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July 8: Matilda Robbins and the IWW

July 8, 2013

matilda-robbins-c-1912The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known as the “Wobblies,” concluded their founding convention in Chicago on this date in 1905. Among the few visible Jewish women in the organization was Matilda Robbins (Tatiana Gitel Rabinowitz), a Ukrainian-born immigrant who connected with the IWW during the 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Soon after, she became the key organizer during another textile strike in Little Falls, NY, running the strike office, organizing a strike kitchen, raising money and legal aid, and making sure the picket line stood strong, over the course of fourteen weeks. After this, she was hired as an organizer by the Wobblies — alongside Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the only other IWW woman organizer — and spent three years traveling from one labor battle to another. Robbins also became a single mother. She worked all her life as a labor organizer, editor, and social worker before her death at 76 in1963.

“Even though all 24 members of the Strike Committee . . . had been arrested . . . and some were held for over a year, the strike continued. Matilda Rabinowitz, a diminutive . . . IWW organizer, joined forces with Helen Schloss and the two young women kept the strikers united in the face of this setback. Together, the two women had an entirely female picket line up within a day of the mass arrests. ‘Big Bill’ Haywood, a founder of the IWW, arrived a few days later to organize the Little Falls Defense League, to provide living expenses and legal support for the strikers. Haywood, Schloss and Rabinowitz set off on a speaking tour of the northeast that month to raise the funds that kept the strike going into the winter months.” —Upstate Earth

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