Thursday, June 20, 2019

The New York Fur Workers General Strike Begins June 20, 1912

On June 20, 1912 a general strike of fur workers began in New York City that was to have a significant impact on the history of the labour movement in the United States though sadly it has been largely forgotten. They walked out of their shops to fight for sanitary and safe working conditions (their working conditions were deplorable), a shorter work week and pay that was higher than starvation wages.

For over two months thousands of workers remained on strike and united against the bosses and their brutal hired goons, against police intimidation and overt brutality on behalf of the bosses and against the slanders of the press including, for example, the New York Times. The owners literally tried to starve them into submission but they responded with the slogan "Masters, starvation is your weapon. We are used to starvation. We will fight on 'till victory!"

The strikers were largely from the Jewish community (in fact the famed Jewish Daily Forward newspaper was an important supporter of and fundraiser for the strike) and many of them were women. Women workers played a critical role and endured some of the very worst violence of the police and employer gangsters.

In the end the strikers won nearly all of their demands and served as an inspiration to workers across America.

In 1950 Philip S. Foner (1910-1994) wrote an account of the strike. Foner was a Marxist labour historian who wrote extensively about the history of the American working class and trade unionism. Foner writes:

"For twelve weeks, nine thousand fur workers, men and women, had endured hunger and want, suffered savage beatings by hired gangsters and by the police -- but they never for a moment flinched or wavered."

We share his account of the strike today.

(Excerpted from: The Fur and Leather Workers Union, Philip S. Foner, 1950)

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