Two Lives in Labor: Sarah Barron Part 2
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.
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!
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.”