Crimson Banners Fly: The Rise of the American Left

1910 Congressional Elections

Senate

Democratic: 43 (-6)
Republican: 34 (+1)
Progressive: 19 (+5)

House
Republican: 148 (+33)
Democratic: 136 (-46)
Progressive: 101 (+9)
Socialist: 6 (+3)
Independent: 2 (+1)

Senate Leadership
Senate President James 'Champ' Clark (D-MO)
President pro tempore Augustus O. Bacon (D-GA)
Caucus Chairman Joseph W. Bailey (D-TX)

Conference Chairman Shelby M. Cullom (R-IL)
Conference Chairman Robert La Follette (P-WI)

House of Representatives Leadership
Speaker Thomas S. Butler (R-PA)
Minority Leader William Sulzer (D-NY)
Minority Leader Wesley L. Jones (P-CA)
Minority Leader John C. Chase (S-NY)

A staple takeaway from the 1910 congressional and gubernatorial elections was unquestioning frustration with President Hearst. Even if a majority of the population possibly concurred with the need for governmental reform and new methods to bring about transparency and direct democracy, compounding elements presented to the public over the course of the prior two years revealed the two-face essence of a demagogue presidency. Policy was not a central component to these elections. These midterm contests represented a national referendum on President Hearst and the direction of the country.

Disunified Democrats succumbed to swiftly recovering Republicans and powerfully perceptive Progressives. The opposition skillfully took advantage of national division and managed to effortlessly trounce the party of the president. The 61st House, especially, with its noted Democratic leadership, was eyed as a chief obstacle to uncovering the truth of the Manhattan Scandal. Speaker Sulzer needed to be removed from his position to ensure an investigation could be created, and so Democrats naturally suffered across-the-board. In a dramatic flip to the 1908 results, nearly every freshman Democrat elected that year (mostly Northern and Midwestern-based) lost to challengers from the Republican Party. Sulzer squandered his tenuous majority coalition and forfeited the speakership back to Butler for the 62nd Congress, as Progressive representatives overwhelmingly voted for the more moderate Republican.

Republican senatorial incumbents fared far better than their counterparts two years earlier. For every Republican-held seat that swapped to the Progressive Party, the Republicans gained a seat challenging an incumbent Democrat, therefore concluding in a +1 end-result. A larger-than-anticipated number of Democratic senators found themselves lost in the anti-Hearst tide, including the once-popular Attorney General George Gray and Confederate Brigadier General Francis Cockrell (D-MO). Gray's successor was none other than septuagenarian Henry A. du Pont, the exiled Delawarean businessman and former arch-conservative senator. Du Pont effectively purchased his way to the GOP nomination, and the lack of a genuine Progressive challenger gave Du Pont the victory on a silver platter. In 1906, Du Pont could only manage 30% of the state vote. In 1910, through tying Gray together with a vast Tammany conspiracy by the Democratic Party to corrupt the voting process, he won 52%.

Senator Franklin P. Flint, the sitting Republican incumbent from California, opted to retire in 1911 instead of running for a second complete term. In this period, following Knox's conscious decision to back off campaigning along the West Coast, the Californian Republican Party operated as a shell of its former self. Most state offices were run by either Progressives or Democrats by 1910, leaving the panicked Senator Flint and bankrupt Governor James Gillett as the last of a generation of GOP officeholders in the Golden State. With Democrats struggling to move past the emerging presidential controversy, Progressives sailed to the open seats. John D. Works (P-CA), a former California justice and Los Angeles City Councilman, handily won the open Senate seat. For the gubernatorial race, Roosevelt-ally Hiram Johnson took the crown in a landslide.

In Nevada, Senator George S. Nixon (R-NV) was overwhelmingly favored to win re-election. As Nixon did not identify or associate himself with the Old Guard of the Republican Party, his record remained relatively spotless. He also proved his moderate nature by voting in favor of the Hammond Bill despite party-wide opposition. As such, his youthful and rather inexperienced Democratic challenger, Key Pittman, did not possess much of a chance to topple the incumbent. One facet of this race that raised some eyebrows had been the stellar candidacy of Socialist Jud Harris for Nixon's seat. Harris gained a significant audience throughout the Silver State who relished in the activist's demand for a minimum working wage and an eight-hour day. More Nevadans voted Socialist in 1910 than in any year prior, and although Harris was ultimately unsuccessful in that race, he managed to capture an unprecedented 21% of the vote (compared with Pittman's 30% and Nixon's 49%) and likely boosted fellow union activist and labor attorney George Conrad (S-NV) in narrowly overtaking Representative George A. Bartlett (D-NV) for the state's lone, at-large House seat.

