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New Bedford Textile Worker’s Strike of 1928 oral history interviews and research papers

 Collection
Identifier: MC-009

Scope and Contents

The heart of the collection are the 55 oral history interviews, originally recorded on audiocassette of strike participants, family members of strikers, and strike leaders, along with transcripts and notes to a selection of these interviews. Further transcription is being done on an ongoing basis. The collection also includes background research conducted by committee members, copies of relevant publications on local labor history and the textile industry, a small selection of photographs of textile mills, and a microfilm edition of Mayor Ashley’s scrapbook from 1928, including an index to its contents. The original of this scrapbook is in the New Bedford Public Library. The recordings were digitized from the original cassettes by The Media Preserve in 2016. Access copies of these are housed on USB drives in box 12. There is also a set of compact disc recordings of the collection made in the early 2000s.

Dates

  • 1821-1993
  • Majority of material found within 1980 - 1985

Conditions Governing Access

no known restrictions

Biographical / Historical

During the 1920s there was a decline in textile production across New England, caused by overproduction and high wages for textile officials. Instead of easing production and cutting back on the wages, mill owners imposed a ten percent wage cut for all textile workers. The cut was announced on the day after Easter, April 9th, 1928. Protests ignited among the workers and the New Bedford textile strike of 1928 was initiated. The strike was sponsored by two unions: The Textile Council and The Textile Mill Committee. The Textile Council, headed by William E.G. Batty with the help of Frank Manning, was comprised of skilled white workers. The Textile Mill Committee (TMC) consisted primarily of unskilled French-Canadian, Polish, Portuguese and Cape Verdean workers who had been excluded from entering the Textile Council. Fred Beal and William Murdoch were among the most prominent leaders of the TMC; Eula Mendes, Joseph Figueiredo and Jack Rubenstein (young TMC organizers) also played important roles during the strike. Though both unions fought the ten percent wage cut, the TMC also demanded a twenty percent wage increase, a forty hour work week, equal pay for equal work and an end to "speed-ups," racial discrimination, and child labor. The TMC's ultimate goal was to unite all textile workers under a single union. This, however, did not happen during the strike since the differences between the TMC and the Textile Council could not, in any way, be reconciled.

The Textile Council opposed the TMC and its strike activities. It was believed that this union's activities would weaken the Council's control over the strike. As a result, the Council strengthened and increased its own strike activities. To correct past faults, the Council tried to attract the French-Canadian, Polish, Portuguese and Cape Verdean textile workers. Their attempts proved unsuccessful since these workers, who were endlessly exploited for their unskilled labor and historically discriminated against due to their culture and ethnicity, either became members of the TMC or decided to remain neutral. The two unions seemed to compete with one another to defeat common enemies--The New Bedford Cotton Manufacturer's Association and the mill owners who had imposed the ten percent wage cut. After much protest by the Textile Council and the TMC, the mill owners announced that they would reopen the mills on July 9th with the ten percent wage cut still in effect. On the day in which the mills were to reopen, twenty thousand mill workers picketed in front of the mill gates. As a result, nearly all workers refused to enter. Both unions intensified their strike activities to prevent workers, or in this case "scabs," from entering the mills. Eventually, strike activities, including gatherings of over five thousand, tended to turn violent. The police force of New Bedford was pressured by both mill owners and Mayor Ashley to suppress the strikers in any way possible. As a result, both the Textile Council and the Textile Mill Committee were equally punished under the law.

As the strike progressed into the winter months, however, people began to worry. Starvation was one of their many fears. Members of both the Textile Council and the TMC tried to devise ways in which to end the striking and to begin working again without the ten percent cut in wages. Rather than accept a cut in wages, the Citizens Mediation Committee proposed, to both the Textile Council and the Manufacturer's Association, a speed-up in production. The Council immediately opposed the offer. To add to the fury, the Manufacturer's Association proposed that both the speed-up and the ten percent wage cut be enforced. Again, the Textile Council opposed the offer. Finally, on September 25th, 1928, the State Board and the Citizens' Mediation Committee met with the Textile Council and the Manufacturer's Association (again, the TMC was excluded). The Manufacturer's Association proposed a five percent wage cut, rather than the initial ten percent, and a thirty day notification preceding any wage cut in the future. The TMC tried to persuade Textile Council members into refusing the offer, but on October 6th all seven unions which comprised the Textile Council voted in favor. Workers, after six long months of striking, returned to work in the mills. Members of the TMC, however, continued to strike. The police quickly extinguished the TMC's attempts at renewing the strike by dispersing gatherings and arresting members. In the years to follow, TMC members were harassed, jailed and even deported. For those who returned to work, they found that their wages were not cut by the voted five percent; in many cases, wages were cut by fifteen to twenty percent. In the 1930s, as wages fell by a dramatic two-thirds, nearly all mills in the southeastern Massachusetts area began to close. This left thousands, who knew no other skills but mill work, in poverty and with no where else to turn but to suffer alongside millions during the Great Depression. Compiled by Julie Fernandes; based on The Strike of '28 (1993) by Daniel Georgianna.

Extent

4 Linear Feet (5 manuscript boxes, 4 audio cassette storage boxes, 2 CD boxes and 1 shoebox)

Language of Materials

English

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred to the archives by Dan Georgianna in 1993.

Related Materials

There is an ongoing project to provide streaming access to those recordings of sufficient quality. Please consult the library’s online public access catalog, Primo, where the oral histories are cataloged individually, with streaming access provided via SoundCloud.com.
Title
New Bedford Textile Worker’s Strike of 1928 oral history interviews and research papers
Status
Completed
Author
Judy Farrar
Date
2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Edition statement
Originally processed in the 1980s by the project committee. First finding aid, including text currently used in notes was compiled by Julie Fernandes in 1997. Reprocessed November 2017 by Judy Farrar.

Repository Details

Part of the Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Repository

Contact:
285 Old Westport Rd.
N. Dartmouth MA 02747 USA