there existed an embryonic revolutionary movement in Lawrence. Although clearly it was utilised by employers to divide workers, there seems to have been a powerful radical movement in Lawrence, and Cole's statement that 'immigrants would follow alien leaders for better conditions but would never adopt un-American views' seems to be based on hope rather than reality.52 Certainly when the Strike Committee put forward its recommendations for the formation of the Amalgamated Textile Workers of America, they unequivocally defined its socialist objectives:
"Our ultimate aim is, by whatever methods of proletarian action may be most effective, to help achieve the abolition of capitalism and the system of wage slavery and to, establish the ownership and control of industry by the workers, for the workers."53

But it only served to further divide the working classes. Yet again the different objectives can be clearly seen in the causes of the two strikes. Both 1912 and 1919 were fought on the issue of a reduction of the working week and a consequential reduction in take home pay. In both situations it was the skilled workers who were advocating a reduction in working hours, whilst for the new immigrants a reduction in hours meant a drastic reduction in wages.

The other response of the Bradford textile workers was more discrete. Generally the low wages paid in the textile industry meant collective family work was a necessity for economic survival, as continued to be the case in Lawrence. However, it seems that at the end of the nineteenth century Bradford textile workers consciously set about limiting family size. In the early twentieth century Bradford had the highest proportion of one-child families among the towns and cities of the United Kingdom. Interestingly, the second place was held by the neighbouring textile town of Halifax. Recognising the dilemma of low wages and large families, workers cut family size so that the chances of the individual child were markedly improved. There was the growth of the general distaste for textile work, and wherever possible, male children were encouraged to find alternative work. Increasingly the Bradford textile trade was staffed by female workers: after the Second World War male textile labour was made up of Central European refugees directed to the Bradford mills from transit camps in Europe, and from the 1950s by immigrants from the Asian sub-continent.

Further it is possible to argue that this process also involved a reinforcement of patriarchy. Women workers were constantly blamed for the retardation of textile trade unionism. The 1914 Annual Report of the General Union of Textile Workers stated that the low levels of unionisation were "because a large number of women are employed in the textile industry".54 This situation, as union activists recognised, was as much due to Bradford men, who Ben Turner said had "kept their wives and daughters outside the trade unions".55 In the late nineteenth century, however, women had played an increasing role in parts of the labour movement. The formation of the Weavers Union had come out of a female dominated strike in Dewsbury, and women had been involved as union officials. Women had played a crucial role in a number of disputes and shown themselves to be active and loyal trade unionists. In the early ILP women had been an important element. Yet by the start of the First World War there had been a sharp decline in female involvement in both the political and trade union spheres and in office-holding. So there was a decline in female involvement at the same time that there was an increasing consignment of women to undervalued and underpaid work.

Finally, in both Bradford and Lawrence there existed a situation in which worker militancy could only be expressed at occasional moments. Although much more work needs to be done on issues such as sabotage, workers cutting back on production, and absenteeism, the lack of trade union activity reflected the weakness of the workers In neither place was trade unionism accepted by the mills. Disputes were generally unorganised and unplanned. They were generally small, usually unsuccessful, and confined to small groups of workers. A list of strikes in Lawrence includes disputes such as those of 15 dyers in 1886, 15 filing carriers in 1905, and 26 weavers in 1908.56 Occasionally however they were transformed into great collective efforts which united the community, or large sections of it, in mass opposition to the corporations and employers. Strikes took on the mantle of a great emotional crusade. The weakness of trade unions and the lack of collective bargaining meant that strikes were essentially unstructured; generally they were spasmodic and minor events, but occasionally they went far beyond their immediate context. Although fought on specific issues they also held within them the vision of fundamental change. Their strength lay in their ability to inspire ordinary men and women to look beyond the immediate situation and demand a better and more fulfilling life. On a worker banner in 1919 there was inscribed:

As Youth We Want the Life of Beauty.

The Manningham Mill strikers and the early members of the ILP were imbued with what Stephen Yeo had called "the religion of socialism", a belief that the ordinary workers could create "the New Jerusalem" and "heaven on earth".57 Finally it is surely not insignificant that the 1912 Lawrence strike has come to be known as the 'Bread and Roses Strike' which inspired James Oppenheim's poem of the same name:

As we come marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: 'Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!


