Two Lives in Labor: Sarah Barron Part 2

Posted on January 11th, 2017 by

Edited by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Part IV: On Strike

Missed parts 1 – 3? Start from the Beginning

The following account of her early years in the labor movement is taken from an oral history conducted by Barbara Wertheimer, June 4, 1976.

In the early thirties . . . things got so bad down here, and you couldn’t get a job. And Sonneborn’s closed, and, of course, I got blacklisted because I was a chairlady. I couldn’t get a job no place. I worked at Sonneborn’s ‘til 1931.One shop I later helped to organize, and I could have gotten the job, but what? A couple of women worked there that worked with me and they say, “Oh my God, there goes Sarah, our chairlady!” And I knew I wasn’t going to get the job!

I got a job to sell shoes. I worked there six months, then I got a job at Leibow Brothers. That was my last job. Things got so bad in our industry, it was terrible, They were making coats for a dollar and a quarter. So they came in from the [Amalgamated] national office . . .  and said, “We’re going to call [a strike].”  we had this big meeting and at the fourth Regiment Armory and every tailor from all the alleys and all turned out, and all was there. And they decided to call the general strike. But not including Schoeneman’s and not including Cohen and Goldman’s shop. But everybody else was on strike. We were all on strike.

Pressers Union Local 363, International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Fannie Feinberg is in the front row, 7th from right, c. 1930. JMM 1990.75.1

Pressers Union Local 363, International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Fannie Feinberg is in the front row, 7th from right, c. 1930. JMM 1990.75.1

That was 1932, September 13th. That was the first day we were striking. Well, on this strike, while we were on strike, we knew a lot of people from this Cohen and Goldman place . . . [Jacob] Potofsky at that time said, “Let’s go in front of Cohen and Goldman’s.” So we took the mass picketing. We got to Cohen and Goldman’s and got on the window sills and when they saw us, we saw those people begin to drop and get dressed to come out. And they locked the doors. They wouldn’t let them out. Somebody called the fire department to open up the doors, see. And we took out a lot of the vest department but all those Yankees, they didn’t come out, they stayed inside. We picketed there.

So we got Cohen and Goldman’s picketing; that’s when myself and six other people, we got locked up and they wouldn’t let us out. We were locked up in jail. They said that you can only walk four, and we were eight. Therefore, they wouldn’t let us out on bail. We were in the Northeastern police station. Mr. Edelman was already our lawyer, so they took us out the following day. They had that law you could not picket only four and we had mass picketing. The inspectors named us. So one day we had four or five hundred girls arrested. They didn’t have any room for us at the station house. We went to the recreation room of the policemen, with a little matron down there and  . . . it was mostly all girls and they brought us doughnuts, coffee. So they got a big lawyer, Curan his name was, and he said, “No, we’re not, we can’t put bail for them, too many people. Let them stay here!” They had a patrol car and everything else . . . it was very exciting.

My shop wasn’t on strike, but they asked me to come out for twelve dollars a week to help ‘em go to organizing, go and visit people and all. So, I did; it was a lot of excitement. There was other times that I was paid. I was doing work, but I wasn’t on the staff–it was a special job for the strike.  And we went back on the picket line. We had sixteen people on the picket line. If they’re going to lock us up they’re going to have to make some kind of test case on this mass picketing. So we did, and they kept on saying, “Sarah, take the girls home.” The police did that. Inspector Lurch said, “I’m telling you again, leave only four people, because I’ll be compelled to lock you up.” So, he locked us up. Well, before that every time we got on the picket line with a big bunch of people, they would lock us up. I was locked up thirteen times in one day!

Sarah Barron at a testimonial dinner given in her honor at the Pikesville Armory, April 1967. JMM 1993.58.4d

Sarah Barron at a testimonial dinner given in her honor at the Pikesville Armory, April 1967. JMM 1993.58.4d

I just got in there, I didn’t even have to tell them my name. The judge decided at that time—that was toward the end of the strike—that as long as we have peaceful picketing, walk two-by-two, we have a right to picket. See, he made a decision and not only did it help our union, it helped all the other unions in the city. So we were really the test case at that time. Since then they allowed mass picketing.  And we were really the ones who had something to do with mass picketing. That was in 1932.

