In the working world, there are certain things that we are used to: a reasonable wage, a set number of working hours, a safe working environment, etc. But it was not so long ago that it took mass protests and generations of union workers demanding their rights for these to happen.
If you must read one book this Labor Day, I highly recommend Common Sense and a Little Fire, Second Edition: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965 by Annelise Orleck. Telling the story of Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson and Pauline Newman, Ms. Orleck tells the story of how four immigrant women created and defined the labor movement for their time and for our time.
I think this book is important to read, especially today, because many of us have off today. We take for granted the rights that we have as employees, especially those of us who are protected and supported by a union. In the time of the women whose stories are told in the book, joining a union and protesting at best meant being professionally blacklisted and at worst, meant a trip to the hospital after being beaten during a protest.
These four women and many others paved the way for the working world that many of us know of today. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing today, if you have a chance to read this book today, I highly recommend that you do.
This Saturday is the annual Women’s March. Around the world, millions of men and women will make it clear that times are changing. We will not stand by anymore and be treated as second class citizens.
I have participated in the last few marches, proud to have made my voice heard. This year, I may not march and that makes me sad. The charges of antisemitism and hateful words have poisoned this march, limiting (in my mind at least), the good things that have come about.
Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland, two of the leaders of the Women’s March were guests on The View today.
When asked about the prejudiced remarks by Louis Farrakhan, Ms. Mallory said that she doe not agree with his remarks, but she did state that she could not condemn such remarks. She makes this statement starting at 6:28.
The thing that makes me angry is that Jewish women have been part of the foundation of the American feminist movement since begging. Rose Schneiderman and Clara Lemlich Shavelson were two of the women who got this movement started in the early 20th century. Betty Friedan (author of The Feminine Mystique) and Gloria Steinem were part of a group of women who kept the ball rolling in the 1960’s and 1970’s. All of these women are Jewish.
I am proud to be a feminist. I am proud of how far we have come and how we continue to fight for our rights in spite of the obstacles in front of us.
But I cannot be proud of my sisters-in-arms who would denigrate me as a Jewish woman and deny the place of Jewish women in the history of the American feminist movement.
For that alone, I am sad and I may not march this weekend.
Our heroes are often unsung. Their achievements are often forgotten. We cannot thank them for what we have because we have forgotten them.
Annelise Orleck’s 1995 memoir, Common Sense And A Little Fire is about the unsung heroes of the feminist movement and the labor movement. Rose Schneiderman, Pauline Newman, Clara Lemlich Shavelson and Fannia Cohn were Jewish emigrants who left Europe for America at the turn of the 20th century. Settling in the Lower East Side, they took the only jobs they could get. Working in the garment factories for low pay, no benefits and unprotected from the advances of their male bosses and colleagues, they quickly join the labor movement, as well as the early feminist movement.
This book is a history book and a memoir, but it reads like a novel. Rich in historical detail, Orleck’s subjects are human in every way. The reader gets to know them not just as labor leaders and feminists, but full human beings. Her subjects are no longer with us, but every time I finish reading this book, I say a silent thank you to the ladies. Without them, we would all be very different.
I recommend this book.