During what would have been an otherwise uneventful election, Senator Andrew L. Harris (R-OH) thrust the political landscape of his state into an uproar with an announcement that he would retire at the end of his term. Harris was thought to be a no-brainer for re-election, encompassing a moderate streak in the GOP with enough support from progressives to guarantee an additional term. Now, with the race open for all entrants, the parties scrambled to draft serious contenders suited for the job. The Ohio Republican Party, privately thrilled with Harris' stepping down, promoted conservative, McKinley-endorsed Assemblyman Harry M. Daugherty. Democrats chose Governor Judson Harmon's (D-OH) second-in-command, anti-corruption advocate Atlee Pomerene. Lastly, the Progressives designated President Roosevelt's Interior Secretary, James R. Garfield. This three-way race proved incredibly vitriolic, and it ended in an exceptionally slim win for the Progressive nominee. State officials recounted the votes twice, yet the result held. Garfield won by 1,013 votes over Daugherty.

Regarding gubernatorial elections, the two contests most frequently cited by historians as politically significant were those in Ohio and New Jersey. In the former state, sitting Governor Harmon fought to retain his seat in power against stark odds courtesy of the national environment. Harmon was no progressive, and in fact actively rallied against Garfield's senatorial run as a "vanity mission" aimed at crumbling Wall Street for personal benefit. It would be foolish to assume that the state Democrats did not stand by the incumbent governor for lack of timely political instincts, however. Governor Harmon locked up the Democratic nomination (thereby eliminating the prospect of a unified Progressive-Democratic ticket), and went on to lose to the dignified, well-spoken former Lieutenant Governor Warren G. Harding (R-OH). Simultaneously, in one of the only net gains for the Democratic Party in 1910, social conservative Princeton University President Thomas Woodrow Wilson defeated the opposing candidates to secure the uninterrupted state-wide control of New Jersey by the Democratic Party. Wilson and Harding were each thought of as potential candidates for national office, and, along with Hiram Johnson in California, this freshmen class would play an essential role in future events.


Senators Elected in 1910 (Class 1)
*John H. Bankhead (D-AL): Democratic Hold, 90%
Henry F. Ashurst (D-AZ): Democratic Hold, 55%
John D. Works (P-CA): Progressive Gain, 57%
George P. McLean (R-CT): Republican Hold, 66%
Henry A. du Pont (R-DE): Republican Gain, 52%
James Taliaferro (D-FL): Democratic Hold, 83%
James A. Hemenway (R-IN): Republican Hold, 51%
*John R. Thornton (D-LA): Democratic Hold, Unopposed
Eugene Hale (R-ME): Republican Hold, 74%
Charles J. Bonaparte (P-MD): Progressive Hold, 46%
Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA): Republican Hold, 73%
Roy O. Woodruff (P-MI): Progressive Gain, 44%
Moses E. Clapp (R-MN): Republican Hold, 49%
James K. Vardaman (D-MS): Democratic Hold, Unopposed
*LeRoy Percy (D-MS): Democratic Hold, Unopposed
John C. McKinley (R-MO): Republican Gain, 50%
Charles N. Pray (R-MT): Republican Gain, 48%
Chester H. Aldrich (P-NE): Progressive Gain, 49%
George S. Nixon (R-NV): Republican Hold, 49%
Mahlon R. Pitney (P-NJ): Progressive Gain, 48%
Thomas B. Caltron (R-NM): Republican Gain, 50%
George B. McClellan, Jr. (D-NY): Democratic Hold, 46%
Porter J. McCumber (R-ND): Republican Hold, 46%
James R. Garfield (P-OH): Progressive Gain, 43%
Philander C. Knox (R-PA): Republican Hold, 59%
Henry F. Lippitt (R-RI): Republican Hold, 64%
Luke Lea (D-TN): Democratic Hold, 52%
Charles Allen Culberson (D-TX): Democratic Hold, 80%
George Sutherland (R-UT): Republican Hold, 70%
Carroll S. Page (R-VT): Republican Hold, 68%
John W. Daniel (D-VA): Democratic Hold, Unopposed
Miles Poindexter (P-WA): Progressive Gain, 53%
Nathan B. Scott (R-WV): Republican Gain, 53%
*Dave Elkins (R-WV): Republican Hold, 50%
Robert M. La Follette (P-WI): Progressive Hold, 59%
Clarence D. Clark (R-WY): Republican Hold, 55%

