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An African-American Newspaper Defends the Shirtwaist Strikebreakers

The New York Age was an African-American newspaper founded by Timothy Thomas Fortune, a civil rights leader and journalist. This excerpt from an editorial on the 1909 New York City shirtwaist maker's strike defends the paper's decision to run advertisements from the shirtwaist manufacturers seeking young African-American women to take the places of striking white workers. It also points out the hypocrisy of labor unions seeking solidarity from black workers it previously excluded.

We too have been importuned by a lady of wealth and social position to come to the assistance of the striking girl waistmakers. We have also had the case of the shirtwaist manufacturers presented to us, and through our advertisement columns colored girls have found employment as ironers with the firms whose employees are now on strike. A short time ago the request came that we help induce these colored girls to join the union and that we dissuade other colored girls from taking the places of those now on strike. We have refused these requests both on general and specific grounds.

Prior to the strike of the waistmakers, Negro girls were not asked to join the union. They not being asked amounted practically to an exclusion from the union and the workshop. . . . More than that, we asked the philanthropic sponsor for the striking girls would the union admit Negro girls in the future without discrimination as to employment should they refrain from taking the positions now open. As yet we have received no such assurance. Could we therefore, in sense and justice, advise competent Negro girls, while idle and until now denied employment, to turn down this opportunity? Why should Negro working girls pull white working girls’ chestnuts out of the fire?

The strike of the waistmakers brings into the clearest light the issue of the Negro and the union. The union has looked upon the Negro as a bad horse. The tighter it keeps the reins drawn upon him, the better it can manage him. We do not say that the exclusion and the industrial segregation of the Negro is its primary object. But we do say that the forces of labor have been prejudiced and hostile to his industrial chance. The exceptions among them to this mean attitude are negligible. They are primarily to blame for aligning the Negro in economic and political struggles with the forces of capital. The Negro will continue to be the pivot upon which future strikes will turn so long as labor will ignore his right to work and thwart his ambition to work in the mechanical world. The friends and leaders of labor should consider the Negro in days of prosperity as well as in those of adversity

Source | "The Waistmakers' Strike," New York Age, 10 January 1910.
Creator | The New York Age
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | The New York Age, “An African-American Newspaper Defends the Shirtwaist Strikebreakers,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 1, 2023,

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