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The Paterson Silk Strike of 1913

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The Paterson Silk Strike of 1913 was one of the most dramatic labor movements in the history of industrialization in America.  To fully understand the climate leading up to the strike, it is necessary to view what encompassed the climate of the labor unions of the day. 

The Paterson Silk Strike of 1913

Labor unions had arisen in America since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  In the late nineteenth century, skilled workers who formed craft unions enjoyed the greatest success of those building labor organizations. Whether they were men in textiles or printing, plumbing or glassblowing, or of other skilled trades, they possessed abilities their employers could not do without. Their relative scarcity in the labor market and their irreplaceability gave them bargaining power. The unions that they formed admitted members based on their skill, not on who employed them or in which industry they toiled. Such realities prompted the craft unions to seek firmer control of the labor market in order to maintain wages, set the pace of work, and regulate mechanization. While the separate crafts had common interests (such as reducing the hours of labor), protection of its own trade was each craft's most basic concern. Sectionalism undermined the ability of the various crafts to cooperate and had even caused the disintegration of the Federation of Organized Trades and other Labor Unions of the time.

In June of 1905, one of the most colorful and radical unions to date was formed, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).  At that time, the chief union of industry was the American Federation of Labor (AFL).  The formation of the IWW was in response to the unsafe working conditions, lack of job security, and low wages found in all areas of American industry at the turn of the century. Splintered by ideology regarding the organization of labor, delegates to the first IWW convention conceived a union with a low dues structure and a weak executive board. The power to recall the General Executive Board and for collection of dues rested with the general membership, and that membership would be open to all regardless of gender, race, or occupation. Delegates to the convention included veteran organizers from the Western Federation of Miners, unionists from the AFL and American Labor Union, and members of the Socialist Labor Party.

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