Women of Labor – 2
“Every single day we sit down to eat, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and at our table, we have food that was planted, picked, or harvested by a farm worker. Why is it that the people who do the most sacred work in our nation are the most oppressed, the most exploited?”
(Born April 10, 1930) -Dolores Huerta is an American labor leader and civil right activist who was the co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association (to become later, the United Farm Worker, UFW), along with Cesar Chavez. Through the Union, she helped champion the rights of workers in the agricultural fields and directed its national boycott during the Delano grape strike. She has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy for workers including the Eugene V. Debs foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
“The IWW has been accused of pushing women to the front. This is not true. Rather, the women have not been kept in back, and so they have naturally moved to the front.”
(August 7, 1890 – September 5, 1964) Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a labor leader, activist, and feminist. At 16, she gave her first speech, What Socialism Will Do for Women. For her political activities, Flynn was expelled from high school. By 1907, Flynn had become a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, where she helped organize union campaigns among garment workers, silk weavers, restaurant workers and textile workers. In 1920, Flynn helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, where she helped organize the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti, among other union and labor activists. In 1912 she participated in the Great Textile Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. By the end of January, she became “the strike’s leading lady”. She joined the Communist Party USA in 1936 and in 1961 became its chairwoman. She died during a visit to the Soviet Union, where she was accorded a state funeral.
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“Still more fatal is the crime of turning the producer into a mere particle of a machine, with less
will and decision than his master of steel and iron. Man is being robbed not merely of the products of his labor, but of the power of free initiative, of originality, and the interest in, or desire for, the things he is making.”
(June 27, 1869 – May 14, 1940) Emma Goldman was an anarchist, political activist, and writer. Migrating from Lithuania, she was shocked by the trial, conviction, and execution of labor activists falsely accused of bombing Chicago’s Haymarket Square. She later described it as “the events that had inspired my spiritual birth and growth”. Goldman became a writer, a champion of women’s equality, free love, workers’ rights, free universal education, and anarchism. For more than thirty years, she defined the limits of dissent and free speech. Goldman died in 1940 and is buried in Forest Park, Illinois.
“I know my limitations and I surround myself with people who I can designate to be sure it’s carried out. If you can’t do that, you’re not an organizer.”
Velma Hopkins was one of many stemmers at R.J.Reynolds Tobacco Company. She helped mobilize 10,000 workers into the streets of Winston-Salem, North Carolina as part of an attempt to bring unions to Reynolds Tobacco. Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers of America-CIO, was integrated and led primarily by African American women. In the 1940’s, she organized a labor campaign and strike for better working conditions, pay, and civil rights. It was the only time in the history of Reynolds Tobacco that it had a union. Eventually, the workers pay was increased to75 cents an hour. Although Local 22 ultimately failed to slay the giant, the union influenced a generation of civil rights activists.
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“I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike.”
(March 28, 1886 – July 12, 1982) Clara Lemlich was a firebrand who led several strikes of shirtwaist makers and challenged the mostly male leadership of International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). She was a leader of the Uprising of the 20,000, a massive strike of shirtwaist workers in New York garment industry in 1909. Blacklisted from the industry for her labor union work, she became a member of the Communist Party USA and a consumer activist. Even age and illness could not stop her, as in her last years as a nursing home resident, she helped to organize the staff.
Read more about Clara Lemlich