A new Massachusetts law reduced the maximum number of hours of work per week for women and children from 56 to 54, effective January 1, 1912. On January 11, workers discovered their employers had reduced their weekly pay to match the reduction in their hours. That difference in wages amounted to several loaves of bread a week.
Bruce Watson in Bread and Roses quotes a mill overseer who stated “the strike began like a spark of electricity.” Polish women weavers at Everett Cotton Mills realized that their employer had reduced their pay by 32¢ and stopped their looms and left the mill, shouting “short pay, short pay!” (Watson, Bread and Roses, p. 11). Workers from other mills joined the next day; within a week 25,000 workers were on strike.
Joseph Ettor of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had been organizing in Lawrence for some time before the strike. He and Arturo Giovannitti of the Italian Socialist Federation of the Socialist Party of America helped to form a strike committee made up of two representatives from each ethnic group in the mills, which took responsibility for all major decisions. The committee arranged for its strike meetings to be translated into 25 different languages.