The Women of Labor – 5

Women of Labor – 5

Rose Pesotta

Rose Pesotta women of labor -5

(Nov. 20, 1896 – Dec. 6, 1965) Rose Pesotta arrived in New York in 1913 and joined Local 25 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, ironically run mostly by white men who had little or no interest in organizing female dressmakers. A month after Rose arrived, 4,000 workers walked out on strike. The strike ended in less than a month with mixed results, but sent a powerful message to the garment bosses and her male union counterpart; women should not be discounted. Pesotta brought a charismatic personality, boundless energy and a unique ability to empathize with the downtrodden to organizing. She mobilized a largely Mexican labor force in Los Angeles to strike, and while not successful, Pesotta’s leadership established her as one the most gifted organizers of the union. As a CIO General Executive, she carried the union message to workers in Puerto Rico, Detroit, Montreal, Cleveland, Buffalo, Boston, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles making her one of the most successful organizers of her time.

You can read more about Rose Pesotta HERE

The Gentle General: Rose Pesotta Anarchist and Labor Organizer (SUNY Series in American Labor History)

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Florence Reece

Florence Reece women of labor -5

CHORUS: Which side are you on? (4x)
My daddy was a miner/And I’m a miner’s son/And I’ll stick with the union/‘Til every battle’s won [Chorus]
They say in Harlan County/There are no neutrals there/You’ll either be a union man/Or a thug for JH Blair [Chorus]
Oh workers can you stand it?/Oh tell me how you can/Will you be a lousy scab/Or will you be a man? [Chorus]
Don’t scab for the bosses/Don’t listen to their lies/Us poor folks haven’t got a chance/Unless we organize [Chorus]

(April 12, 1900 – August 3, 1986) Florence Reece was an activist, poet, and songwriter. Reece will be forever known for the song “Which Side are You On?” written during the Harlan County War strike by the United Mine Workers of America and the National Miners Union Union in which her husband, Sam Reece, was an organizer. She wrote the union song in 1931, while Sheriff J.H.Blair shot through her house while searching for her husband.

Listen to Florence Sing “Which Side are You On?”

Fannie Sellins

Fannie Sellins women of labor -5

(1872 – August 26, 1919) William Z. Foster, the leader of the Great Steel Strike of 1919, once said of Fannie Selling  “one of the best of our whole corps of organizers… [She] had an exceptional belief in the workers and she went out and organized them… She took the initiative and in the midst of terror went out to her work…” After being an organizer in St. Louis for the United Garment Workers and in the West Virginia coal fields, she moved to Pennsylvania in 1916. She worked with the miner’s wives, proving to be an effective organizer across ethnic barriers. During a confrontation between townspeople and armed company guards outside the Allegheny Coal and Coke company mine, Fannie and miner Joseph Strzelecki were gunned down. The men accused of the murder were acquitted.

Click HERE to learn more about Fannie Sellins

Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights

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Emma Tenayuca

Emma Tenayuca women of labor -5

“I was arrested a number of times. I never thought in terms of fear. I thought in terms of justice.”

Emma Tenayuca’s first arrest came at the age of 16 in 1933, when she joined a picket line of workers in a strike against the Finck Cigar Company. She made a career out of her passion for labor rights. She founded two international ladies’ garments workers unions and was involved in the Worker’s Alliance (WA). Tenayuca was instrumental in the famous Pecan Shellers Strike against the Southern Pecan Shelling Company in 1938. Thousands of workers in over 130 plants protested a wage reduction. Workers who picketed were gassed, arrested and jailed. The strike was thirty-seven days and the pecan operators agreed to arbitration. Later in the year, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) raised wages to twenty-five cents an hour. Less than a year later, a crowd of 5,000 attacked the auditorium were Tenayuca was speaking with bricks and rocks, “huntin’ Communists”. She was blacklisted and forced to move out of San Antonio. That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice is a bilingual children’s book that tells the story of her contributions to the pecan sheller strike.

Read More about Emma Tenayuca

Ella Mae Wiggins

Ella Mae Wiggins women of labor -5“Oh, my God, they’ve shot me.”

(September 17, 1900 – September 14, 1929) Ella Mae Wiggins was the mother of nine, an organizer, speaker and balladeer, known for her faith in the union, the only organization for she had encountered that promised her a better life. Wiggins believed in organizing African-Americans along with whites and in a close vote, her local of the National Textile Workers Union voted to admit African-Americans into the union. On September 14, 1929, she and other union members were turned away from a meeting in Gastonia by armed men. While driving home, they stopped by a car; armed men jumped out and began shooting. Wiggins was shot and killed. Five Loray Mill employees were charged with Wiggins’s murder but were all acquitted after less than 30 minutes of deliberation. Her best-known song, A Mill Mother’s Lament, was recorded by Pete Seeger, among others. In 1979, the AFL-CIO expanded Wiggins’ grave marker with the phrase, “She died carrying the torch of social justice.”

Learn more about Ella Mae Wiggins amazing life

Let’s Stand Together: The Story of Ella Mae Wiggins

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