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Rubber workers, anarchists, and little Jewish ladies

I was reading today about Rose Pesotta, a veteran union organizer with the ILGWU, who in February of 1936 went to Akron, Ohio. to help workers striking at the Goodyear Rubber factory. She was sent to raise support for the strike among the workers' wives and daughters, but she was also successful in connecting with the workers themselves, ultimately helping to end the strike with a negotiated settlement.

Pesotta was an effective organizer among workers of many backgrounds,from Mexican dressmakers to Midwestern autoworkers, and a life-long anarchist,like her fellow radical immigrant activist and good friend Emma Goldman. I like the image of these two little women and their powerhouse politics hanging out together. And I wonder, in these hard economic times, what Rose P. and Emma G. would have to say to American workers. What would they recommend for the autoworkers and garment workers of today? What can we learn from their commitment to organizing and to anarchism?

Thinking about these two favorite anarchists of mine reminds me that anarchism gets a bad rap these days. When we talk about Emma's anarchism, it is usually about her involvement in violent acts, like Alexander Berkman's botched assassination attempt on Henry Clay Frick. But the anarchist ideals that Emma and Rose championed were less about violence and destruction than about creating the conditions for absolute freedom and what Emma called "everbody's right to beautiful, radiant things." They pursued their anarchist ideals mostly through mundane, everyday acts of organizing - like serving on the Congress of Industrial Organization's general executive board,as Rose did (albeit somewhat ambivalently, feeling that she was the token woman) - not by blowing things up.

Why, I wonder, has this idealistic anarchist perspective  been lost in popular conceptions of anarchism? Too many bad-ass, multi-piercedteenagers smashing things and calling that anarchism? The interference of the current take on the late 1960s that calls Bill Ayers a terrorist? Would Obama have been maligned, I wonder, for associating with Rose Pesotta, a hero to the striking workers at the Goodyear Rubber factory? Who are the Roses and Emmas of today? 

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More on: Labor, Unions, Anarchism
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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Rubber workers, anarchists, and little Jewish ladies." 26 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 16, 2018) <>.


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