Margaret Sanger, "The Paterson Strike," [Sept] 1913.

Published article. Source: The Revolutionary Almanac, 1914 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:68. .

Duplicate version appears on MSM S70:755.

The Paterson Strike


When the Lawrence strikers returned to work victorious, after a struggle of three months duration, their victory caused the capitalists to recognize the strength and revolutionary character of the Industrial Workers of the World, and also caused a general dissatisfaction among the workers in the East, for it gave to some of them a historical vision of their class and its relation to present day society.

After this victory a general strike fever permeated the New England States, as well as New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, calling upon the I.W.W. for organizers, and showing a desire to form a revolutionary organization as well as a willingness to use revolutionary weapons.

The Little Falls strike followed and was almost at its height when twenty-five thousand silk workers of Paterson arose in revolt and struck.

For years previous to this strike, Paterson had been called by the capitalists "the hot bed of anarchy;" special laws had been passed to prosecute anyone advocating anarchistic principles; those laws were revived and came in most advantageously when the bosses found that the strike had been called by the Industrial Workers of the World.

It is true that the Italian anarchists had been working among the silk workers for years, sowing the seeds of dissatisfaction and rebellion against their slavery, and when the strike was called this small minority formed the backbone of the strike, which gave to it most of its revolutionary momentum.

While there was this small revolutionary element, most ably led and advised by Carlo Tresca, the larger part of the workers had just emerged from the conservative American Federation of Labor, which accounts for many of the inconsistencies shown throughout the strike.

Had the conservative element co-operated with the revolutionists, they would have had not only Paterson, but all Northern Jersey aflame in revolt, for workers in this vicinity were found to be surprisingly sympathetic.

The New York Silk Workers, including College Point, Hoboken, Long Island City and other towns, added over twelve thousand men and women to the ranks of the Paterson strikers. Though not generally recognized, nor given much publicity, they really occupied a most strategic position, for their return to work would have enabled the manufacturers to fill their orders in the New York mills, which would have meant absolute defeat for their Paterson comrades.

There is no doubt that the capitalists in America had become alarmed at the radical trend the labor movement in general had taken, and the I.W.W. in particular. This knowledge caused the National Manufacturers Association to concentrate their efforts in the Paterson strike situation. They realized that the growth of this organization which had for its slogan "the abolition of the wage system" must be fought and checked at all costs, for its growth meant absolute ruin, and subsequent control of the industries by the workers.

Accordingly they armed themselves to the hilt in preparation for a fight, expecting a repetition of the spirit prevalent in all previous I.W.W. fights. They controlled the press both local and general; intimidated the smaller manufacturers to hold out; indicted the leaders, Wm. D. Haywood, Carlo Tresca, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Adolph Lessig and Frederick Sumner Boyd; confiscated the "Passaic Weekly" and arrested its editor, Alexander Scott because he criticised the Paterson police. He was tried and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of seven years. They denied the workers the rights of free speech and assemblage (through their tools, the police and courts), arrested the strikers in numbers while doing picket duty, on the slightest pretext, and finally closed the halls which the strikers had used for their meeting places.

They used any weapon they found necessary to accomplish their ends.

On the other hand the silk workers did not use their best weapons, they aimed to have a peaceful strike, and took the advice of the leaders who told them they could win their strike "by keeping their hands in their pockets," thereby keeping the "mills idle." They avoided many clashes with the police which might have brought out the militia, thereby intensifying the situation by burdening the taxpayer so that pressure be brought upon the bosses and an earlier settlement made.

They also delegated to lawyers the task of regaining their rights of free speech and assemblage, instead of fighting directly to regain them, which action nullified (as far as Paterson is concerned) the work of the I.W.W. and all that it has fought for in its free speech fights in the West.

The veteran free speech fighters sent word they were ready to back up the Paterson workers if called upon -- they were not called. In the early work of the strike, thugs and detectives were sent into Paterson to help the police, and in one encounter in the vicinity of the mills, a man named Valentino Modestino, not a striker but a sympathizer, was shot and killed by the detectives as he sat on his door-step looking on. The strikers came out in mass and joined the funeral procession and followed their comrade to the grave. In passing it is interesting to note that this body of workers, belonging to a most revolutionary organization, entered the Roman Catholic Church for the funeral service, and, using the statues of the saints and Virgin Mary as racks for their hats, quietly passed out again.

At the grave Carlo Tresca delivered the funeral oration in Italian, in a part of which he called upon the working class to "take blood for blood and life for life."

After this arrangements were made to send the children of the strikers to friends and sympathizers in New York to be cared for until the strike was over. About two hundred and fifty little ones left their parents, and in large motor trucks were brought singing and shouting to what they called their "strike mothers," and were tenderly cared for until the parents returned to work.