*Special Election
 

A Consumer Dreams of Trusts Being Imprisoned, March 8th, 1910 - Source: Wiki Commons

The results of the 1910 elections quite clearly demonstrated a desire from the American voting public to place a check on the Hearst Administration and more thoroughly explore the finer details of the Manhattan Scandal. Given the go-ahead in a spree of sweeping victories, the more stridently anti-Hearst Congress prepared to delve head-first into the investigatory stage and tackle the affair on all fronts. Thomas Butler, now returned to his role as Speaker of the House, released a statement regarding his legislative priorities in the next session. As he wrote, "We will take immediate action in uncovering the precise chain of events which transpired, and the identities of all parties involved."

Congress met on April 4th, 1911. True to his word, Speaker Butler called for a resolution that constructed a supporting House committee in conjunction with the ongoing counterpart in the Senate. This basically allowed for an expanded team of investigators whilst granting the Senate additional time to call for hearings. That resolution passed on a partisan basis, with only one-third of House Democrats voting in the affirmative. Every Progressive, Republican, and Socialist representative voted for passage. Some Democrats implored the legislature to wait for the results of the Justice Department's evaluation, yet faithlessness in the administration's ability to provide an impartial view killed that plea in its crib.

Meanwhile, the Senate reconvened and its special committee returned to a normal schedule. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Augustus Bacon of Georgia led the investigation, coupled with the ranking minority member, Senator Clarence D. Clark (R-WY). Bacon and Clark had yet to unearth any specific instances of wrongdoing during their work in the final months of the last congressional session, but they held firm that a continued, lengthy inquiry would inevitably result in new evidence. The committee privately called forth witnesses related to the allegations on a regular basis. These testimonies were recorded and the names of those interviewed were eventually made public, but that did not occur during the investigatory procedure itself. Still, it was rather obvious who would be called to testify: Louis Haffen, Patrick McCarren, and Charles Murphy.

During this time, the nation reached an eerie turning point where Hearst made very few public appearances and cancelled the bulk of his regular engagements with the press. The president no longer maintained his larger-than-life populist persona out of a creeping fear of ineffectiveness and uselessness. He reportedly met with his Cabinet only once in the period between the midterm elections in November of 1910 and the first public announcements from the U.S. Senate committee over one year later. Furthermore, he scantly penned any personal diary entries, aside from the infrequent note of irritation with Congress and his feeling of betrayal by the Democratic Party.


His policy objectives dried up and turned to dust, Hearst totally withdrew from the presidency altogether. He allowed [Secretaries] Lentz and Garner to settle state matters without personal consultation, and A.G. Holcomb was treated as a traitor in his midst. In this time, the Justice Department notably failed to address a novel crop of trusts forming under its nose. Through the utilization of loopholes in contemporaneous statute, these companies evaded prosecution and came to supplant their more blatantly monopolistic predecessors. Those like Eastern American Steel Corp. and Dallas Steel Corp. avoided federal searchlights by joining in a legal partnership without outright consolidating. Both of the above were managed by men working for J.P. Morgan.
John S. Gardner, The Exiled President, 1996

Insofar as congressional progress unrelated to the investigations was concerned, the single measure which managed to pass through both legislative houses was a benign expansion to the 1904 trade deal with the German Empire. Nothing passed to fight the ghoulish threat of trust-owning robber barons, to improve the conditions of industrial workers in American cities, nor to reform voting interstate trade practices whatsoever. Each of these issues played second fiddle to the overarching narrative of a scandal at Tammany Hall. "Borrowing Marx's term, noted Ackerman, "the spectacle shrouded a genuine push for reform at the federal level. Historians now include Hearst's presidency at part of the so-called Progressive Era of the United States, but it was far more regressive in practice than many of the Gilded Age administrations."
 
