Rose Pesotta

American trade unionist

Rose Pesotta (born Rakhel Peisoty; November 20, 1896 – December 6, 1965) was an anarchist, feminist labor organizer and vice president within the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

Rose Pesotta addresses the floor at the 1965 ILGWU convention, December 15, 1965.


  • Fannia Cohn’s service to our organization is only recognized by those on the outside who can dispassionately evaluate such unselfish efforts on the part of one person for the cause of worker’s education. She remains a tragic figure amidst her own fellow workers…Were she a man it would have been entirely different.

Letter to David Dubinsky (1938 or 1939?)

  • May I state at the out-set, that I always regarded the Hearst press as yellow, violently anti-labor and reactionary? In the course of my organizing activities in several parts of this country, the Hearst press consistently attacked us, blaming the ILG and its organizers for instigating strikes, causing people to lose their jobs, livelihoods, homes, etc. As last as 1936, the Hearst press, writing about the leadership of the CIO in the Roosevelt campaign attacked our ILG and its leadership, including yourself, as Communists. (I was given the distinction of being an Anarchist and a friend of Emma Goldman, an honor I shall never deny.) I recall that in 1927 a similar stunt was performed by Hearst in printing the story of the lives of Sacco-Vanzetti, who were electrocuted, the articles notwithstanding. The Hearst press has already been on the decline for several years because the awakened labor rank and file refused to be bull-dozed any longer. Today, the printing of your story in the classic Hearst sensational style, is simply giving his yellow, reactionary press a new lease on life, to say the least. I followed the articles and must admit that Mr. Joseph Mulvaney, the fellow who induced you to consent to his writing these stories, will be handsomely rewarded by Hearst, for the circulation will surely jump a score of thousands or more. do not know what objectives you aim to reach in consenting to be publicized in such a fashion, save one-to give the writer a chance to earn a living (is he at least a Union man?)
  • I was always considered a "shaigitz" when I was young and as a militant out-spoken trade-unionist during my activities in the labor movement, I am not afraid of telling the truth to you now.
  • I, for one, favor a limited tenure of office to get new and dynamic forces to the forefront, to gain a stronger morale for the members.
  • Our recent entrance into politics, which in my mind is the bane of the Union, has added more woes. Most of the paid officers and active members became politicians, calously [sic] neglecting the duties for which they were elected. Getting wages weekly by the union, a paid officer can abuse his duties more freely now than heretofore, the excuse-elections campaign.
  • A member fears nowadays to express an honest opinion, in some locals, for fear of being hooted down or even losing a job.
  • Jennie Matyas is recognized by the outside Labor and Education Movement, because she is a leader in her own rights, while countless others remain obscure through the good graces of the men whom they have helped into office.
  • Fannia Cohn's service to our organization is only recognized by those on the outside who can dispassionately evaluate such unselfish efforts on the part of one person, for the cause of worker's education.
  • When servility, bootlicking, personal favoritism and above all sensationalism will be wiped off as obstacles to real progress,
  • No pictures of pretty girls, baby kissing, trophy-giving for sports, banquets or the like can give our vast membership more aid and comfort (and goodness knows in these difficult times they need it badly) than the feeling that the elected leadership is honest, efficient and sincerely rendering a service for which they were placed in office.
  • While organizing new members we preach to them to be independent, to lose their fears and openly express themselves and demand their rights; so here I am practicing what I am preaching and am openly expressing my views to you, Mr. President.

Bread upon the Waters (1945)

  • The change in character of the workers in Southern California's garment industry struck me forcibly. Mexican women and girls were no longer in the majority, although some of the younger generation were still favored in certain factories. The working force in this region had been vastly augmented since 1936, because of the changing trends, and the manufacturers had taken on a great number of women from newly migrant families, largely American-born whites and Negroes, former tenant farmers who had gravitated to California from burned-out and wind-torn land East of the Rockies. Generally referred to as Dust-Bowlers, and made famous as Ma Joads through John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, they had no conception of the meaning of unionism. Some had long been on county relief and WPA, with meager rations and were glad to work for any wage and to put in any number of hours.

