Nashua Textile Strike: Labor Day 1934 was anything but tranquil
NASHUA – When they first reached Nashua in the final days of August 1934, news dispatches warning that a New England-wide Textile Union strike was likely were met with assurances that Nashua’s sprawling mill complexes would be up and running as usual come the Tuesday after Labor Day.
“We have no intention to lock out anyone,” Robert Amory, then treasurer of Nashua Manufacturing Co., told the Nashua Telegraph. “We will be running as usual, as long as employees report to work in sufficient numbers to ensure economic operation.
“Otherwise, the company will close.”
Labor Day came and went, and, likely to the delight of Amory and his front-office cohorts, 97 percent of the morning shift reported to work on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
But it took only a few hours for those smiles to turn to frowns: “Nashua and Jackson Mills Close,” blared the Telegraph’s top headline on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
A now frustrated Amory blamed “threats and intimidation from outsiders” for the decision to close both mills, sending thousands of Nashua men and women home not knowing when they’d be able to return to work.
Worse, people, both local and “outsiders,” assembled at the gates in growing numbers, eventually necessitating the presence of police to try and keep order.
Around 3 p.m. Wednesday, fights broke out among folks on different sides of the issue. Several were hurt, and three were arrested – two of them women identified as Annette Fuller, 22, of Hudson, and Germaine Martin, 26, of Nashua.
Fuller and Martin are depicted in a photo, captured by a photographer from a long-defunct agency called the Photo International News Service, and shared with the Telegraph by the Boston Daily Record, according to the credit line.
The photo, which makes Fuller and Martin look at least twice their ages, has often accompanied historical accounts of the mid-1930s textile strikes over the years.
While not the only spate of labor unrest to affect Nashua businesses and their workers, the textile workers strike of 1934 holds a significant place in labor history for its far reach and, perhaps, for coinciding with the annual holiday the Central Labor Union of New York debuted on Monday, Sept. 5, 1884 to pay tribute to America’s labor force.
Today, formal Labor Day observances are comparatively few compared to certain eras such as the late 1800s, when immigrants arrived seeking the well-paying jobs they’d heard about; the World War I era, when labor unrest also visited Nashua; and the labor-friendly years of the 1930s.
The scarcity of Labor Day observances or celebrations corresponds with the decline of organized labor, a trend lauded by some and denounced by others depending on one’s perspective and their respective stations in life.
Today, like most cities and towns, the vast majority of Nashua’s public employees – police, firefighters, teachers, public works and most City Hall staff – are unionized.
Conversely, collective bargaining units are scarce across the private sector. According to a 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 34.4 percent of public-sector workers were members of a union, while only 6.5 percent of private-sector workers were unionized.
The majority of unionized private-sector workers, the report states, are in the utility industry.
Meanwhile, in the 1934 textile workers’ strike, the man who was arrested with the two women is identified as Joseph Sullivan, of 48 Worcester St.
The three were arraigned the next day in municipal court, where Attorney Thomas J. Leonard entered not guilty pleas on their behalf. Their cases were continued for a week.
Arrested separately in a scene that the Telegraph described as generating “excitement for a few minutes” was Horace Brouillette of Manchester, a local strike organizer.
According to the Telegraph account, Brouillette was leading a parade of workers “up Factory Street in their picketing march” when police, upon getting the order from Police Chief Irving Goodwin, yanked Brouillette out of line and arrested him.
When the “milling crowd surrounded the officers,” they used “tear gas bombs,” at which time the crowd “quietly withdrew,” the Telegraph wrote.
While historians and labor experts often rank “The Textile Workers Strike of 1934” among the top five biggest strikes in U.S. history, it certainly isn’t among the longest.
On Monday, Sept. 24, just three weeks after it began, “workers returned (to work) singing popular songs,” thereby putting a nail in the coffin of the strike.
Workers’ faces were “wreathed in broad smiles … they walked with the spring in their step that has been missing for the past three weeks,” the Telegraph reporter wrote.
Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, email@example.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.