Item #8357 [Autograph letter, signed, touching on a machinists’ strike in Lowell, Mass.]. Ayro Jones.

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[Autograph letter, signed, touching on a machinists’ strike in Lowell, Mass.]

Lowell, 21 March 1853. 9.75” x 7.25”, 1 p. in ink. CONDITION: Very good, one faint spot in upper left quarter.

A letter from a man sympathetic to the cause of labor with an update on the ultimately unsuccessful strike by Lowell machinists for a ten hour work day.

The letter, addressed to one “Mr. French,” reads in part:

As regards the strike, the Company seem determined to hold out to the last, many of those which came out, have returned to the Shop again, as for the Burgers I believe they did not join the strikers, the wood workmen not taking a part in it, I think the failure is truly lament[a]ble to all liberal minded men.

The strike began on March 8th and was undertaken by “about half the hands in the employ of the Lowell Machine Shop Company”—some 350 men—who turned into the streets of Lowell to strike for “the ten hour rule of labor.” A correspondent for the New York-Daily Times, whose less-than-sympathetic account was published in the New York Times, reported:

[T]his morning they…refused to work, and forming into a company, paraded the streets, and made the ‘welkin ring’ with their vociferations. Numbers give courage and spirit, and thus they were apparently ‘happy as kings’ in thus expressing what they call their manly independence.…There are about 700 usually employed by this Company, and about half left this morning; the half left, however, I am informed, is composed of their best help, while those who have struck for less work and the same pay, are mainly apprentices, and those who would be discontent in almost any situation. If the Company are firm in their purpose, these strikers may eventually see that they have pursued a suicidal course. But they have been instigated to this by certain coalition politicians. For the last two years this ‘ten hours’ question has been an important element in our representative elections.…But ‘every dog must have his day,’ and those leaders of a corrupt coalition are now enjoying their brief day of triumph” (Tullius).

Like most strikes in Lowell during this period, the machinists’ efforts were unsuccessful. Indeed, just one of nine strikes over a fifty year period—at the Mechanics’ Planing Mill, also in March of 1853—gained its point. The battle for the “ten-hour plan” in Massachusetts, which was spearheaded by Lowell’s “mill girls,” led in the 1840s to the first governmental committee in the U.S. to investigate labor conditions, and, in 1879, the first state-enforced ten-hour limit in the nation.

REFERENCES: “Elections in Massachusetts—Strike of Machinists at Lowell,” The New York Times, March 10, 1853, p. 1; Kenngott, George Frederick. The Record of a City: A Social Survey of Lowell, Massachusetts (New York, 1912), p. 147–48; Tullius. “Ten Hours Strike at Lowell,” The New York Times, March 11, 1853, p. 2.

Item #8357

Price: $350.00

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