‘Corset Strikers of Kalamazoo’ by Pauline M. Newman from The Progressive Woman. Vol. 6 No. 61. July, 1912.

Kalamazoo Corset Company workers, 1912.
‘Corset Strikers of Kalamazoo’ by Pauline M. Newman from The Progressive Woman. Vol. 6 No. 61. July, 1912.

Twelve girls are in jail for striking against low wages and becoming the victims of the brutal lust of the foremen of the Kalamazoo Corset Company.

One girl, who worked for this company seventeen years, testified that she occasionally received as high as $7 per week.

Starvation wages! No wonder brutal foremen felt they could terrorize these girls into becoming their victims. Girls living on $6 a week and less cannot be expected to keep up their spirits for a very long time. And yet, in spite of everything, most of them do it.

The girl who worked seventeen years, and got as high as $7 some weeks, was recently transferred to new work, and got $1.95 for three days’ work!

Hundreds of girls receive from $2 to $3.50 a week because they do not stand in favor with the superintendents, foremen, examiners, etc. Often they are made to wait for hours for “piece work,” and are not allowed to leave the factory during these hours of waiting. They are compelled to pay for the thread and needles they use, and are discriminated against in many ways.

Girls may not be discharged for not falling to the wishes of their “superiors,” but they are given the smallest amount of work, and the least pay possible. With favorites it is the practice of the foremen to forget to charge for thread. and they are “rewarded” in other ways for their submissiveness.

Poor girls! Yet they had the nerve and the energy to rebel against these criminal conditions. In February, twelve active unionists were discharge for- as the company put it “persistent plotting against the interests of the company.” What the “interests” of the company were. we have seen. This “lockout” was followed by a strike of 400 corset workers, who demanded a living wage, and decent moral and sanitary conditions,

Kalamazoo Corset Company workers, 1912.

Peaceful picketing was done, but within a few weeks a sweeping injunction was issued by judge F.E. Knappen prohibiting peaceful picketing or “in any other way whatsoever influencing persons to leave or refuse to enter the employment of the complainant.” The Kalamazoo Corset Company.

For six weeks this injunction was obeyed, and then, having held daily prayers in the meeting hall, calling upon their heavenly father to move the citizens to take up their cause, the girls decided that “they who win must work as well as pray,” and they quietly assumed their peaceful picketing. The result was that twelve of them were locked up. This aroused a storm of protest in the city, and excitement now reigns everywhere.

Will the corset strikers win? Women readers of The Progressive Woman, they must win. and you as women, as working class mothers and daughters must help; must help not only the Kalamazoo girls win their hard tight, but help all working girls win by doing everything possible to arouse public sentiment for the workers, and by refusing to uphold the so-called rights of the masters, who make slaves of weak women and little children. Workers of the world, unite!

The Socialist Woman was a monthly magazine edited by Josephine Conger-Kaneko from 1907 with this aim: “The Socialist Woman exists for the sole purpose of bringing women into touch with the Socialist idea. We intend to make this paper a forum for the discussion of problems that lie closest to women’s lives, from the Socialist standpoint”. In 1908, Conger-Kaneko and her husband Japanese socialist Kiichi Kaneko moved to Girard, Kansas home of Appeal to Reason, which would print Socialist Woman. In 1909 it was renamed The Progressive Woman, and The Coming Nation in 1913. Its contributors included Socialist Party activist Kate Richards O’Hare, Alice Stone Blackwell, Eugene V. Debs, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and others. A treat of the journal was the For Kiddies in Socialist Homes column by Elizabeth Vincent.The Progressive Woman lasted until 1916.

PDF of original issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/socialist-woman/120700-progressivewoman-v6w61.pdf

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