It was 800 girls on strike. Now I went back to Leibow’s, to my job. The strikers, you know, we were only paid three dollars a week strike benefit; they had no money. We had a shoemaker who gave us cut-rate, half-price to fix the shoes. The women cooked; we had soup kitchens and all. So I went back to Leibow’s. And Blumberg called me in. He said, “Sarah, we’re getting so many organized,”—that was in 1934 already—“I think you ought to go on the staff.”  He says, “Because we’ll give you Cohen and Goldman’s; they’ve got nothing but women and very few men and some other shops and then you’ll work with some organizers; we will begin the organizing campaign.”

~The End~

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Two Lives in Labor: Sarah Barron Part 1

Posted on January 9th, 2017 by

Edited by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Part III: We Will Begin the Campaign

Missed parts 1 and 2? Start from the Beginning

Sarah Barron (1901-1993) was born in Ukraine and emigrated to Baltimore in 1914. Soon after, she started work as a thread-puller at Wohlmuth’s. Within the year, Sarah and her sisters left Wohlmuth’s for Sonneborn’s. By 1916, she had advanced from a thread-puller to a sewing machine operator and had joined the newly formed Amalgamated Clothing Workers.

Elected a shop steward, Sarah rose steadily through the union ranks. She became a business manager and a paid organizer for the Amalgamated. During the 1932 strike—which revitalized the Amalgamated—Sarah was arrested numerous times for picketing. Her courage, tenacity, and organizational skills made her a pioneer among women labor leaders of her generation.

The following account of her early years in the labor movement is taken from an oral history conducted by Barbara Wertheimer, June 4, 1976. The sequence of reminiscences has been re-arranged to improve the flow of the narrative, but all comments are those of Sarah Barron. Additional information on Barron and her remarkable career can be found in Jo Ann E. Argersinger, Making the Amalgamated: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Baltimore Clothing Industry, 1899-1939 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).

[My father] was a tailor in Russia, and he used to be a half-rabbi . . . he used to sing, like a cantor. He went to tailoring, but he was very religious and he wouldn’t work on Saturday. So, he’d work up to Friday and he wanted to go home early. That’s how he used to lose his jobs. Because, especially winter times, he wouldn’t work after two o’clock. They told him they had no job for him. And my mother was sick since she came and all. At school we used to play and when I’d go home sometimes, we didn’t have enough to eat. My father didn’t make any money, and my mother was sick, so one of my sisters took me in the factory. It was so bad. We had to work . . . to support ourselves.

I worked for Wohlmuth’s. I was pulling out threads in a basement. . . . They used to lock the elevator when they needed the work. That was the first [factory] where they locked the elevator. It was hot and there wasn’t even no payroll. They used to give my sister the money for me, too.

Henry Sonneborn, Siegmund Sonneborn, and unknown man in the Sonneborn Office at corner of Eutaw and German Streets, c.1900. JMM 1991.55.1b

Henry Sonneborn, Siegmund Sonneborn, and unknown man in the Sonneborn Office at corner of Eutaw and German Streets, c.1900. JMM 1991.55.1b

Most of the time I spent in Sonneborn’s. I was pulling threads . . . but then I started to work on a machine. I was just doing a little job of sewing linings on coats.

Setting tape, that was a man’s job at the time. And making linings. Setting inside pockets, pressing, and under-pressing. That was all man’s jobs. I know they wouldn’t let a woman in to sew sleeves or to do some jobs. Nobody thought about it. When I started working in the basement pulling [threads], I made about four dollars a week. They made twenty-five, the cutters upstairs. But not tailors. They made about ten, eleven, twelve. My father made about nine dollars a week. He couldn’t support all of his children.

