‘Workers Solidarity – Not Charity: The United Women’s Councils in the Bronx Laundry Strike’ by Anna Eisenberg from Working Woman. Vol. 4 No. 6. August, 1933.
Thousands of women are employed in the laundry industry. A great number are married women both Negro and white. These women helped to build up the laundry industry, an industry which is today worth millions of dollars, work under the most miserable conditions, under a vicious speed-up in places of excessive heat, especially in the summer months. Very often the workers faint at their mangals and iron. And all this for a miserable wage of twelve dollars a week for fifty and more hours. But they seldom make a full week, although they are forced to spend most of the time in the shops. They only get paid for the hours they are working, which sometimes means only a few hours a day and the rest of the time is spent in waiting for work.
These workers were never organized. The American Federation of Labor never made an attempt to organize the inside laundry workers. It is therefore no accident that when a few weeks ago the Industrial Union called a mass strike to improve working conditions in the recent weeks in the Bronx laundries the women workers responded to the call and went out hand in hand with the men workers, who are also compelled to work under not much better conditions. Once these women were awakened to the struggle, they proved to be excellent strikers and stayed until part of the demands were granted and when they went back to work they pledged to join the Union to better their conditions.
Scabbed Councils Mobilize Support
The role of the United Councils of Working Class Women in this strike was a very important one. When the call of the Strike Committee issued a call for assistance, it was met with a quick response. We immediately understood the importance of this strike. Our committees reported to the strike halls for all sorts of work, such as picketing, collecting food for the strikers, which was necessary from the first day of the strike because of the impoverished conditions of the workers even when they work. Our members also helped in preparing foods. Special credit is due to Council No. 3 for splendid work as far as feeding the strikers is concerned, although all the other councils in the Bronx section did their best.
Appeal in Neighborhood
Our Section also issued 5,000 leaflets calling the working women and housewives not to send their wash to the laundries on strike and to support the strike in every possible way. We carried thru a house to house canvass and explained to the housewives the conditions of the women in the laundry shops. We brought the facts to the homes of the workers wives, facts that are so little known to the average woman because we do not come in contact with the inside workers. We only know the drivers who in fear of losing their job will not reveal the real misery of those workers. We found a very sympathetic response to our calls.
Workers Solidarity – Not Charity
We also participated in the mass conference and asked financial help to the strike fund. The strikers, seeing our work at first thought that we were ladies of some charitable society, but when our members explained to them that we are also workers and workers’ wives and that their fight is our fight, that our organization supports every struggle of the working class in the neighborhood; that we support the fight for Unemployment Insurance, and that we take an active part in the fight at the home relief buros, some of these strikers expressed their readiness to join our organization.
They have realized the importance of our work. We are now following up some of the contacts we have made. My opinion is that our organization did quite well and that we have also learned how to better work in the future, through which we are bound to gain members in our Councils.
The Working Woman, ‘A Paper for Working Women, Farm Women, and Working-Class Housewives,’ was first published monthly by the Communist Party USA Central Committee Women’s Department from 1929 to 1935, continuing until 1937. It was the first official English-language paper of a Socialist or Communist Party specifically for women (there had been many independent such papers). At first a newspaper and very much an exponent of ‘Third Period’ politics, it played particular attention to Black women, long invisible in the left press. In addition, the magazine covered home-life, women’s health and women’s history, trade union and unemployment struggles, Party activities, as well poems and short stories. The newspaper became a magazine in 1933, and in late 1935 it was folded into The Woman Today which sought to compete with bourgeois women’s magazines in the Popular Front era. The Woman today published until 1937. During its run editors included Isobel Walker Soule, Elinor Curtis, and Margaret Cowl among others.