Italian Strikers in Lodi, N.J. 1926
MUCH has been written about the Passaic strike of 1926 and the role of the Italians in it as well as of other European ethnic groups.
The important part played in that strike by the Italian dye workers of Lodi N.J. has been overlooked. Lodi was out of the main stream; the New York reporters didn’t go out there to see the picket lines attacked so Lodi missed the great publicity the other strikers received.
The strike was primarily one of workers in the huge woolen mills of Passaic and the contiguous towns of Garfield, Clifton and Wallington. However the union strategy was to extend the strike to include the silk industry centered in nearby Paterson. There were also in the vicinity two large dye works: The National Silk Dyeing Co. in East Paterson and the United Piece Dye Works of Lodi (one of several plants owned by the same company). It must be explained why dyeing is strategic in the silk industry. Whereas in the woolen, dyeing is done in the yarn before weaving, in silk all dyeing is done in the piece, that is, in the already woven material, dyed in great bolts. It results that if the dye works is tied up by a strike, no broad silk can reach the market.
In preparation for the strike two Italian organizers, Joseph Magliacano and Thomas De Fazio spent most of their time in Lodi. That mill was one of the many hell-holes of this country where millions of workers slaved and died only to amass the fortunes of their employers. Conditions there were even worse than in the woolen mills, where many women were employed, but there were no women working in that Lodi shop. There were however a few hundred Negroes, the only ones I believe in the vicinity at that time. This testifies as to how the Italians were rated by the employers, that they worked side by side with blacks, something no native white worker would tolerate in those days.
The following statements of men working in the United Piece Dye Works of Lodi N.J. *1 will best give an idea of the working conditions of the plant.
1. Male Worker: “I have worked at night from 1923 to 1926. The hours are from 6 p.m. to 6 or 7 a.m. standing all the time. I dry the goods. My workroom is very hot from the steam of the drying goods. I have to lift the rollers weighing from 100 to 200 pounds. Every half hour I change these heavy rollers. I have no time during my work to eat, and work 13 and 14 hours continuously without food.”
2. Male Worker: “I worked in the blow room at a machine for 43c an hour… I ruptured myself lifting heavy rolls. I made application for compensation but received nothing. I worked 12 hours a day with 20 minutes for lunch. Water was on the floor and I had to stand in it. I got rheumatism and suffered for 5 months and had to stay at home. When I went on strike one of the mill deputies told me he would see that I was driven out of town.”
3. Male Worker: “I was working in the color dept. of the United Piece Dye Works when there was an explosion in the dye boiler. I was terribly burned on the hands, face and shoulders. I was out of work for two months. When I returned, I was given work sweeping the yards at 20c an hour. Because of my badly injured hands. When I explained (complained … V.B.W.) I was told if I was not satisfied I could leave. Later I was put in the drying rooms at 44c an hour and forced to work 13 and 14 hours a day. I am still badly scarred and disfigured from the burns."
The strike in Passaic had started on January 26th . On March 11th a picket line of 8000 strikers marched from Passaic to Lodi. The ready workers in the dye plant poured out of the gates and the strike was organized with daily picket lines and mass meetings. Delegates from that mill met with the Strike Committee which ran the strike and met every day at the Passaic headquarters. Of course the black workers joined the union on equal terms. The women in Lodi were also organized. These Italian women were not mill workers like those in Passaic, they were mothers of big families and housewives. They were organized into a branch of the United Council of Working Class Housewives. Like the four other branches of striking women they ran a soup kitchen to feed the children. Most of the food they got by donations from stores so that there was little expense and these soup kitchens greatly helped the morale of the strikers.
The plan to extend the strike to the silk industry was not successful even though there was a walkout in the National Silk Dyeing Co. of East Paterson. Massive opposition of the employers, together with the opposition of the A.F.L. officials and some internal factors too complicated to go into here prevented a victory.
In spite of police brutality on the picket line and other harassments the Italian strikers of Lodi held out longer than all the other strikers and it was only on February 28, 1927 that they reluctantly voted to end their strike.
*1. From Hell in New Jersey published by General Relief Committee Textile Strikers 1926 by Albert Weisbord.
*2. See Passaic and Passaic Reviewed - Germinal Press #1—14th Street—San Francisco, Cal.
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