You had to be fifteen years at that time to get a permit to work. I wasn’t fifteen years, and there was a few others. And they had inspectors. I never did forget that name, Miss Campes, she was the child inspector. She used to look around. When she came to our shop they used to give three rings. We had to get in a box, that had rags down there. Yes, and they’d close it up and [tell me to] wait in it ‘til she got through looking for me, you know, for children. And after she left, we come out again. Well, the one time we got caught. They took us to Mr. Blumberg [an Amalgamated official], and they took us to juvenile court or something, Anyhow, they let us out and they told us not to go to work, but we went anyhow.

My mother kept house, but my oldest sister—she worked in Sonneborn’s already—she used to be like the head of the household. She used to be like our boss. She’d tell us who had a job. We all had to do a little bit. Scrub the kitchen, scrub the bathroom. My mother was happy to be with the children. She loved the children. But my mother was a rebel. She was participating in a meat strike here [in 1918] because the meats were not kosher or something. And she got locked up one night. We were sitting on the porch . . . and we were right across the street from the union, and they said, “Your mother got locked up!”

The Social Revolution by Karl Kautsky, 1910. Book is stamped from Workmen’s Circle Free Library, Baltimore, MD. JMM 2007.32.1

The Social Revolution by Karl Kautsky, 1910. Book is stamped from Workmen’s Circle Free Library, Baltimore, MD. JMM 2007.32.1

We were political-minded. My oldest sister, the one who came here first, she went away because she was a socialist in Russia and they were trying to line them up. So she came here. She got in illegally, see. She belonged to the Workmen’s Circle and she belonged to organizations that were politically-minded here. Of course, we all listened to it. I was in Yipsel (Young People’s Socialist League) many years ago. I went to the Yipsel school when I was a kid. We used to read everything in the Workmen’s Circle library.

In 1916, they had a big strike here . . . to try to get everybody in the Amalgamated union.  And the United Garment Workers and the Industrial Workers got together with the Amalgamated. And the cutters walked out with the others on strike from Sonneborn’s and from a lot of other places, and so it was a great big fight. Dorothy [Jacobs Bellanca, an early union organizer] came up to Sonneborn’s and worked there with a bunch of young kids, but we had a lot of spunk in us. And she said that the women have to go on the picket line and we’d have to go first because they had a lot of police and we should give a push, and then the men will follow us in back. A lot of us landed in the police station. Some of them had to nurse their babies. They let them out, but they didn’t let us out until the following day.

Officers of Garment Workers Local #114, United Garment Workers of America; Abraham Cohen, secretary of the American Federation of Labor, at middle left end. JMM 1992.39.10

Officers of Garment Workers Local #114, United Garment Workers of America; Abraham Cohen, secretary of the American Federation of Labor, at middle left end. JMM 1992.39.10

I suppose that I had missed childhood, and you had to take something to take its place. So it was an exciting thing then. You came to meetings and I was, I was fifteen yeast old, I was elected chairlady for Sonneborn’s. First I was just for the seventh floor, just for the women.  Then they elected me head chairlady. Later on, I was elected chairman for the seventh floor for both men and women because they saw that I did more for the women than the men did! That must have been in the late twenties.

[In 1920] I was the youngest delegate at the [Amalgamated] Boston convention. [Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca] always went. And she said to a group of women, “You wanted to get elected a woman? You’re entitled to four delegates.” Well, [Hyman] Blumberg was always our friend. He said, “Instead of voting for four, vote for one.”

The next thing was, we went to meetings because we found we wanted something. So we began to work among the women. And then, when [in] 1920 they had a general strike in New York, Bessie Blumberg and Dorothy [Jacobs Bellanca] went to help there. They said they needed money for milk for the children. So we got together in the city of Baltimore with women from other shops because we used to have like a women’s committee.  We didn’t have a local, and we worked with this buttonhole makers local, ‘cause they were nothing but women

And we all got together, and we said, “We’re going to have a bazaar. And we’re going to raise money for milk funds for the children of New York.”  So we had some liberals, we had Elizabeth Gilman, who was the daughter of the first president of Johns Hopkins. She was with us. And Sidney Hollander and Broadus Mitchell who was teaching in Johns Hopkins. He was my teacher at school! The women were crocheting, knitting. Everything was handmade. Everything we brought in, our headquarters was on Front Street, brought it there and we got a big hall on Palmer Street because most of the people lived around there.

