Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island was the first textile mill in the United States and the site of the first industrial strike in United States history. In response to wage cuts, the factory’s textile workers went on strike in May 1824 and refused to return until wages were restored – and they won.
Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation organized a survey at Slater Mill this week in honor of International Workers’ Day. About 20 people gathered on May Day to learn about the history of the nation’s first industrial production facility and the workers who fought there.
Built in 1793, the mill used water-powered machinery to process cotton into yarn and yarn. Workers in these early factories were almost entirely women and children. Children as young as seven worked 12-hour days six days a week in air choked with cotton dust, surrounded by fire hazards and dangerous machinery.
A Pawtucket teacher who took part in the study said she had never heard of the first female-led strike at Slater Mill when she was at school, even though she grew up nearby. Another participant shared, “Production has increased. We have technology that we’ve never seen before, AI and all that, but the wealth gap continues to grow.
“It was amazing to hear about the success of the strike at Slater Mill, and I loved how it sets a real example of solidarity among workers,” said Jordan, an organizer for the PSL. The women’s action inspired the town’s men to strike a week later, and the women supported their struggle.
After the study, the National Park Service gave a tour of the mill, which has been preserved as a museum. Inside, originals and replicas of early 19th-century machinery provide a window into the difficult and dangerous work faced by early industrial workers.