This is a rough time-line of Lewiston-Auburn labor history. It is by no means complete, but perhaps will provide those interested with a sense of labor events in the area. -- Charlie Scontras
Selective highlights of Lewiston-Auburn Labor History
1) 1849. First recorded strike. Irishmen engaged in railroad construction near Lewiston unsuccessfully strike for higher wages.
2) 1854. First strike in Bates Manufacturing Company in effort to reduce working hours (estimated to range from 12 1/2 to 15 hours) to 11. Female operatives very active in organizing and leading the strike. Accompanied by the Lewiston Brass Band, they paraded in the streets of Lewiston and lectured strikers who assembled in Jones Hall. Textile operatives subject to many workplace regulations. Subjected to "dishonorable discharge" for failure to conform to workplace regulations. Following the strike, Mechanics' and Operatives' Association organized in Lewiston in support of a ten-hour movement.. Lewiston local union of mule spinners in existence.
3) 1863. First strike among shoe workers in Auburn and Lewiston was successful in preventing a reduction of wages. Textile operatives of Lewiston organized the Lewiston Equitable Co-operative Society to enhance their power as consumers.
4) 1864. Journeymen House Carpenters' Association of Lewiston organized. Members sworn to secrecy concerning "secrets or signs" of the Association. Secrecy was not an unusual feature of labor organizations in post-Civil War period. Signs, symbols, grips, passwords and oaths commonplace. Machinists and Blacksmiths of Lewiston organized. Engage in unsuccessful strike for reduction of hours and increase in wages.
5) 1865. Lewiston mule spinners, working an average of eleven hours, unsuccessfully petition textile manufacturers for the ten-hour day. (State had passed a ten-hour law in 1849, but it contained an "escape" clause which permitted workers to sign contracts to labor beyond ten hours. In practice, the law was a "dead letter.")
6) 1866. Lewiston local of The Benevolent and Protective Association of United Operative Mule Spinners organized. Renewed agitation for the ten-hour day. Mule spinners of city participate in what was labeled a "general strike" in the New England textile industry. Leads to a "riot." Some strikers arrested for intimidation.
7) 1869. Local unions (Lodges) of shoe workers belonging to the Knights of St. Crispin (the nation's largest labor organization) gathered in Auburn to create a state-wide organization. The event included a parade of 800 shoemakers who paraded throughout the cities of Auburn and Lewiston. The procession of shoe workers, who were dressed in their regalia, and who made "a fine appearance," proved to be the largest labor parade in the state prior to Labor Day celebrations which began in 1891. The Knights reported a membership of about 1000 throughout the state, with about half of their members located in Auburn. The collective efforts of the shoe workers encountered "feelings of hostility." Local Crispins declared that while manufacturers or capitalists had the right "to determine on what terms or conditions their capital shall be used," the shoe workers had "the right to decide on what terms and condition our labor, which is our capital should be used." Union members reported employer discrimination against the order. C. Newell, of Auburn, chosen President of the State Knights of St. Crispins. Strike by Crispins in Auburn resulted in compromise. Women workers of Auburn organized Daughters of St. Crispin--protested the inequality of wages between men and women workers. Ora Bates of Auburn represented women shoe workers and served as a national officer in the Daughters of St. Crispin.
8) 1870. The Labor Reform Party organized in Auburn. Commited to a variety of labor reforms, including women's rights. Runs candidates for local office.
9) 1874. Sovereigns of Industry, a co-operative movement, created a state-wide organization, the Maine State Council of the Sovereigns of Industry. Lewiston and Auburn affiliated. While immediate goals of the Sovereigns were to create consumer co-operatives, their long range goal was to create producer co-operatives. Some critics viewed members as "communists." A co-operative, the North Auburn Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company, organized.
10) 1875. Lewiston Weaver's Association organized.
11) 1877. Bottomers in Auburn shoe factories engage in strike against a reduction in wages. One account declares that a committee of workers "was treated with utmost insolence by the manufacturers." Shoe workers accept a five percent decrease in wages.
12) 1878. Water trench diggers of Lewiston engage in unsuccessful strike. Some strikers arrested for "inciting to revolt." City Marshall, convinced that strikers would cease to be disorderly, dismissed them on parole. Some strikers claimed a "conspiracy" existed between city officials and the contractor against the strikers.