Lithuanian women and Italian women and the Bohemian women–everybody was doing something. We had everything and Bessie Blumberg and Eleanor Pankhurst, who was teaching at Goucher College and Emily Richardson and one who taught at Hopkins, they brought the groups to buy the stuff. A lot of liberals and a lot of the workers bought things, too. We made over a thousand dollars! We sent it to Dorothy [Bellanca] to use it for the milk fund, because she was over there conducting the strike, helping to conduct the strike.

Labor summer school for women workers, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, 1916-1917. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Labor summer school for women workers, Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, 1916-1917. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

[In 1921] I went to summer school, the [Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers]. It was the first year it started. Dorothy got me to go that summer. We didn’t have money so I think some of the liberals paid for me, the fare. I was already active and all.  And there was another girl, a buttonhole-maker, her name was Sadie Coats. She went, too. And after that, I think that every year we sent somebody [from] the Amalgamated [to] these summer schools.

Continue to Part IV: On Strike

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Two Lives in Labor: Jacob Edelman Part 2

Posted on January 4th, 2017 by

Edited by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

The account of Jacob Edelman’s early years in the labor movement comes from an oral history conducted by Bertha Libauer on November 2, 1975.

Part II: A New Era

Miss part 1: The Voice of Labor?

I left Baltimore and went to New York because in order to get a job in another plant whether it would be Schloss Bros. or Henry Sonneborn & Co. they knew that we were involved in a strike, and they knew we were very much involved and couldn’t get a job. The only thing I could do was to go to New York. New York was already a lot different. New York was the so-called cradle of  “Industrial Civilization.” New York was the reservoir of unionism. I went to the union office there, identified myself, and why I had to leave Baltimore, and I was given a job. New York opened all sorts of avenues for me that I would never have had in Baltimore.

I earned my living of twelve dollars a week in the cutting department, and at that time I worked forty-eight hours instead of fifty-six in Baltimore. And we had recognition of the union, and we had meetings in the union–open without secreting your identity, you had shop stewards in the shops, you had committees if you had a grievance, foremen treated you with much more dignity than what I was accustomed to here, and so it gave me opportunities to do things in addition to working in the plant and maintaining myself. I enrolled in the Cooper Union School of Social Science, and there I took economics.

I spent in New York from the end of 1913 to the beginning of 1916, keeping in touch with my sisters, slipping into Baltimore to see them, going back to New York. They were happy to see how I looked and that I was getting along. I was beginning to hear a lot of music in New York, going to the Metropolitan, symphonies, concerts, etc. New York had what was good for my soul as for the body.

Garment Workers' Strike, July 1915. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Garment Workers’ Strike, July 1915. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Then there came a new era in the labor movement. There was the upsurge in leadership upon the American scene. [Sidney] Hillman became the first president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. When that organization came upon the scene, it supplanted the United Garment Workers. It was like civil war within the labor movement as to which would predominate and which would survive. The masses of the people clung to the Amalgamated because that was the new liberal spirit that permeated and influenced the garment industry. It was almost like a sister organization to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which dealt with ladies’ wearing apparel. The leadership was of the same philosophical pattern. They were all people who had come from the other side. They witnessed industrial exploitation, political oppression and came to this country and assumed their position in this free country, that was dearest to their hearts and that was human freedom and human dignity and better working conditions and to establish a sort of Bill of Rights to the people in industry.

Sidney Hillman, c. 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sidney Hillman, c. 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

That’s when I came back to Baltimore. I became involved in the Amalgamated, and before long I was on its staff. I became a leader of the cutters. They had crafts–they had coat makers locals, pants makers locals, finishers locals. The finishers were women buttonhole makers–all women, wonderful crafts-people, who were doing delicate kinds of work. They were segregated into various locals, known as the craft locals. I was, of course, in the cutters craft. There it was a democracy, you were not appointed nor were you anointed a leader. You had to be elected by the people and so democracy was in action on the industrial level, vis-a-vis the labor movement. I was elected a business agent and representative of the cutters craft under the Amalgamated leadership.

