Chapter 4 : The Employers Try an injunction
HIRED THUGS APPEARED in front of the strike-bound garment factory buildings as another week began. Ostensibly their job was to protect "non-striking" workers; actually, they were on hand to foment disturbances. Clashes were provoked by these "guards" as they led in people who had never worked in the dress industry before, to replace the striking workers. Girl strikers were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace.
Representatives of both sides conferred on Monday with Campbell MacCulloch, executive secretary of the National Recovery Administration's state board. He proposed a three-month compromise plan to end the strike. We could see only danger in that proposal. Early and specific action was vital to us; more waiting would mean a tired and disgusted rank-and-file, and final acceptance, through sheer weariness, of unfavorable terms. The wearing-down process is a well-known tactic on the industrial battlefield. We rejected the plan quickly. To our surprise, the employers didn't favor it either. Next day MacCulloch was reported to have "tossed the strike situation into the lap of Washington officials."
On Tuesday evening, after every one else had gone, Paul Berg, secretary, Harry Scott, manager of the cloakmakers' locals, and I lingered at strike headquarters to clear routine details and ascertain where we needed reinforcements. Our desks were behind a railing.
About 9 o'clock a short man with a cast in his eye came in and asked: "Is Rose Pesotta here?"
"No," one of the boys answered promptly.
"When will she be in?"
"I don't know."
He inquired also for Israel Feinberg, Harry Scott, and Paul Berg They didn't know when any of those gentlemen would come in.
"They don't tell us everything. Come back in the morning."
"No," he said. "I'll wait around for a while."
He sat down. After some 45 minutes of cooling his heels, he placed four folded papers on the railing.
"If any of these people come in tonight," he admonished us, "be sure to tell them about this. It's important. There's a jail sentence waiting if they don't obey this order."
When we were certain the process server had left, we read the injunction. Issued on behalf of the Paramount Dress Company, among other things it prohibited the four of us and all other members of the ILGWU from "intimidating or harassing" any of the employes of that corporation. The Paramount shop was one of several factories in the building at 719 South Los Angeles Street, in front of which the clashes had been promoted by the "guards" on Monday.
Obviously this action was an attempt to demoralize us and end the picketing. The manufacturers were using the Paramount firm as a cat's-paw.
I knew that picketing must go on at No. 719, injunction or no injunction. Our lines must be kept intact. We would have to work fast. Without taking time to consult our lawyers or Vise-President Feinberg, my superior, I decided that we would stage a demonstration at the Paramount building next morning that the employers would not forget.
We sped to the homes of key members, instructing them to line up every possible picket in front of "719" at 6:30 next morning.
By the time the Paramount Dress Company opened its doors on Wednesday, over a thousand of our people were massed on the sidewalk. Scores of cloakmakers augmented the striking dressmakers' ranks, but the great majority of the marching pickets were girls and women.
Captain William (Red) Hynes, his assistant, Detective Lieutenant George Pfeiffer, other members of the "Red Squad," and a large detachment of uniformed policemen, were powerless against that mass of unionists. The police had decreed that our pickets must walk two abreast, but they couldn't enforce this rule. They had forbidden the pickets to call "Scab! " But when private cars owned or hired by the employers appeared, bringing in strike-breakers, no one could prevent the pickets from yelling that epithet in lusty chorus. Pent-up emotions were loosed. The hired thugs were on the job. There were fights in the center of the milling crowd, and shouts and screams.
Though the injunction applied to all members of the ILGWU, the police arrested only five strikers÷all women÷and then charged them not with violating the court order, but with disorderly conduct.
The employers saw the point of the demonstration: We had the strength of militant members. They realized that any further use of the injunction would win increasing public sympathy for the strikers. It was the only injunction during that strike.
Shortly after the walkout, a pleasant visitor had come to our headquarters÷a slim, fair-haired young man, dressed so simply that he might have been one of our own members. He introduced himself as Jerry Voorhis. I had heard of him and knew something about his liberal activities. Son of a well-known California family, he conducted a self-help school for under-privileged boys on his estate at San Dimas, in the foothills of the Sierras.
Taking me aside, he said he had long been especially interested in labor problems. From his pocket he took two paid-up life insurance policies with a cash value of more than $5,000, and offered them as a contribution to our strike.
I explained we did not need money; what we needed most was moral support from the people of Los Angeles.
"What, then," he wanted to know, "can I do to be most helpful?"
"It would help a lot," I said, "if you would arrange a public mass meeting, and invite both the employers and our union to state their cases."
He got busy at once, and such a meeting, well-advertised and largely attended, was held October 20 in the First Unitarian Church. The speakers included two of the strikers, who had poignant stories to tell of what they had been up against in the factories; the Rev. A. A. Heist, Methodist minister who had helped settle the great Colorado coal strike in 1927; the Rev. Allan Hunter, pastor of the Mount Hollywood Congregational Church; Chester Williams, chairman of the Southern California Youth Congress; and David Ziskind, prominent Los Angeles lawyer. Jerry Voorhis presided.
