IN PICTURES: The women who led some of the key struggles for social equality in the U.S. embodied working-class internationalism and militancy.
telesur | 08 March, 2017
Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons (1853-1942), labor organizer, socialist and anarchist: “We are the slaves of slaves. We are exploited more ruthlessly than men.”Photo:Public Domain
While a legacy of McCarthyism and right-wing ideology has clouded labor history in the United States, the U.S. workers’ movement has played a profound role in advancing social rights in the country.
However, what is often omitted from U.S. school textbooks and Hollywood-produced histories of social struggle is the key role played by women, who stood – and continue to stand – at the forefront of the fight for workers’ rights whether they be U.S.-born or immigrant, adults or minors, organized or unorganized.
Likewise, the radical perspectives of these pioneering labor leaders is equally controversial. Unlike the current generation of patriotic union leaders, the female labor leaders have often been socialists, anarchists, communists, feminists and revolutionary Black and brown nationalists who struggled against white supremacy and the chauvinistic “America first”-jingoism of their male counterparts in official labor leadership.
On International Working Women’s Day, teleSUR takes a look at just a few of the countless women who defied sexist expectations and took the lead on the frontlines of class struggle, often challenging multiple forms of oppression simultaneously.
Emma “La Pasionaria” Tenayuca (1916-1999), Mexican-American labor leader/organizer, educator: “I was arrested a number of times. I never thought in terms of fear. I thought in terms of justice.”Photo:Public Domain
Claudia Jones (1915-1949), organizer, communist, political prisoner and intellectual: “For the progressive women’s movement, the Negro woman, who combines in her status the worker, the Negro, and the woman, is the vital link to this heightened political consciousness. To the extent, further, that the cause of the Negro woman worker is promoted, she will be enabled to take her rightful place in the Negro proletarian leadership of the national liberation movement, and by her active participation contribute to the entire American working class, whose historic mission is the achievement of a Socialist America – the final and full guarantee of woman’s emancipation.”Photo:Public Domain
Elizabeth “Rebel Girl” Gurley Flynn (1890-1964), labor leader, feminist, radical syndicalist and communist: “The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) has been accused of pushing women to the front. This is not true. Rather, the women have not been kept in back, and so they have naturally moved to the front.”Photo:Wikimedia Commons
Rose Schneidermann (1882-1972), labor organizer, socialist feminist, leader in the 1912 Lawrence textile strike: ” “What the woman who labours wants is the right to live, not simply exist – the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.”Photo:Public Domain
Rosina Tucker (1881-1987), social and civil rights activist, educator, founder and secretary-treasurer of the International Ladies’ Auxiliary and Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. When recounting her organizing, Porter noted that “we would have to act in secret because if the management found out, they would fire people. That’s why, in one sense, it was easier for the wives to do the work. That’s how I got involved.”Photo:Public Domain
Luisa Moreno, (1907-1992), labor organizer, leftist, Guatemalan immigrant, heroine of the Mexican-American/Chicana rights movement and eventual deportee: “We are right back in the pages of that revealing book on the ‘Asiatic and the Alien…’ No Constitution for us, who are neither citizens nor persons, but a freakish creation called ‘aliens.’”Photo:Public Domain
May Ying Chen (1948-present), labor organizer, leader in the 1982 NYC Chinatown garment workers’ strike, immigrant rights fighter, professor: “The Chinatown community then had more and more small garment factories … And the Chinese employers thought they could play on ethnic loyalties to get the workers to turn away from the union. They were very, very badly mistaken.”Photo:Public Domain
Bhairavi Desai, Indian immigrant, leftist, labor militant and founder of the 19,000-strong New York City Taxi Workers Alliance: “We’ve never allowed our exclusion from the labor laws to dishearten us … I couldn’t care less. The workers decide whether or not we’re a union.”Photo:Wikimedia Commons
Silvia Federici (1942-present), Italian American scholar, activist and radical autonomist feminist Marxist: “To say that we want wages for housework is to expose the fact that housework is already money for capital, that capital has made and makes money out of our cooking, smiling, fucking. At the same time, it shows that we have cooked, smiled, fucked throughout the years not because it was easier for us than for anybody else, but because we did not have any other choice. Our faces have become distorted from so much smiling, our feelings have got lost from so much loving, our oversexualization has left us completely desexualized.”Photo:Wikimedia Commons
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