The labor movement was engaged in various struggles with the captains of industry. As unions were coming in conflict with industry, they wound up in the courts. Often lock-outs, strikes, injunctions, arrests, convictions–unions needed lawyers. They needed defenders and advocates. The leadership contained in their own right advocacy, but they need legal advocates and you needed legal defenders, people within the labor movement who became involved in litigation with industry.

At that time I found a position in the Amalgamated, I was free to be able to study, attended Hopkins to take classes, attended the YMCA Day School to prepare myself for admission to the University of Maryland, and after that, in 1921 until 1925 I received a law degree as Bachelor of Laws & Letters. I took my examination, passed the bar and became a lawyer, and that’s when I began to represent labor to the exclusion of any other economic interest until this day.

I was naturally identified as representing labor, which was not very fashionable, because most lawyers in the profession were fearful to represent labor’s interests because it was a disadvantage to a lawyer who was naturally a general practitioner and if he undertook to represent a labor union, he would lose [clients], because they were not pro-labor minded, they were business men, they were manufacturers, they were industrialists and they would not have any truck with a lawyer who attempts to represent labor. These upstarts were not satisfied with conditions with the status quo. They were rebelling against the establishment. So if you represented labor, you were a labor lawyer, and there were many lean years when labor did not have the wherewithal to compensate a lawyer. You had to be thoroughly dedicated to that cause, otherwise you couldn’t serve labor.

Founders of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, c.1915. M. Serkin (top row, 2md from left), Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca (4th from left), Sarah Baron (6th from left), David Schnapper (9th from left), Morris Michelson (2nd row, 1st from left), Henry Tuerk (2nd from left), Hyman Blumberg (3rd from left), Paul Lesky (7th from left), Jacob Edelman (8th from left), and Samuel Skolnik (bottom, left).  JMM 1990.91.1

Founders of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, c.1915. M. Serkin (top row, 2md from left), Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca (4th from left), Sarah Baron (6th from left), David Schnapper (9th from left), Morris Michelson (2nd row, 1st from left), Henry Tuerk (2nd from left), Hyman Blumberg (3rd from left), Paul Lesky (7th from left), Jacob Edelman (8th from left), and Samuel Skolnik (bottom, left). JMM 1990.91.1

And then labor came into its own. Then came the terrible depression, the Roosevelt Administration. The tremendous upsurge of the CIO. In this city I was the pioneer, the sole and only lawyer at the bar who represented labor’s interests, who understood labor’s problems and at the same time attained an attitude of an even balance because I was taught by Sidney Hillman, and that I will never forget, a man who was a great scholar, a man who was destined to be a rabbi but came over to the side of the rebels to lead masses to effect their economic social and political well being. He taught those of us that were close to him– “In your dealings with employers you must remember and not forget that if you drag the employer down you drive yourself under and under is lower than down, so make sure that in your dealings with employers you must always have a healthy economic employer who will be able to give you what is reasonable for you to receive.” This is the school of labor relations in my time. By these standards I maintained my professional approach in representing labor’s interests.

As much as can be said that labor [today] can be found unreasonable in its demands, the leadership of American industry has in its history, failed to recognize the rights of labor in their days, so that you have a constant clash and conflict between labor and industry, and also labor and capital. If labor had waited, without establishing itself through its own strength, and through its own might and main to demand and secure certain rights, they would have never been given to labor, and that goes for legislation as well. If you turn the clock back about sixty years ago, there was no such thing as workmen’s compensation. If a person lost his life in the line of duty, the widow and children were helpless. If he lost a limb or an eye or what-not, there was no such thing. What would have been the history of this country without the labor movement?

Continue to Part III: We Will Begin the Campaign (Sarah Barron)

 

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