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Paterson Strike Addendum

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post on the Paterson strike pageant, I was moderating a panel of really first-rate historians on the anniversary of the strike. I am going to write up the panel for another forum pretty soon and will link to it. But I wanted to mention one important point that came out of the discussion. Steve Golin, who wrote the definitive book on the Paterson strike, and Mary Anne Trasciatti, who is writing a biography of Elizabeth Gurly Flynn, both made the point that while workers lost the strike, the real defeat was for the IWW. The workers themselves did manage to stave off the four-loom system they dreaded for awhile after the strike and eventually did have successful labor actions down the road.

But it was the IWW that the Paterson loss and the pageant’s ineffectiveness destroyed. Again, the union was completely devastated in the east. Bill Haywood and others wanted to win in Paterson and then start organizing the looms in Pennsylvania. That never happened. Flynn and Haywood and others got into a huge internal battle over who was at fault. Most interesting, and I didn’t really know this, both Flynn and Haywood began calling for centralized control over strikes after the Paterson debacle, which was counter to the IWW’s rhetorical emphasis on placing power in the hands of workers. When workers didn’t respond the way Haywood and Flynn wanted, that became much less appealing in practice than theory.

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  • JoyfulA

    I never knew of textile work in Pennsylvania. Was it silk also?

    • Davis X. Machina

      Sure. The present Philadelphia University began life as Philadephia Textile School. The Manayunk section of Philly’s like a little Lawrence or Lowell.

    • Bruce Vail

      Steven Fraser’s ‘Labor Will Rule’ (a biography of Sidney Hillman) contains some good material about NYC clothing manufacturers setting up ‘runaway’ shops in Pennsylvania and elsewhere to get away the unions in NY. One of Hillman’s jobs, of course, was to chase them.

      • JoyfulA

        I knew about the garment workers in Pennsylvania because my own grandmothers were shirt factory and blouse factory workers from the early 1920s to the late 1950s, except for a profitable war work stint and, for one, a widow, a late-career switch to state work to obtain a pension.

        Factories open and shut and reopened with the contracts they acquired. Some were union and some weren’t; the nonunion factories provided the same pay rates (usually piecework) and benefits (not much) to acquire and keep the best workers. One grandmother did get to go to some kind of ILGWU summer resort one year.

        As far as I know, the last garment factory in the area was shut down about 5 years ago. It sewed police shirts, which by contract had to be made with union labor. The shirtmakers struck when management demanded fewer health benefits. After about a week, managers absconded in the middle of the night with the union labels and set up a nonunion shop in Tennessee.

        The area also had several shoe factories, one opened in 1930 or so when the town fathers approached a Baltimore manufacturer. After high school in 1939, my father was hired by a shoe factory to augment their company baseball team (!), but he left to join the Navy. Although I had a grandfather and a great aunt and great uncle working in shoe factories, I don’t know much about the work or the conditions.

        But I didn’t know about the textile work. (Except a typist’s boyfriend in Philly worked where he dyed textiles in oversize-clotheswasher devices. She said there was always standing water and electrical cords draped every which way, and she made him quit “before he electrocuted himself.”)

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