1. G. von Schulze-Gaevernitz, Social Peace A Study of the Trade Union Movement in England (1893), p.192. (back)

2. Yorkshire Observer Budget, 13 April 1914. (back)

3. For the development of the ILP in Bradford see J. Reynolds and K. Laybourn, 'The Emergence of the Independent Labour Party in Bradford', International Review of Social History Vol. xx, Pt. 3 1975; K Laybourn, 'The Manningham Mills Strike: Its Importance in Bradford History', Bradford Antiquary, 1976; C Pearce, 'The Manningham Mills Strike December 1890 - April l891', University Of Hull Occasional Papers in Economic and Social History, 1975; K. Laybourn, 'Trade Unions and the Independent Labour Party: The Manningham Experience', in J.A. Jowitt and R.K.S. Taylor, Bradford 1890-1914: The Cradle of the Independent Labour Party, 1980; D. Howell, British Workers and the Independent Labour Party 1888-1906 (Manchester, 1983); and K. Laybourn and J. Reynolds, Liberalism and the Rise of Labour (London, 1894). (back)

4. For labour quiescence before 1880 see Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labour, Thirteenth Annual Report, Pt. III, Fall River, Lowell, and Lawrence, 1882. (back)

5. Lawrence Evening Tribune, l0 February 1912, cited in PS Foner, The Industrial Workers of the World 1905-17 (New York, 1965), p.329. This work provides an excellent analysis of the strike. Further analyses can be found in M. Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (Chicago, 1969); J.R. Conlin, Bread and Roses Too: Studies of the Wobblies (Westport, 1969); and P. Renshaw, The Wobblies (New York, 1967). (back)

6. M.H. Vorse, Footnote to Folly (New York, 1935) pp.6, 15. (back)

7. P. Joyce, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (London, 1980), pp.xiii-xiv. (back)

8. 'Bradford and the Yorkshire Manufacture: An American's Observations at Worstedopolis,' in Bulletin of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers, (1895). (back)

9. The historical development of Bradford has been analysed in a number of essays in D.G. Wright and J.A. Jowitt, Victorian Bradford (Bradford, 1982), and in J. Reynolds, The Great Paternalist: Titus Salt and the Growth of Nineteenth Century Bradford (London, 1983). (back)

10. G. Weerth, Samtliche Werke (Berlin, 1957), Vol. III, p.169, translated by Alan Farmer, xeroxed copy in Bradford Central Library. (back)

11. W. Scoresby, American Factories and their Female Operatives: With An Appeal on Behalf of the British Factory Population and Suggestions for the improvement of their Condition (London, 1845). (back)

12. Pacific Mills, Statement Presented to the Special Jury of the Paris Exposition of 1867 (Lawrence, 1868), pp.12-13. (back)

13. For a detailed analysis of the Bradford trade in this period see E.M. Sigsworth, Black Dyke Mills (Liverpool, 1958). (back)

14. The paternalism of the West Riding manufacturers is examined in J. Reynolds, The Great Paternalist: Titus Salt and the Growth of Nineteenth Century Bradford (London, 1983), and J.A. Jowitt, Model Industrial Communities in Mid-Nineteenth Century Yorkshire (Bradford, 1988). (back)

15. For an analysis of the Bradford trade in the last quarter of the nineteenth century see E.M. Sigsworth, op. cit., pp.72-134. (back)

16. D. Aldcroft, The Development of British Industry and Foreign Competition 1875-1914 (back)

17. For changes among the Bradford employers see J.A. Jowitt, 'Late Victorian and Edwardian Bradford,' in Bradford 1890-1914. The Cradle of the ILP (1980), pp.7-8. (back)

18. Bradford Observer, 31 December 1888. (back)

19. E.H. Illingworth, ed., The Holden-Illingworth Letters (Bradford 1927), p.489; and Census of England and Wales, 1911. (back)

20. R.W. Suddards, ed., Titus Salts (Bradford, l976), pp.35, 40-41. (back)

21. US Census, 1880, l890, l900, 1910. (back)

22. Directory of the American Textile Industry, 1895, 1900, 1912-13. (back)

23. Yorkshire Textile Directory, 1910, pp.64-95; Directory of the American Textile Industry, 1913, pp.162-3; US Census, 1900, Manufacturers, pp.338-9; US Census, 1910, Manufacturers, pp.588-589; Census of England and Wales, 1911, Occupations, pp.662-4. (back)