Charles Katz, attorney for the manufacturers, presented their side of the story, Bill Busick and I, that of the union. There could be no question in the minds of unbiased persons present that we had the better of the argument.
Afterwards, Mr. Katz was frank enough to say to me: "If I were on your side, I'd speak as convincingly as you." Later he became one of our attorneys.
Several similar meetings followed, gaining wide support for our cause.
Voorhis continued to give us practical and whole-hearted co-operation. Ever since, he has proudly carried a paid-up union card in one of our Los Angeles locals. I learned later that, not satisfied with a Yale degree, he had worked as a cowboy, a freight handler, and as an automobile mechanic. In 1936 he was elected to Congress, where he is one of an outspoken minority with a liberal point of view.
Systematically our pickets were reinforced each day by large numbers of others in the early morning, noontime, and late afternoon. Skeleton crews of watchers were assigned for duty throughout the night. Pickets served in relays, staying on the lines two hours or so at a time, and then coming to headquarters to attend shop meetings, for coffee and food, and recreation. Each afternoon there was a large meeting in the assembly hall, with talks by the organizers and by speakers from outside. Norman Thomas, standard-bearer of the Socialist Party, then touring California, was one of the visitors.
In that second week Senator Robert F. Wagner, chairman of the National Labor Board in Washington, wired MacCulloch urging arbitration. The manufacturers' association assented, on condition that we stop picketing. We answered that the strikers were ready to submit the issues to "an impartial committee of citizens," but opposed any cessation of picketing so long as the employers kept their shops open. "We will stop picketing when you close your factories," was our reply.
Booth, the employers' spokesman, asserted that "in all strikes picketing was halted during arbitration proceedings." It was an old ruse. Labor history is full of examples of broken faith by employers and of union defeat when strikers have been persuaded to stop picketing at this stage of an industrial conflict. The momentum we had gained, the solid morale of the strikers, must be protected.
Dr. Roy L. Smith, pastor of the First Methodist Church, inspected the strike area, visiting picket lines and headquarters. He reported his observations to a committee of representative clergymen. They passed a resolution calling upon members of their congregations to observe the picket lines at certain hours when clashes were most likely to occur.
Singing on the picket lines attracted and held crowds of shoppers. The time-tried union songs were best÷Hold the Fort, the Soup Song, and the rest. But the favorite of the strikers was Solidarity Forever, set to the ringing tones of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Their voices swelled and lifted, filling the brick canyon of the garment center.
When the Union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun,
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the Union makes us strong.
A hundred college students, girls and boys, joined the picket lines and staged a demonstration in our behalf, improvising songs and yells. They had been attending the Southern California Youth Congress at nearby Pacific Palisades. Nine were arrested for "disturbing the peace and blocking the sidewalk." Like charges were placed against the Rev. Wesley G. Nicholson, pastor of Westwood Hills Congregational Church, who was present as an observer. The Congress issued a statement saying it had investigated every phase of the strike, and condemning the manufacturers for paying dressmakers "as little as $2 or $3 a week."
One girl student from the University of Southern California performed a notable service for us, of which I knew nothing until later. I remember only her first name, Gretchen. She walked into various department stores and swank downtown retail shops and asked to be shown expensive dresses. After examining them closely, she asked: "Where is the union label? Why do you sell sweatshop merchandise?" The saleswoman had no answers to those questions.
Gretchen would than raise her voice in indignant objection. The manager would hurry to the scene. Gretchen would continue her protest, still in high key, while customers listened. As she walked out, she would tell the manager that unless his firm changed its policy and sold union-made goods she would never buy anything there again.
Soon we received inquiries from stores asking where they could get garments with the union label.
By the 26th, both sides had agreed to "arbitrate without reservation," and four days later a board of five was chosen to weigh the issues in the case. The five were: Mrs. Frances Noel, club-woman; Dr. J. L. Leonard, professor of economics at the University of Southern California; Rabbi Isadore Isaacson of the Congregation Israel, Hollywood; the Rev. James F. Cunningham, assistant pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, and Campbell MacCulloch, state executive secretary of the NRA.
Some 250 strikers marched on the 30th from headquarters to the California State Building, to file complaints with the State Labor Commissioner against manufacturers who had long violated the California minimum wage law. They had checks and work-hour stubs showing they had received $2, $3, $4, or $5 a week, though the legal bottom wage for women was $16 for 48 hours.
The state police refused to let the marchers go up to the commissioner's office. So they crowded into the main floor lobby and set up a roar of protest. Bill Busick pushed his way through, and at his urging they poured into the Assembly Chamber and took seats. Then Bill phoned upstairs, and Deputy Commissioner Charles Lowy hastened down and heard the delegation's complaints.
Immediately 200 other strikers led by Paul Berg marched to the City Hall and protested to Mayor Frank L. Shaw against undue police interference. The mayor said he would appoint a committee to investigate.