Ah, a do-nothing presidency.
It took 2 years for Hearst to turn himself into a lame duck, that has to be a record.

I guess this is the capstone to the non-radical attempts at reform. There will probably more attempts going into the future, but this administration has left a nasty little precedent: all attempts to attack the rot at its root will both be ineffective and trigger a vicious reaction, the corrupting elements will just regroup, and the people's interests will be forgotten or actively fought against.

All according to plan.🚩
 
Roosevelt second term maybe. If the push for progressive agenda fails with Hearst method, people might want to return to Roosevelt. And if Democrats are not supportive enough of Hearst, he might do like Bryan in 1904 though more out of spite than genuine will for a progressive agenda (as had been said, he was someone who would hold strong grudges) or at least sabotage the Democrats if he doesn't get renominated.
 
Roosevelt second term maybe. If the push for progressive agenda fails with Hearst method, people might want to return to Roosevelt. And if Democrats are not supportive enough of Hearst, he might do like Bryan in 1904 though more out of spite than genuine will for a progressive agenda (as had been said, he was someone who would hold strong grudges) or at least sabotage the Democrats if he doesn't get renominated.
Problem is, whatever poor soul wins the next election, well, they're gonna be between hell and high water.

Either they cleave to the conservatives, upsetting the quite large and by now unhappy populace clamoring for reform, or they go radical, and piss off everyone else.
 
Problem is, whatever poor soul wins the next election, well, they're gonna be between hell and high water.
I'm imagining this era will be known for a lot of one term presidents and contentious midterms that bounce back and forth.
There's too much turnover and institutional chaos for anything resembling a cohesive agenda to actually come out of the government, especially if this becomes the new rule: a massive and fairly cohesive bloc of conservative political and economic opposition set against fractious reformists who generally bounce around from election to election.

Roosevelt is the favorite son keeping the Progressives in play, but once he's gone the landscape is going to be an even bigger mess.

I see an election or two getting thrown to the House at some point in the near future. And that would definitely make things even worse if the House votes in their man against the popular majority/plurality.
 
Ah, a do-nothing presidency.
It took 2 years for Hearst to turn himself into a lame duck, that has to be a record.

I guess this is the capstone to the non-radical attempts at reform. There will probably more attempts going into the future, but this administration has left a nasty little precedent: all attempts to attack the rot at its root will both be ineffective and trigger a vicious reaction, the corrupting elements will just regroup, and the people's interests will be forgotten or actively fought against.

All according to plan.🚩
In the end, there will be only one group left to bring genuine change. And it won’t be the progressives or democrats.
 
I guess this is the capstone to the non-radical attempts at reform. There will probably more attempts going into the future, but this administration has left a nasty little precedent: all attempts to attack the rot at its root will both be ineffective and trigger a vicious reaction, the corrupting elements will just regroup, and the people's interests will be forgotten or actively fought against.
Seems to be the case, hm?

Roosevelt second term maybe. If the push for progressive agenda fails with Hearst method, people might want to return to Roosevelt. And if Democrats are not supportive enough of Hearst, he might do like Bryan in 1904 though more out of spite than genuine will for a progressive agenda (as had been said, he was someone who would hold strong grudges) or at least sabotage the Democrats if he doesn't get renominated.
Problem is, whatever poor soul wins the next election, well, they're gonna be between hell and high water.
Either they cleave to the conservatives, upsetting the quite large and by now unhappy populace clamoring for reform, or they go radical, and piss off everyone else.
I'm imagining this era will be known for a lot of one term presidents and contentious midterms that bounce back and forth.
There's too much turnover and institutional chaos for anything resembling a cohesive agenda to actually come out of the government, especially if this becomes the new rule: a massive and fairly cohesive bloc of conservative political and economic opposition set against fractious reformists who generally bounce around from election to election.
Roosevelt is the favorite son keeping the Progressives in play, but once he's gone the landscape is going to be an even bigger mess.
I see an election or two getting thrown to the House at some point in the near future. And that would definitely make things even worse if the House votes in their man against the popular majority/plurality.
All excellent points. It seems some of you readers are a little ahead of the curve!
1912, as in OTL, will be a fun election. We may see some returning faces, and the expectations will be high as ever.
Before that, though, there are a few other events in 1909-1912 that I'll be covering in the next chapter. Stay tuned!

