[Item: Passaic Strike relief broadside. 13x8.5 inches. Ca. early 1926. H.L. Mencken's copy, with his stamp of gift on the reverse. Very good condition. $250.]
This broadside was an appeal to like-minded people to contribute to a fund to help relieve thew dire conditions of textile worker strikers in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1926. There were more than 16,000 people involved in this sometimes-brutal strike, people who were trying to stay even in their lives, looking for a little more money and a little better working conditions than what they had. The Passiac (a working city just south of Patterson in an industrial triangle section of the state) strikers were moving against a number of textile (wool and silk) mills there, trying to force management to pay them something closer to the $1400 annual income for a family of four to survive.
Most workers there were making $1,000-$1,200 a year ($800-$1,000 if the worker was a woman, and about half of them were) for 50+ hours of labor per week. The result was that the workers could not afford good housing and food, and those disadvantages paid off in high rates of tuberculosis, very high incidence of child mortality, and a low average life expectancy. The strike began slowly in January 1926, with the mills responding with vicious attacks by paid thugs and by police. IT was a long and involved process for the strikers, with the strike lasting its way for another 14 months, finally getting choked out in March 1927. It looks like there were some victories, but those seem mainly pyrrhic to me--at the end of the process many of the strikers were hired back but soon terminated, replaced by other workers who agreed to work for less.
There's quite a bit written on this strike, and most seem to say that it was an important event in the history of "labor relations", and that it was the first time that a Communist-led strike succeeded in the United States, (There is a complex legacy as to who the leadership was for this strike, but the end result is that, at the end, the Communists were in charge.)
But what I wanted to say here about this broadside was the communal effort involved with keeping the strikers (and the strike) going. The strikers needed money to live, as there was certainly no money coming in, and since there was obviously no union, there was no general fund from which any of these families could draw food money from). they needed money just to buy food and pay for housing. SO the call for "Give all you can!" and "Give right away!" were as desperate as they sounded. My guess is that there would be a representative of the International Workers Aid society national office going from factory to factory, or door-to-door, soliciting for money for the Passaic workers' relief. The strike was no doubt a very nasty business, with a victory only a victory once there was more food on the table, less illness, and far fewer babies dying from preventable causes. Probably this looked like a victory to others so far as the future of fair labor/pay was concerned, but not so much for the strikers who brought this about.
It is also interesting to note that this copy was given at some point to H.L. Mencken, who gave it right away to the Library of Congress, where it wound up in a forgotten "Pamphlet Collection", and then sold to me (years afterwards).