Anna LoPizzo: Murdered for Going on Strike

Posted by Pete on Jan 29th 2020

108 years ago, Anna LoPizzo was murdered for going on strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Today in 1912, an Italian-American woman was killed in Massachusetts.

She was a victim of war.

Not war between nations, but between classes.

On 29th January 1912, Anna LoPizzo was shot dead by a state militiaman while peacefully striking in the streets of  Lawrence.

Above: A tribute to LoPizzo at her grave site in Lawrence, Massachusetts

The Great Textile Strike of 1912 

LoPizzo had been taking part in an industrial action which would come to be known as the "Bread and Roses Strike", a seminal event in US labor history.

For weeks, the workers of the Lawrence textile mills had been on strike.

The New Year had seen the bosses treat them to a hefty pay cut, and the Lawrence workforce, mostly made up of immigrant women from places like Poland, Italy, and Syria, decided enough was enough.

Reinforced by the backing and organizational support of the radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union, they walked out on strike.

With formidable leaders like Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Eugene Debs, the IWW was committed to challenging the arbitrary and unrestrained power of bosses across early 20th century America. In Lawrence, the IWW reps were a couple of Italian socialists called Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti.

As soon as the mill workers began to walk out on 11th January, Ettor and Giovannitti helped set up a strike committee of 56 workers with reps from no fewer than fourteen of the many nationalities involved in the strike (the committee’s announcements were translated into 25 languages!).

The workers demanded a 15% wage increase and double pay for overtime, terms which were more than reasonable for the grueling and dangerous work the mill owners demanded of them.

But the bosses, with the full support of the Massachusetts government, would not have it.

These immigrant women standing up for their dignity and rights as workers and human beings put the fear of God into the New England elites.

If more American workers followed their example, how would the social inequalities from which they profited survive

So, the Lawrence strikers were met with naked repression.

Martial law was declared, and the Governor of  Massachusetts ordered out the state militiamen, who proceeded to ‘police’ the streets of Lawrence like thugs.

These brutes were usually violent, sometimes with fatal consequences.

And on January 29, 1912, a striker named Anna LoPizzo was shot and killed by a militia officer called Oscar Benoit.

Another striker, John Ramey, was bayoneted in the back.

But the strike defiantly went on, all the way to victory.

As the brutality of the strikers’ treatment started to provoke national attention and outrage, the bosses in Lawrence caved into the workers’ demands.

Eugene Debs soon declared:

“The Victory at Lawrence was the most decisive and far-reaching ever won by organized labor.”

But the laurels of victory weren’t held by the American working class for long.

The Lawrence bosses bided their time, waiting for national attention to move on before they blacklisted labor leaders and renewed their attack on working conditions in the textile mills.

Seemingly endless battles lay ahead for US workers, from the federal government’s drive to  crush the Left during World War 1, through the ravages of the Great Depression, to the plutocratic government they have to put up with today.

Anna LoPizzo’s death, then, doesn’t represent a decisive victory.

It represents a war still trundling on.

It’s a war without official monuments, but no less real because of that – the centuries-long war waged against America’s downtrodden by its 1%.

Still, the downtrodden have never given in and never will.

With rebels like Sojourner Truth, Emma Goldman, and Anna LoPizzo leading the way, they will strike, and sit-in, and vote, until the United States at last accomplishes a just and fair society worthy of its founding promise of life, liberty, and happiness.

Click to see our Emma Goldman Tea Towel 

The struggle goes on 

And, once that long fight is finished, the story of how it was won will take us back to the graveside of a young Italian-American woman in Massachusetts who gave her life to the cause of a better world.

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