History Detectives: Howard Zinn on the Lawrence Textile Strike

Interviewed by Elyse Luray, PBS History Detectives • 2006

In memory of Howard Zinn, PBS History Detectives posted this interview clip on April 30, 2010.


TRANSCRIPTION

EDITOR'S NOTE: This transcription has been reviewed and edited to capture and match sentence structures to the best of our ability. Please check the actual audio before quoting passages.

Elyse Luray: Professor, tell me what’s the significance of January 12, 1912.

Howard Zinn: That’s the Lawrence Textile Strike, which is an important event in American history, although you wouldn’t know it if you just went to school. I went to all through graduate school in history, and never learned anything about even the existence of the Lawrence Textile Strike.

Elyse Luray: There were so many strikes going on around that time period. I’m just wondering why this one was so important.

Howard Zinn: Twenty-five thousand workers in the Lawrence textile mills, mostly women, many of them children, stayed out on strike through the winter, bitter winter, against a very powerful corporation, the American Woolen Company, which not only had its own economic power, but which had on its side the mayor, the governor, the police, the, you know, the militia, the courts, all of the organs of government, were on the side of the corporation. And these were immigrant women, who are getting very, very low wages, were living on a terrible substandard housing conditions, who worked 50, 60 hours a week, and who spoke many, many different languages, because they came from all sorts of different countries in Europe. And it was amazing that they held out for several months and won. The really important thing about the launch textual strike, which makes it stand out from so many other struggles in American history, is that it was a victory. They actually won that strike.

Elyse Luray: Why do you think that this strike was forgotten for so long?

Howard Zinn: I think Studs Terkel used this phrase, “national amnesia” — the certain forgetting of important aspects of American history. And what is most forgotten is the ordinary people of the country, the working people, and the Black people, the women, the Native Americans, the people who are not in authority, the people who are not powerful. History is generally written from the standpoint of people up at the top. And labor struggles have not been part of the history that is taught in the schools.

Elyse Luray: So why was there this renewed interest in the strike?

Howard Zinn: I think that the movements of the 1960s, of Black people in the South, of women, of people all over the country working against the war in Vietnam, of disabled people, there arose out of those movements, a greater interest in history that had been neglected in the orthodox teachings of the past. I think as part of that new interest in people’s history, we began to get more interest in labor history, and therefore in the history of the Lawrence Strike.

Elyse Luray: Dr. Zinn, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.