The great psychological moment came when the police refused the strikers entrance to their regular meeting places, Turn and org s. That day the strike was lost (though it lasted months longer) for when Patrick Quinlan, one of the leaders, swung to the front and shouted, "On to Haledon boys," they went, followed like sheep.

Haledon is a nearby village under Socialist administration which of course willingly allowed meetings to be held in the open air, but the fact remains that the I.W.W., an organization advocating direct action, had to flee for protection to political Socialism for free speech and assemblage when it should have taken and held them in Paterson where the twenty-five thousand workers toiled and lived. Had the leaders not advocated the "hands in your pockets" programme they might have done it.

Up to this time the police and press of Paterson as well as the bosses and capitalists elsewhere were anxious and feared the strength and tactics of the I.W.W., but here they found an army of twenty-five thousand sturdy men and women against one hundred police who practiced passive resistance. They were no longer feared.

Although large and enthusiastic meetings were held each Sunday at Haledon, these meetings really weakened the strike for they transferred the centre of interest from industrial Paterson to political Haledon and prevented the strikers from depending on their own force for their victory.

Had there been a definite trap set for the purpose of deferring the I.W.W. from its principles, it could not have been better planned. It is here that leadership if it means anything to the workers should have counted. Had they been clear in their methods or visions, they would not have complicated and confused the issues by pandering to that dead letter thing -- public opinion, for, according to the I.W.W. preamble, "The Working Class and the Employing Class have nothing in common," then surely their opinion means nothing to the workers, and should be ignored. Again, had the leaders awakened the workers to the use of their economic power, and injected in them the spirit of revolt against all powers of oppression, they would have acted otherwise.

The strike committee was fully as cautious, fearing lest public opinion be against them, and when Frederick Sumner Boyd spoke on the Stars and Stripes, and told them that the stars on the flag meant the badges of the policemen's uniforms, and the stripes were symbols of the prison bars, he was requested by the committee not to speak again. He also was arrested and indicted and sentenced to from one to seven years.

There was a splendid spirit of solidarity among these workers; they did everything in large numbers; they picketed by the thousands; were arrested by the hundreds, filling the jails and refusing to pay fines; organized their own orchestras and bands; whenever there was anything occurring which concerned the strikers they turned out by the thousands.

There were various nationalities among them, Italians, German, Polish, etc., a very large percentage being English speaking. These nationalities vied with each other in their loyalty to their cause and each prided itself that it would not be the first to break the ranks.

Nothing could break them, not even the A. F. of L. who sent organizers into Paterson with rosy promises of an easy settlement. These were hooted and laughed out of town.

There was a meeting held at the armory by the A. F. of L. organizers, John Golden and Sarah Conboy. The strikers filled the place and laughed at their promises until the police entered and cleared the place. It filled again with the same result, but Golden and Conboy could not break that solidarity.

One of the most beautiful demonstrations ever seen in Paterson was the May Day Parade with the women strikers and children dressed in bright red or in white with red sashes and caps. It was one procession of brilliancy, while here and there among the men was the red flag.

On the 7th of June a thousand men and women strikers came from Paterson to New York to produce the scenes at Madison Square Garden in the form of a Pageant. This was the first time a strike had been presented in the form of a pageant in America. There had been no rehearsing of the parts. These men and women portraying their lives as they lived them; there was a spirit among them not to be forgotten and the enthusiasm of the audience which filled the Garden to its fullest capacity was tremendous. After five months they made individual settlements, some making slight gains, while others gained nothing.

At the Tom Mann meeting in New York shortly after the striker's return to work, Wm. D. Haywood, one of the prominent leaders stated that the strike was not lost, but had just begun. This has been so in the past I.W.W. strikes, for the propaganda at the time of strikes has been of the kind that never dies, and it is sincerely to be hoped that the Paterson strikers have given the hands-in-your-pockets fallacy and passive resistance tactics their last chance, and understand that if a general strike were possible in the textile industries of the country, then to keep the mills idle would be sufficient violence to do all that was necessary to win a strike, but when the workmen know that there is no dearth of their own production visible in the markets, if realized there were numerous silk mills working whose location was unknown, then the time comes for tactics of a different character; they should then aim to make the strike swift in action and of short duration, or return to work for the purpose of sabotage or carrying on intermittent strikes.

The I.W.W. has for its object the building of a new society. It is not merely a labor organization aiming only at a fatter pay envelope and a shorter working day, but it is a historical movement of the workers toward their own emancipation from all slavery. It is an effort to create a new society based on their industries alone, where state or government control shall not exist, but instead a voluntary co-operation of industrial unions creating a new psychology, new literature, new art, and relegating to the junk heap all present day symbols of their slavery.

Subject Terms:

Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project