Elizabeth Flynn- the Paterson Strike of 1913
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Remembers the Paterson Strike of 1913,
Source, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography (New York, 1955), 165-166.
This account of the strike assemblies at the home of Maria Botto and the women’s meetings during the 1913 Paterson silk strike is by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a leader in the Industrial Workers of the World and leader of the Paterson strike. Flynn was 22 years old at the time of the strike. Her career as a radical began in 1906 when she was 16 and joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Flynn was especially popular among the women, for whom she held regular weekly meetings.
The life of a strike depends upon constant activities. In Paterson, as in all IWW strikes, there were mass picketing, daily mass meetings, children’s meetings, the sending of many children to New York and New Jersey cities, and the unique Sunday gatherings. These were held in the afternoon in the little town of Haledon, just over the city line from Paterson. The mayor was a Socialist who welcomed us. A striker’s family lived there in a two-story house. There was a balcony on the second floor, facing the street, opposite a large green field. It was a natural platform and amphitheatre. Sunday after Sunday, as the days became pleasanter, we spoke there to enormous crowds of thousands of people–the strikers and their families, workers from other Paterson industries, people from nearby New Jersey cities, delegations from New York of trade unionists, students and others. Visitors came from all over America and from foreign countries. People who saw these Haledon meetings never forgot them….
A touching episode occurred in one of our children’s meetings. I was speaking in simple language about the conditions of silk workers–why their parents had to strike. I spoke of how little they were paid for weaving the beautiful silk, like the Lawrence workers who made the fine warm woolen cloth. Yet the textile workers do not wear either woolen or silk, while the rich people wear both. I asked: “Do you wear silk?” They answered in a lively chorus. “No!” I asked: Does your mother wear silk?” Again there was a loud “No!” But a child’s voice interrupted, making a statement. This is what he said: “My mother has a silk dress. My father spoiled the cloth and had to bring it home.” The silk worker had to pay for the piece he spoiled and only then did his wife get a silk dress!
We had a woman’s meeting, too, in Paterson at which Haywood, Tresca and I spoke. When I told this story to the women clad in shoddy cotton dresses, there were murmurs of approval which confirmed that the child was right–all the silk they ever saw outside the mill was spoiled goods. Tresca made some remarks about shorter hours, people being less tired, more time to spend together and jokingly he said: “More babies.” The women did not look amused. When Haywood interrupted and said: “No Carlo, we believe in birth control–a few babies, well cared for!” they burst into laughter and applause. They gladly agreed to sending the children to other cities and, chastened by the Lawrence experience, the police did not interfere this time.