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February 1: The Silk Strike

February 1, 2014
pageant-strike-posterSome 5,000 Jewish men and women, most of them recent immigrants from the textile factories of Lodz and Bialystok, were working in the silk mills of Paterson, New Jersey and the environs when the Paterson Silk Strike began on this date in 1913. A small number of mills were also owned or managed by Jews. The strike was the led by the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or Wobblies), and lasted for six months, in the course of which 1,850 strikers were arrested. Most of the Jewish workers were socialists and members of the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, and they struck in unison with Piedmontese Italian immigrants and other ethnic groups. One of their slogans was “Eight Hours Work, Eight Hours Rest, and Eight Hours Pleasure.” “In the spring of 1913,” writes Steven Golin, author of The Fragile Bridge: Paterson Silk Strike 1913, “visitors from Greenwich Village came to Paterson, drawn by their desire to see the strike . . . [which] bubbled over with the songs and humor of many nationalities and was propelled by the courage of both sexes.” Many of these artists, intellectuals, and bohemians then organized fundraisers, pageants and rallies in support of the strike, which helped to extend the workers’ endurance for months. “Many were seasoned weavers who knew how to run looms, job skills that were prized in the Paterson mills. Along with their skills they brought strong communal ties and strong notions of how the world should work. . . . These idiosyncratic ideas first became animated during the 1913 silk strike . . .” —David Wilson, Jews of Paterson