24. D.B. Cole, Immigrant City: Lawrence, Massachusetts 1845-1921 (1963), p.209. (back)

25. J.T. Lauck, 'The Significance of the Situation at Lawrence: The Condition of the New England Woollen Mill Operatives,' The Survey, XXVII, 1911-12, p.1773. (back)

26. US Immigration Commission, Woollen and Worsted Goods in Representative Community A. Immigrants in Industries (Washington DC), l0, Pt.4, p.757. (back)

27. Lawrence Evening Tribune, 5 April 1919, cited in DJ Goldberg, The Lawrence Textile Strike of 19l9, unpublished student paper lodged at The Museum of American Textile History. (back)

28. R.R. Brooks, The United Textile Workers of America, unpublished Yale University PhD dissertation, 1935, p.60. (back)

29.Ibid, p.190. (back)

30.Lawrence Evening Tribune, 24 October 1896. (back)

31. GDH Cole and W Mellor, 'Sectionalism and Craft Prejudice. Yorkshire's Need for the Greater Unionism,' Daily Herald 14 April 1914, reprinted in Leeds Weekly Citizen, 24 April 1914. (back)

32. Parliamentary Paper, report on trade Unions 1908-10, 1912-l3, XLVII, p.37. (back)

33. For the strike see the sources cited in reference 3. (back)

34. Yorkshire Factory Times, 1 May 1891. (back)

35. The Labour Journal, 7 October 1892. (back)

36. Bradford Observer, 20 April 1891. (back)

37. J. Hinton, 'The Rise of the Mass Labour Movement: Growth and Limits,' in C. Wrigley, ed., A History of British Industrial Relations. 1875-1914 (London 1982), p.31. (back)

38. Bradford and District Trades and Labour Council Yearbooks, 1905-14. (back)

39. Bradford Labour Echo, 30 November 1895. (back)

40. For the Labour Party in Bradford in the inter-war years see M. Le Lohe, Elections in Bradford 1937-1965, unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Leeds, 1973. (back)

41. Cited in R.J. Vecoli, 'Anthony Capraro and the Lawrence Strike of 19l9,' in G.E. Pozzetta Panel E Lavaro (Ontario, 1980), p.6. (back)

42. For the violence of 1919, see R.J. Vecoli, op. cit., pp.16-17. (back)

43. Cited in D.J. Goldberg, op. cit. (back)

44. D. Montgomery, Workers' Control in America. Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles (Cambridge, 1979), p.92. (back)

45. Cited in R.J. Vecoli, op. cit., p.14. (back)

46. Boston Herald, 23 February l919. (back)

47. New York Call 23 May 1919, cited in R.J. Vecoli, op. cit., p.22. (back)

48. See J. Bodnar, Immigration and Industrialization. Ethnicity in an American Mill Town (Pittsburgh, 1977) for the importance of ethnic organisations for immigrants. (back)

49. American Woollen Employees Booster 14 January 1920 lodged in the Museum of American Textile History. (back)

50. Cited in J.C.G. Simon Textile Workers Trade Unions and Politics: Comparative Studies of France and the United States 1885-1914 unpublished Tufts University PhD dissertation 1980, pp.35, 222. (back)

51. Cited in R.J. Vecoli op. cit., p.6. (back)

52. D.B. Cole, op. cit., p.202. (back)

53. Cited in R.J. Vecoli, op. cit., p.18. (back)

54. Cited in J. Bornat, An Examination of the General Union of Textile Workers 1883-1922, unpublished Essex University PhD dissertation 1981, p.70. (back)

55. B. Turner, op. cit., p. 29. (back)

56. J.C.G. Simon, op. cit., pp.223-4. (back)

57. S. Yeo, 'A New Life: The Religion of Socialism in Great Britain 1883-96', History Workshop Journal, 4, 1977. (back)

TONY JOWITT is Warden of the Centre for Continuing Education in Bradford. His previous publications include Employers and Labour in English Textiles 1850-1939; Model Industrial Communities in Mid-Nineteenth Century Yorkshire; and Victorian Bradford

© 1991, J.A. Jowitt and The Bradford Antiquary