In The Red Thread: The Passaic Textile Strike (Rutgers University Press), Jacob A. Zumoff pulls the story of one of New Jersey’s longest work stoppages from the historical shadows.
Notable for its duration (14 months, from January 1926 to March 1927) and magnitude (15,000 strikers), the strike broke ground on several fronts.
“This was the first time that the Communist Party led a mass workers’ strike,” says Zumoff, an assistant professor of history at New Jersey City University.
“‘Organize the unorganized’ was one of the central slogans and philosophies of the strike,” he says. The United Front Committee of Textile Workers focused on organizing unskilled laborers, including immigrants and women.
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Workers struck at 11 wool, silk and dye plants in Passaic, Clifton, East Paterson (today’s Elmwood Park), Garfield and Lodi. Their issues: a 10 percent wage cut and substandard working conditions. Not surprisingly, the massive picket lines led to clashes with police.
Strike leaders made smart use of media to spread the word about the workers’ cause. A 46-page booklet explaining the strike, and a silent, 70-minute documentary (The Passaic Textile Strike), both released in 1926, built support for the strikers.
In August 1926, the Communist-led United Front handed over strike leadership to the United Textile Workers. A series of settlements followed.
While the Communists failed to prevail, the work stoppage proved beneficial.“The strike showed that unskilled workers could be organized,” Zumoff says. “It pointed the way for other labor actions in the 1930s.”Click here to leave a comment