The end of the paternalistic era in Pontiac

As the textile strike ran on into the early spring of 1922, violence continued to erupt sporadically. Governor Emery J. San Souci found himself criticized by the strikers for calling out the militia and by the mill owners for not taking more drastic action. In March, cavalry units were called out several times to quell riots.

Political Consequences

One of the results of the calling of the militia was that the rift that had developed between the Republican Party and the workers grew wider. Many of the workers felt that the mill owners controlled the GOP and were using their influence to the mill operatives’ detriment. Many at this time began to drift to the Democratic Party, which had little success since the Civil War.

Some labor leaders felt that neither party was giving them support and threatened to form a workers' party. Most workers, however, were not in sympathy and the two major political parties held. In the following election, November 1922, Democrat William S. Flynn, was elected governor.

Aid to Strikers

A strikers' relief fund was established and donations of food and money came to the area to help the strikers and their families. Labor leader Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, came to Rhode Island to support the strike. Upon the urging of the mill owners, a number of strike organizers and strikers were arrested for violation of antiquated picketing and strike regulations.

Robert E. Quinn, a young attorney from West Warwick, defended the strikers free of charge. Quinn, nephew of the well-known Patrick H. Quinn, architect of West Warwick's independence and a leading Democrat, earned a national as well as a state wide reputation as a result. The dynamic young champion of labor helped strikers as they appeared in court. Thanks to Quinn, many strikers were merely fined for disorderly conduct and released. The brilliant Quinn won the support of the unions as he championed their cause. Quinn was later (1936) elected Governor and also served as Associate Justice of the Superior Court in 1941 and in 1951 was appointed Chief Judge of the United States Court of Military Appeals.

Bloodshed and Failure

Tragedy came to the Pawtuxet Valley when two men from Crompton Village were shot by state troopers. Soon after this episode, explosions rocked the Crompton Mills and the state militia was sent to patrol the village. As the strike continued, the pastors of the All Saints Church and the Swedish Lutheran Church in Pontiac joined with the pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Natick and other clergymen of the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the Valley in an attempt to mediate. They met with union officials and representatives of the mill owners, but to no avail.

Evictions and Hunger

By mid summer, both sides were weary of the strike and were getting desperate. Violence again surfaced on several occasions when strikers and their families were evicted from mill houses in order to make room for workers coming in from outside the area. Mill owners hoped that they could use outside workers and lure some Valley workers by the promise of better wages. They had some success and about half the workers began to trickle back to their jobs.

The end of an Era

Finally, on September 12, 1922, the owners of the B. B. & R. Knight Company, the Crompton Company, the Hope Company and the Interlaken Mills all agreed to restore the wage scale that was in effect before January 1922. William McLoughlin, in his Rhode Island, a History, says, "Their willingness to agree was in part dictated by the end of the recession and the upsurge of production orders. But the workers had at last learned that they could succeed." He adds, "Employers claimed that the unions were cutting the throats of the workers by cutting the profits of the owners. But in truth, the day of New England's supremacy in the textile industry was over." The conditions that had existed during the period when the Knight family ruled the village as benevolent despots was over. Pontiac residents looked to their own resources to find the strength to weather the severe economic depression that came in the 1930's.

William S. Flynn, an Irish Democrat, benefited from the animosity against the Republican Party that came as a result of the strike of 1922. Flynn was one of but three Democrats elected as Governor from the time of the Civil War.

Robert E. Quinn, chief engineer of the “bloodless revolution” which changed Rhode Island politics, gained prominence as a result of the strike of 1922.
From Mohr, Ralph- R.I. Governors for Three Hundred Years.

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