Honestly in all fairness, religious fanatics make things very interesting under the right circumstances.
Klan-Prohibition Fusion Ticket Wen @PyroTheFox
I will admit, I hadn't thought of that! I'll have to work a President Eugene Chafin into the story :winkytongue:
 

Attorney General Silas Holcomb (Gubernatorial Portrait Pictured) Faced Accusations of Mismanagement in his Term - Source: FindAGrave

Advancing full steam ahead, the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed on with its investigatory mission. Supplemented with their partner council in the House, the officials in charge of the truth-finding objective remained resolute. All eyes were centered on this story: a controversy some journalists christened the most captivating political scandal in modern American history.

Much of the country waited on pins and needles at the precipice of a theoretical revelation. Some voters in New York fretted over the future of electoral security in their home districts while others simply hoped the findings would shed light on the corruptible nature of Tammany Hall. "Shut it down, one Times opinion piece on the topic read, referring to Tammany Hall. "Us Republicans in New York pray for federal observation to definitively remove fraud as a potential threat to the integrity of our elections." Another proclaimed, "The Tammany-Hearst machine has soiled Democracy for a generation. The president ought to resign and leave governing to men of respectability." Such editorials found an eager audience as Americans (chiefly those in the middle and upper classes) looked to find the latest political gossip. Ironically enough, it seemed the yellow journalism that Hearst perfected and utilized to grasp the presidency would play a role in his downfall.

At last, the senatorial committee released a notice declaring its work accomplished. Senator Bacon unveiled the team's findings on December 3rd, 1911, in a widely circulated address. He explained that the Senate's investigatory procedure was confined to very narrow parameters based on the testimonial evidence supplied by several witnesses. They did not explore any "superfluous" allegations concerning activities unrelated to the "electoral scheme" in New York City on Election Day and in the preceding weeks. Per their findings, Bacon announced that a handful of individuals were found to have engaged in a broad voter intimidation effort aimed at reducing votes for the non-Democratic candidates. The committee was unable to link this criminal exercise to Charles Murphy, nor to a coordinated effort orchestrated by Tammany Hall.

The final report named and indicted four precinct workers for falsifying their identities to state election authorities and for criminal conduct involving tampering with voter registries. It recommended New York State explore the matter further and requested the state judicial system issue a summons for the four perpetrators. These men were not found guilty of violating federal law. The only other persons named as possible guilty parties were Hearst's attorney, Clarence J. Shearn, for failing to disclose certain documents during testimony and former Treasury Secretary Haffen for a potential perjury charge on an unrelated matter. Other than that, according to the committee summary, none of the individuals previously cited as likely suspects in a presumed vast criminal conspiracy were cited.

It was also revealed through the report that the author of the original Times piece was none other than Joseph Willicombe, Hearst's former secretary. That alone provided to the Judiciary Committee adequate grounds to proceed with its investigation throughout most of 1911. However, Willicombe's claims concerning his former boss' political dealings with Tammany to commit criminal atrocities could not be backed up with hard evidence. To be clear, the scope of the investigation did not allow for federal authorities to ransack East 14th Street nor could the investigators demand documentation from Charles Murphy that may or may not have existed. The Senate record seemed to have considered the mystery solved, the conspiracy plot debunked, and it left no indication that further investigation was necessary.

Even with these results seemingly placing Hearst in the clear, the president's reputation was not suddenly and inexplicably restored. His opponents remained just as fierce as ever, criticizing Hearst for failing to lead when the nation was embroiled in the controversy, and furthermore pondering why he fought against opening an investigation if his campaign had nothing to hide. Hearst lost many allies in the sparring over how best to handle the federal response to the scandal, and he fumbled away the Democratic House majority in the process. Even with the perception of vindication, Hearst was just as unpopular and politically paralyzed as ever. All that had changed was Hearst himself, who no longer spent his nights pacing around the White House in a state of agony. The president, curiously enough, did not give any sort of rebuttal to the release of the Manhattan Report, instead spending that night locked inside the White House with an unscheduled meeting of the Cabinet.