13) 1879. Shoe lasters of Auburn engage in unsuccessful strike.
14) 1880. National Ten-Hour League campaigns in Lewiston for reduction of hours of labor. Campaign attracts over 2,500 people in City Hall in support of the movement..
15) 1881. French-Canadians assembled in convention in Waterville. Condemn strikes as against the moral and religious duties of Catholic citizens. French Canadians support the ten-hour system of labor.
(The cadence of strike activity quickens beginning in the 1880s and beyond. Too numerous to detail--only major strikes are referred to.)
16) 1884. Lasters' Protective Association organized in Auburn. Knights of Labor, the nation's largest labor movement, took root in Auburn and Lewiston. Devoted to the long-range goal of establishing a "Co-operative Commonwealth," the Knights formed 16 local assemblies (unions) in the two communities. (The Knights formed at least 127 local assemblies in the state. Membership placed at 27,900 during peak of growth in 1886. Some observers placed the number of locals at 153 and membership at 35,000.)
17) 1885. The Labor Advocate, the official publication of the Maine Knights of Labor, published in Lewiston. Auburn shoe worker, Ossian Phillips, heads the state-wide organization of the Knights (District Assembly 86) located in Auburn. Bishop Healy of Portland condemns the Knights and instructs clergy to deny sacraments to those Catholics who belong to the organization. Knights spearheaded movement for a variety of labor reforms and the increased publicity given to the working and living conditions of the working men, women , and children of the state.
18) 1890. Lewiston and Auburn Central Labor Union organized, composed of different crafts. Affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, which differed from Knights, both in structure and philosophy.
19) 1891. State Branch of the American Federation of Labor organized. First President of new labor organization was P.J. Carver of the Lewiston and Auburn Central Labor Union. Followed by Samuel Tillitson of Lewiston and Auburn Central Labor Union. Labor Day becomes an official holiday. Lewiston and Auburn soon celebrate the holiday set aside to honor workers.
20) 1893. Local union of the Boot and Shoe Workers' International Union, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, engages in first major strike in the shoe industry. Strike was unsuccessful. Shoe Manufacturers organized the Shoe Manufacturers' Association and adopted a "free shops" policy of resisting unions and which required workers to sign individual contracts. Strike-breakers imported during strike. Manufacturers requested, but were denied, the use of the militia. Court grants injunction, the first issued in labor controversy. Strikers were fined and compelled to sign "free shop" agreements. The "blacklist" and open-shop policy of the manufacturers continued well into twentieth century. The "free shop," or "open shop," by which employers could hire union or non-union workers, one in which workers did not have to join a union in order to secure employment, was viewed by workers as a device by which employers were free to replace union workers with non-union workers.
21) 1901. Socialist Party again organized in Auburn/Lewiston.
22) 1905. Auburn Shoe Manufacturers' Association reiterates its open shop policy.
23) 1906-1907. Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, addresses labor union members and general public in Lewiston. Condemns child labor in the Lewiston mills: "Who interests themselves in this matter? Is it the capitalists? No. Is it the churches? No. They pray for the children Sunday and prey upon them the rest of the week. . . . Here is a civilized State and children eleven [and less} years of age working in factories and, this is temperate Maine!" Maine Child Labor Committee organized. The assault against child labor began in the 1880s with the Knights of Labor and reached its peak in the Progressive Era.
24) 1908-1909. In recognition of the high percentage of French-Canadians in the work force in Lewiston and other textile centers, labor leaders call for French speaking labor organizers to aid in organizing French-Canadian workers. Federal study revealed that of New England states surveyed, Maine was the worst violator of its own labor laws. Passage of 58-hour law for women and children reduced the work day by twenty minutes. The news was greeted with a great celebration by union leaders and textile workers in Lewiston. Auburn Shoe Manufacturers' Association reiterates its open shop policy.
