The Great Philadelphia Textile Strike of 1903
The Central Textile Workers Union of Philadelphia held a meeting the evening of May 27, 1903. A vote was taken and a general strike call was issued. That general strike eventually caused 100,000 textile workers to go out on strike in the Philadelphia area. 16,000 of those were children under the age of 16, some as young as 8 or 9 years of age. The textile industry of the day employed children at a higher rate than any other industry. The number given from the 1900 census was 80,000. In cotton textiles, they made up 13.1% of the work force, and that rate reached 30% in the South.
The Central Textile Workers’ Union issued this statement:
Thirty-six trades, representing 90,000 people, ask the employers to reduce working hours from sixty to fifty-five hours a week. They are willing that wages be reduced accordingly. They strike for lower wages in an effort to get shorter hours.
Three trades, representing 10,000 people, ask for the same reduction in working hours, but, in addition, they ask for the same weekly wages or a slight increase, averaging ten per cent.
The request for shorter hours is made primarily for the sake of the children and women. For six years the organized textile workers of Philadelphia have been trying in vain to persuade the politician-controlled Legislature of Pennsylvania to pass a law which would reduce the working hours of children and women and stop them from doing night work.
Average wages for adults for 60 hours of work were $13. Children working 60 hours(!) got $2.
On Monday June 1st, at least 90,000 textile workers went out on strike in the Philadelphia area. Of the 600 mills in the city, about 550 were idle. Philadelphia now had more workers out on strike than at any other time in her history. Several thousand workers had already been on strike before the textile strike began, including: the carriage and wagon builders, and the carpenters along with others working in the building trades. It appeared that the city would be in for a long hot summer.
By the next day, Tuesday, the strike spread to the hosiery mills, increasing the army of idle workers by 8,000 Most of these were women and children employed in the Kensington district. This class of workers was unorganized, but they decided to join the ranks of the unionist in other branches of the textile trade as they witnessed the magnitude of the fight for a shorter work week. The Manufacturers vowed they would not submit to the union demands even if they had to shut down their factories indefinitely.