Meanwhile there were rumors that the police planned to use tear gas. We discussed that possibility at shop meetings and prepared our women for it. When "guards" provoked a clash between the strikebreakers and pickets at 719 South Los Angeles Street, I saw a policeman dashing toward the spot with a tear-gas bomb behind his back. I caught up with him and shouted, "I'd advise you not to throw that."
He turned quickly and halted. "Why not?"
"Because it would serve no purpose. Our strikers know as well as you do how to protect themselves."
"What will they do?"
"Nothing, just let the tears run down their faces."
As a matter of fact, we had advised our women to do what they did when peeling onions÷never rub their eyes, but allow the tears to run down their cheeks.
No tear-gas was used.
Lieutenant Pfeiffer, "Red" Hynes's assistant, although constantly in the strike area, was unable to cope with the activities of the striking girls, who were too swift for him A tall, powerful man, he once stopped me at the corner of Ninth Street and Broadway. Towering over me, he shook a finger within an inch of my nose, and said, "Rosie, don't think this is New York."
"I know it isn't," I answered, "but before we're through these girls will be working in shops as well organized as in New York."
Up to the time of our strike the Hynes "Red Squad" had ruled supreme in the Los Angeles labor field and in the Communist movement. Hynes always had advance knowledge of Communist activities, garnered from undercover men. But he was unable to get advance information on our movements. For practically always our strategy was planned by Feinberg and myself and communicated to others in the union only on the eve of execution. Most of our activities were organized swiftly and carried out before they could be interfered with.
On Hallowe'en, we arranged a children's party for the morning and another for the strikers in the evening. The hall was festively decorated on Saturday morning. Dressed in appropriate costumes, the youngsters played games, sang and danced. Several children spoke the "pieces" they knew best; others performed native Mexican dances. We served lunch with milk, ice-cream, and cake. While our young guests were enjoying these refreshments, I sprung a sudden question:
"Would you like to see where your mothers picket?"
"Sure! You bet!" they shouted.
Immediately after lunch, I had the mothers round up their offspring in Hallowe'en attire, and started a procession of some 300, two by two, toward the garment center. One of our girls phoned the newspapers, and by the time the marchers reached the heart of the district, reporters and photographers were on hand. The cameramen got good shots of the colorful parade, and the newsmen found the scene rich in human interest. Broadway shoppers stopped traffic to look on.
The tail end of the procession was passing the last of the garment buildings and was about to turn a corner when I saw men running toward me. At their head was Captain "Red" Hynes.
He spoke breathlessly, indignantly. "You always would embarrass me. Why wasn't I notified about this? Why am I always the last one to hear about things?"
I snapped back at him. "I didn't know we were supposed to notify you about anything. We have plenty to do trying to settle this strike."
Two days later Lieutenant Pfeiffer came to our office and made a similar complaint in his own behalf. The "Red Squad" was becoming a laughing stock because of our tactics, he lamented.
For a change I used a pleading tone. "Please lay off. Let us alone. We have a couple of thousand girls and women on strike. If you'll let me take care of it, I'll see that they return safely to work."
"All right, Rosie, I know you can do it."
Pfeiffer hailed from New York, having been born and raised under Brooklyn Bridge. Sometimes he remembered he had a sense of humor, buried deep. One morning, he was in charge of the squad in Hynes's absence. Strikebreakers had just got out of several of the employers' automobiles and were being led into the Cooper Building on Los Angeles Street. Some of the girl strikers yelled: "Scab!" Pfeiffer evidently thought they weren't doing justice to their cause. He stood in front of them, raised his arms in the position of an orchestra conductor , and command ed, "Now, girls, all together!" The repeated epithet was a roar of derision.
The employers and the police evolved a scheme whereby pickets were arrested in the afternoon so that they couldn't have police court hearings until next day. They had to be bailed out to avoid staying in jail overnight.
One group of girls, before leaving headquart ers for the afternoon picket lines, instructed us not to bail them out if they were jailed. They were arrested, 14 of them, refused bail, and were placed in cells in Lincoln Heights jail. I sent in food and fruit.
Next morning we went to take them to court.
The matron of the jail, red- eyed and haggard, faced us. She had a heartfelt protest to make. "For the love of God, never leave a bunch like that in this place overnight again."
"What's wrong with them?" I asked.
"It's their songs. They sang all night. I never got a wink of sleep."
Usually strikers convicted on one charge or another were sentenced to pay a fine or serve 10 to 15 days in jail. Invariably they preferred to serve their sentences rather than pay the fine. Several of the girls, all American -bor n, told me later that not until they found themselve s in a cell did they realize that men and women who had never committe d any crime were often arrested in this land of the free, particularl y in Los Angeles. Reading newspape rs in the past, they had thought of arrested persons as thieves, murderers , prostitutes , swindlers, or gangsters. Now their knowledg e was broadene d. They expressed no regret that they had chosen to be jailed in a worthy cause.
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