A somewhat relieved President Hearst called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet on the evening of December 3rd. In the words of John Gardner, "Tracing back the actions of the administration in the ensuing weeks, we have a decent idea of what took place in that meeting. We know that Holcomb dissolved the Justice Department's investigation the following morning, and through a 'clerical mishap' all files on the case were shredded or burned. That was indisputably a presidential order. We can also determine that lines of communication between Governor Chanler and President Hearst reopened as a result of a conscious decision reached by the Cabinet, and the same could be said of correspondence with Hearst and Boss Murphy."

The Senate's inability to prove Willicombe's accusations amounted to a serious blow to the legislative anti-Hearst coalition. Speaker Butler, sensing a misstep, began moving toward dismantling the House investigatory team. He greatly feared the political repercussions of insisting Hearst and Tammany's guilt, and planned to turn the congressional conversation back to policy. Yet, when the time arrived to make the call, Butler silently backed off from doing so. For this, he faced discernible resistance among some of his lukewarm supporters in the Progressive camp, but Butler no longer felt satisfied that the game had ended. Attorney General Holcomb's brash move to end the Justice Department's examination period did not sit well with the House Speaker, and news that judicial authorities in New York had begun a separate investigation lessened his fears. The House committee thereby lingered, though the full epilogue to that story would go unresolved for several years.
 
I can see a path: Hearst is impeached or embroiled in the controversy until his reputation is definitely ruined, Teddy returns and wins running against the "corrupt fraud of 1908", then Rough Rider in Chief decides to enter in the unpopular WWI. At the end with Democrat and Columbian reputation as progressive parties ruined Socialists can take the torch.
 
Part 5: Chapter XVII

The Grand Hall at Cooper Union, November 22nd, 1909 - Source: Labor Arts

Chapter XVII: Experiments in Solidarity: New Strategies for a New America

During his successful bout for the presidential title, William R. Hearst keenly employed labor agitation as a tool to secure electoral victory, but, as noted, he was unable to pass any meaningful legislation to qualm the woes of working people in the United States. That is not to say, however, that workers were content to remain in squalor while men in Washington waited idly by. It was truly quite the opposite, with industrial workers proving more than capable of enforcing their own demands down the gullet of an unsuspecting owner class. Unskilled laborers, sometimes known or referred to as a the "machine proletariat," became the unlikely vanguard for a new chapter in the American labor movement.

In the summer of 1909, a railcar manufacturing business based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, mandated to its workforce a novel method of distributing wages. To their 6,000-strong cache of employees, owners of the McKees Rocks Pressed Steel Car Company introduced a primitive system of scientific management designed to increase worker output by lowering its base wage according to the least productive plant worker. This allowed for the company to establish artificially raised rates and bonus incentives for the most efficient workers. In such a system, particularly in conjunction with an industry rife with managerial corruption and a hushed network of kickbacks, the owners could retain a psychological advantage over its workforce.

Finding the above methodology inhumane and their lousy pay wholly unacceptable, some hundred workers walked out from their factories. They were soon joined by the remaining McKees plant laborers, and thereafter workers in neighboring plants. IWW organizers Bill Haywood and Wiliam Trautmann swiftly arrived to assist in the developing work stoppage and worked to convince the strikers to join in their cause for industrial unionism. The AFL's continued refusal to adjust its traditional doctrine of forbidding unskilled workers to join in their ranks allowed for complete displacement by the IWW in this instance, and dozens more. Once violent skirmishes began to break out between the scores of mounted members of the Pennsylvanian constabulary and the thousands of strikers of whom were chiefly first and second generation immigrants, one AFL delegate famously blamed the fighting on, "ignorant, foreign labor."

The strike held throughout the month of July and lasted all through August. Not until September, when thirteen in all had died from the bloody affair, did the Pressed Steel Car Company call for a settlement. Company owners bent to the will of the strikers, shockingly redacting the reward system and granting an increase in wages. The entire ordeal, thereby dubbed the McKees Rocks Strike, proved the power of organizing unskilled workers as well as the ignorance of the old AFL policies. The IWW, which dunked itself into the Pittsburgh brouhaha with a spirit of inclusivity and solidarity (exemplified through its deployment of bilingual speakers and publications), won their first significant victory since the enlistment of the United Mine Workers in 1907. Mirrored strikes at steel factories in McKeesport and South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, also led to wins for the laborers as the IWW sowed class-wide unity among all sects of workingmen.