25) 1912. Organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World, the nation's most militant labor organization, appears to have been present in Lewiston, for it was reported in the press that weavers on strike at the Farwell cotton mill in Lisbon Falls called upon them to lead their strike. A year later I.W.W. organizers could be found working among the shoe shops of the cities.They are called in to lead a strike at the Lunn & Sweet Shoe Company at a time when Auburn was totally unorganized. Major figures of the I.W. W. were no match for the Shoe Manufacturers' Association, the blacklist, strike-breakers and "imported' detectives who "shadowed" the strike leaders.
26) 1915. Hours of labor for women and children reduced to 54 hours a week. Attempt by industrial interests to reverse the law through the referendum process failed. State Federation of Labor sent out literature in both English and French during the referendum campaign.
27) 1918. Auburn Shoe Manufacturers' Association reiterates its open shop policy.
28) 1919-1920. Lewiston reports eighteen unions (primarily craft) in existence. Only one textile union appeared in the roster of labor unions, the loomfixers union. The shoe industry totally free of organization. Shoe Manufacturers' Association reiterates its open shop policy. Testimony offered in State Legislature that the "blacklist" was pervasive in the shoe industry. Major industries of Lewiston and Auburn were virtually free of labor organizations. United Textile Workers of America launch an eight-hour campaign. Struggle carried into textile centers of Maine. Failed.
29) 1920. Associated Industries of Maine, the first state-wide organization of Maine's leading manufacturers, proclaimed that it stood "squarely for the American open shop." Textile and shoe industries of Lewiston and Auburn represented on Board of Directors. The Association served to inhibit labor organization in textile and shoe industries. Communist Party reported to have been in existence in Lewiston. Press reports that police break up the Party, burn its charter, and warn members against forming such an association again.
30) 1923. Failing in its legislative efforts to secure the eight-hour day primarily for the benefit of women and children in the textile industry, labor sympathizers launch a major campaign for eight-hour day through the use the initiative and referendum. Efforts of the Associated Industries of Maine and other "reactionary" forces led to defeat in a referendum vote. Debate of the issue revealed that the administrative officers of the principle cotton mills in Maine were "non-resident." Of the eighteen large cotton mills in the State, twenty-eight officers listed outside addresses, not one in the State, and that eighty-two per cent of the capital invested in the cotton mills was administered by absentee officers. In the entire cotton manufacturing industry of the State, only four directors resided in the State. Most (sixty-one) resided in Boston and (eight) in New York City.
31) 1925. Living and working conditions of textile
operatives was graphically reflected in data presented to State Legislature which revealed that the death rate of infants under one year of age in Lewiston in 1924 was the highest for any city in the nation.
32) 1928. The conservative nature of the Lewiston-Auburn area was reflected in an industrial survey of the two cities prepared for the Lewiston Chamber of Commerce by the Sheridan Corporation (Engineers) which proclaimed that "All of the Lewiston-Auburn industries are operated on the open shop basis," and that the "orderly community" of the city could be "attributed to the activity and influence of the church." Labor leaders were constantly facing opposition from clergy, which accounts, in part, for the failure of organizational campaigns in Biddeford, Waterville, Lewiston and Augusta in 1928 and other time periods.
33) 1932. Auburn-Lewiston organize Socialist Party. Socialists organize the unemployed. Denied permit to parade and use of City Hall. Major shoe strike in Auburn. The strike led to the formation of the Lewiston and Auburn Shoe Cutters' Protective Association. The strike developed into a general strike, which witnessed picketing, protests against the use of blacklisting, the reaffirmation of the open shop policy, the Shoe Manufacturers' Association, the intervention of the State Board of Arbitration, the personal intervention of the Governor, the efforts of the Maine State Federation of Labor to win over the strikers, the use of State troopers, and the attempt of communists to gain control of the strike. Strike failed. At least one shop demanded that its returning workers tear up their Association cards and apologize.
34) 1934. General strike called by United Textile Workers of America. Between 400,000 and 500,000 textile workers in twenty states left their workplaces. Nation's largest strike up to that time. National Guardsmen called out in eight states, including Maine, where they appeared in nine communities (including Lewiston ). The State Police, as well as an "army of private guards," saw service during the strike which witnessed nearly one-half of the 22,000 textile workers employed in twenty-two mills desert their workplaces. In Lewiston the press and clergy supported the mill owners against the strike, while municipal officials denied organizers the use of City Hall, and denied them relief as well. These efforts weakened the strike effort in the city. "The Communist Party of Lewiston and Auburn" distributed literature in the mills. Leaders call off strike as President Roosevelt makes study. Strikers angered. Return to work. Discriminated against for striking. Strike failed.
