Labor activist Rose Pesotta organizes in Akron, Ohio
In 1936, in the midst of nationwide union organizing drives, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) sent veteran organizer Rose Pesotta to Akron, Ohio, to aid striking workers at the Goodyear Rubber factory. She arrived on February 25, in the midst of the Goodyear strike. Although ostensibly there to rally the workers' wives and daughters to the union cause, Pesotta made a point of visiting strikers, singing union songs with them, and ultimately convincing them to approve a negotiated settlement with Goodyear.
Although successful with rubber workers and later with the United Auto Workers in Detroit, Pesotta's organizing "home" was with garment workers and the ILGWU. As a young immigrant woman working in New York shirtwaist factories, she joined the ILGWU in 1913. Just two years later, she helped to form the union's first education department, and in 1920 was elected to the executive board of her local union chapter. She left the shop floor to become a full-time organizer in the late 1920s, after helping the union through struggles with communist opponents. After spearheading a Dressmakers General Strike in Los Angeles, Pesotta was elected as a vice-president of the ILGWU in 1934, where she was one of the first women on the national executive board.
During this period, Pesotta was active in the anarchist movement, editing the anarchist paper The Road to Freedom. She was also a key member of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, which sought to defend two Italian-immigrant anarchists who were convicted and executed for robbery and murder. Through her anarchist work, Pesotta also established a strong friendship with the radical leader Emma Goldman.
Saying that one woman vice president was insufficient to represent the women and girls who made up 85% of the ILGWU's membership, Pesotta resigned from the general executive board in 1944 and returned to work as a factory operative. In her later life, Pesotta published two volumes of memoirs and worked briefly for the Anti-Defamation League. She died of cancer on December 4, 1965.
To learn more about Rose Pesotta, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia.
See also: Anarchists, American Jewish Women; Rose Pesotta in the Virtual Archive; "10 Things you should know about Rose Pesotta" and "Rubber workers, anarchists, and little Jewish ladies," Jewesses with Attitude.
Sources:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1044-1046; Elaine Leeder, The Gentle General: Rose Pesotta, Anarchist and Labor Organizer (Albany, NY, 1993).