Chapter 34

  • For centuries the human race searched for some formula, magic or scientific, to extend its life-span, to eliminate disease, to develop strong, enduring men and women. And after long striving yellow fever, tuberculosis, and other scourges were conquered and the average life was materially lengthened. But now all these gains have been set at naught. For scientists with drugged consciences have devised lethal weapons, designed not only to wipe out the manhood of this generation, but to destroy whole cities and whole nations. Robot bombing planes, the latest invention, coming seemingly from nowhere, wreak havoc among defenseless people. Hospitals no longer are spared. For a few years of promised full employment, human skill is lured into making such weapons to annihilate the flower of mankind.
  • Unfortunately, only about one fifth of the nation's working population is organized into unions, but millions of non-union wage-earners have benefited from organized labor's insistence upon decent living standards for all. Those millions remain opposed or indifferent to unions through sheer ignorance of their merits.
  • organized labor's strongest weapon-the right to strike
  • Other strikes developed over racial issues, for in the North as well as in the South there are still white Americans who refuse to accept their red co-workers as equals. Vehemently condemned by union officials, these strikes appear to have been skilfully directed by outside forces interested in dividing Americans on one issue or another.
  • To my mind, too, painfully little space was given in the daily press to recent coal mine disasters in which miners perished through underground fires or explosions.
  • The Smith-Connally bill's passage marked the beginning of an organized effort to wreck bona fide unions through legislation.
  • Compulsory military training is conducive to waging wars rather than to the maintenance of peace.
  • Much has been written and said about labor enjoying excessive pay, but little has appeared in print about low-paid workers, such as those in hotels, restaurants, and laundries, being frozen to their jobs if they were employed in "locally needed activities." And scarcely anything is being said about the munitions makers who are amassing huge profits in this war as in those of the past.
  • While we are engaged in a global war nothing is too costly for the armed forces. Billions are poured into the making of implements of destruction.
  • Although they have readily spent billions of the people's money for destruction necessary to win the war, they balk at spending for peace-time constructive work at home. By the same token, conservatives who have not been averse to sending the best of American youth to foreign lands to make the world safe for the debaters at home, refuse to grant those boys and girls the privilege of using their constitutional rights in electing their national representatives.
  • Rightfully, there have been outspoken demands by labor for a place at the peace table, to insure future amity among the world's nations and security for the working masses.
  • there is a call to all peace-loving people-to rebuild our shattered world, set up indestructible barriers against war, and create a society based on equality and mutual aid, moving toward a more humane and abundant life.

Quotes about Rose Pesotta

  • Rose Pesotta, one of America's most effective and devoted women trade union organizers
  • In 1933 Rose Pesotta, a leading organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, and herself a Jewish immigrant from Russia, spent months organizing Mexican women garment workers in Los Angeles. Her preconceptions were stereotyped; she assumed that Mexican women would be passive, intimidated by the sexism of Mexican men, and therefore hard to organize. While she did face difficulties, they were not as great as expected, and her campaign had some significant successes. She came to rely on Mexican women as the backbone of her West Coast organizing and took the male leadership down to the local jails so they could hear the spirit with which the mexicanas sang from their cells. The following year she went to Puerto Rico to organize women garment workers there. The meetings were full, although women often fainted from hunger while she spoke. She began bringing baskets of food to meetings and would ask if anyone had not eaten before she spoke. She was deeply moved by the circumstances of Puerto Rican women workers and continued to speak about their living and working conditions for many years. In 1944 she wrote several articles about poverty and working conditions in Puerto Rico for New York newspapers.
  • Children taking their place on the picket line occurred throughout modern Chicano labor history, as early as the 1930s. As an example, during the 1933 Los Angeles Dressmakers Strike, ILGWU representative Rose Pesotta organized 300 children in costume for an impromptu Halloween parade in front of the factories where their mothers were picketing.
    • Vicki L. Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America

Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation by Susan A. Glenn (1991)

  • Rose Pesotta, who would later become an organizer in America's garment shops, recalled that the evening meetings of the revolutionary reading circles attended by seamstresses, tailors, shoemakers, and itinerant workers provided an "escape from the monotony of everyday existence."
  • Rose Pesotta said she emigrated in part because she wanted to live in a society where ordinary workers commanded respect. In America, Pesotta thought, "a decent middle-class girl can work without disgrace." Had she remained in Russia her only choice, given her upbringing, would be to marry and become a housewife, a future that had little appeal to her.
  • Ambitious females usually learned their skills in a more circuitous manner, resorting to what a Bureau of Labor Statistics investigator called "piratical methods." To avoid confinement to dead-end, low-skill positions, they created do-it-yourself apprenticeship systems, jumping from one learner's job to the next and slowly acquiring all the different skills needed to complete a whole garment. "I learned the trade the hard way, changing jobs often, for in those days there were not training classes," recalled Rose Pesotta of her first years in the women's garment industry.
  • Not only did week workers have little choice about the time they worked, they were continually subjected to what Rose Pesotta called "the whip of the foreman." Foremen, foreladies, and bosses felt compelled to oversee the demeanor and behavior of week workers in the factory. Too much talking, singing, or visiting the restroom or the drinking fountain cut into production time and thus had to be controlled.
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