35) 1937. Shoe strike. One of the largest strikes in the state's history. Was led by representatives of the United Shoe Workers of America, Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Strike witnessed the use of the court injunction, state conspiracy laws, strike breakers, sabotage, mass meetings, charges of communism, state Police, National Guard, sub-machine guns, determined opposition of the shoe manufacturers to maintain their long-time open shop policy ("As long as the walls of my factory stand I shall never join the CIO"--Erwin David), and the opposition of the press and clergy. The strike also witnessed the call for a National Labor Relations Board election, a competing independent union, and wholesale violations of civil liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union said of the strike that "Maine is at least one hundred years behind the times in its labor laws . . . . The civil and constitutional rights that have been interfered with are: their right to organize, the right to strike, the right to picket, the right to bail, the right of adequate representation by counsel, freedom of speech, freedom from excessive punishment and the right to fair and impartial justice." The CIO scored a limited success in winning over shoe workers to their union, but were unable to secure contracts. Lewiston-Auburn Protective Association, an independent organization originally organized in the 1932 strike, revived in 1937 to become dominate organization of shoe workers in the area.
36) 1939-40. In 1937, the United Textile Workers of America merged with the CIO to create the Textile Workers' Organizing Committee. The Lewiston Joint Board of the Textile Workers' Organizing Committee, headquarters for the CIO drive in textiles, leads campaign to organize textile workers. Successful. Contracts won in 1940 mark major breakthrough in the unionization of the industry in Lewiston.
37) 1945. Textile unions in Lewiston: Local No, 280, Local No. 399, Local No. 417, Local No. 462, Local No. 492, and Local No. 518. Major strike by 18,000 New England textile workers. Lewiston workers achieve "substantial wage gains and other benefits."
38) 1947. "I have been a textile worker for over 25 years and I know what it is to be pushed around, and trying to fight the boss by yourself. It's different now that we have a strong union to do our fighting for us. When we have a grievance, the bosses have to sit down and listen to us. They know that if they don't settle it with us, they will have to deal with someone form the union office."--Mrs. Marie Dugas, TWUA Local No. 399, Continental. "The weavers at the Androscoggin Mill are the highest paid workers in the country We are proud to say that this is because the CIO has been on the job."--Anselm Morrissette, TWUA Local No.280, TWUA-CIO. "Many workers in the Hill Division have had their work loads reduced with the help of the Union's Time Study Department. This has happened in my department, the card room, and in many other departments in this mill."--Eddie Dosttie, TWUA Local No. 417, Hill Division. "About a year ago, the boss of my department tried to fire me. The CIO got right on the job and took the case to arbitration and the company was forced to take me back to my old job."--Mrs. Rose Gulman, TWUA Local No. 462, Bates Division.
39) 1950s. General depression in textile industry.
40) 1956. CIO and Maine State Federation of Labor merge to create Maine State Federated Labor Council which continues to this day. Albert Page of Lewiston, Vice-President of the Lewiston-Auburn Central Labor Union District, elected vice-president. Denis Blais of Lewiston, TWUA Joint Board, elected treasurer.
41) 1957-1961. Bates Manufacturing Company closed Androscoggin mill and its York mill in Saco. Lewiston's Continental Mills closed. Many workers unemployed.
42) 1962. Organized labor in Lewiston-Auburn: Auburn: Sheet Metal Workers 545; Insurance Workers 161. Lewiston: Laborers 212; Firefighters 785; Municipal Employees 1458; Painters 1468; Plumbers 783; Typographical 532; Carpenters 407; IBEW 484; IUE 269; TWUA 417; TWUA 462; TWUA 518; TWUA 494; TWUA 1485; Central Labor Union; Lewiston Joint Board. (All affiliated with the Maine State Federated Labor Council.) The Lewiston-Auburn Shoe Workers' Protective Association (independent).
Prepared by: Charles A. Scontras