Additional hot spots for the growing American Labor Movement emerged in New York City and Philadelphia, when the young female workforce of the novel shirtwaist-manufacturing industry rallied against brutal working conditions. They were expected to work 12-hour days with no time off and with zero union representation. Their pay was a meager $4-6 per week, with deductions for needles, thread, and the electricity used by their sewing machines. Employees of the Leiserson Shirtwiast Company walked out from their jobs in September of 1909, joined shortly thereafter by the all-women workforce of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Both groups aspired for coordination with a strong industrial union to ally themselves with. They turned to a local chapter of the recently established Workingwomen's Craft and Industrial Union League: An IWW-affiliate organization built to advance the interests of women within the union movement. As an unapologetic ally of skilled and unskilled women workers, it contrasted itself with its more conservative, AFL "business unionist" counterpart: The Women's Trade Organization.

The WTO was underfunded (it relied heavily on upper-class philanthropist donations) and underappreciated by AFL President Samuel Gompers, while the WCIUL, by comparison, was prominently endorsed by IWW leaders as a tool to be used to contest with the open-shop system, ameliorate the conditions for working women, and secure women's suffrage. Led by activists including famed settlement house organizer Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, Polish-born social feminist Rose Schneiderman, and rent strike leader Pauline Newman, the small and inexperienced union organized a picket line. Allies to the cause gleefully joined extended picket lines in New York as word of the strike spread, including members of the WTO. Police officers commonly harassed the striking women, oftentimes culminating in violent beatings and arrests. City officials refused to comment.


An absolute turning-point for the Triangle Workers' Strike came about on a brisk day in late November, when these inspired women paraded to New York's Cooper Union to call for a general strike. They arrived in such astounding numbers that the crowds spilled out into the street. Representatives of the local unions, including workers-rights advocate Frances Perkins, spoke their peace to the sea of agitated workingwomen. Then, a young Jewish immigrant and WCIUL-affiliated garment laborer named Clara Lemlich rose. In her familial Yiddish, she told of her experience on the picket line, the beatings, arrests, and sexist shouts from the officers.
She said to them, "I am a working girl, one of those who are on strike against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. What we are here for is to decide whether we shall or shall not strike. I offer a resolution that a general strike be declared - now." The audience roared in approval and were galvanized to demand the general strike be called. Two thousand women swore to honor the strike. Their righteous course set, tens of thousands of shirtwaist makers answered the call. The strike would spread to Pennsylvania, and it would receive prompt assistance from dozens of labor organizations, women's groups, and the local and national Socialist parties. [...] This became known as the Uprising of the 20,000.
Benjamin McIntyre, The Workers' Struggle: The Birth of a Columbian International, 2018

Left with no other option but to concede, the company owners acquiesced to the demands of the strikers. After three and a half months of brutal picketing in the freezing city streets, the women won. The WCIUL negotiated contracts for over two-thirds of the total 337 shirtwaist companies in NYC and Philadelphia, with the WTO only holding representation among five. As recalled by Helen Marot of the WCIUL, "The unyielding and uncompromising temper of the strikers showed that women make the best strikers." The WCIUL became one of the most powerful union organizations in New York City, with newcomers like Clara Lemlich rising to the forefront. Humbled company owners like Triangle's "Shirtwaist Kings" Max Blanck and Isaac Harris begrudgingly agreed to recognize the women's union, and, within the year, followed-up with slightly reduced hours, heightened pay, and more sanitary conditions and safety precautions in the shops.

Due to the victories of the shirtwaist workers, as well as a second strike involving 50,000 cloakmakers in 1910, the newly elected Progressive Mayor of New York City, John Purroy Mitchel, implemented building safety standards as a mandate for all industrial operations located in the metropolitan area. Two years following the Shirtwaist Strike, when a fire had broken out in the Triangle-occupied Asch Building, these safety standards were celebrated as a chief reason for the efficient and orderly evacuation of the burning building. Not one worker was harmed from the building fire, and to this the IWW, the WCIUL, and a receptive progressive city government was granted kudos.
 
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