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Pesotta, Rose

PESOTTA, ROSE

PESOTTA, ROSE (1896–1965), third woman vice president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ilgwu), anarchist, and labor activist. The second of eight children (originally named Rachelle), she was born in Derazhnya in the Ukraine to observant parents, Masya and Isaack Peisoty. Immigrating to the United States in 1913 to avoid an impending arranged marriage, she lived with an elder sister and became a seamstress. As an activist in Local 25 of the ilgwu she quickly became a leader, attending the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Labor Activists, Brookwood Labor College, and the Wisconsin Summer School. In 1933 Pesotta was sent to Los Angeles to organize union shops and in 1934 she was elected the only woman vice president of the Board of the ilgwu. Her charisma, rhetorical skills, and innate love and sympathy for the workers won her many ardent followers. Her leadership style was colorful; she encouraged seamstresses to model the clothes they sewed as they marched in picket lines and had children of striking workers carry protest signs in support of their parents. She provided food, music, and parties for striking workers. In Cleveland in 1937 Pesotta was slashed and beaten by anti-union thugs; she later became deaf in one ear from an altercation in Flint, Michigan. Her activism took her to Seattle, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Boston, and Montreal and she also assisted other unions in organizing efforts.

Pesotta became an anarchist activist early in life, writing for the journal Road to Freedom and working to overturn the convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti. She believed in decentralization and self-government for workers and found it hard to reconcile these beliefs with work in a union bureaucracy, where she felt marginalized as a woman and an anarchist. Her friend Emma *Goldman provided her with support and intellectual guidance for her labor and anarchist activism. Finally in 1942, after being undermined by a fellow vice president in her work in Los Angeles, Pesotta left the General Executive Board of the ilgwu. Eventually she returned to the sewing machine, working briefly for the Anti-Defamation League and the American Trade Union Council of the Histadrut. Pesotta was romantically involved for a time with Powers Hapgood, a labor organizer for the United Mine Workers Union and other unions, and she was married briefly to Albert Martin, also known as Frank Lopez, whom she met during the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Pesotta, whose books include Bread upon the Waters (1944; rep. 1987) and Days of Our Lives (1958), died in Miami, Florida. In her eulogy Gus Tyler wrote: "She was born to lead. She was fated to rise from the machine and to guide her fellow workers in the age old struggle for human dignity."

bibliography:

A. Kessler Harris, "Organizing the Unorganizable: Three Jewish Women and Their Union," in: Labor History (Winter 1976), 5–23; E. Leeder, The Gentle General: Rose Pesotta, Anarchist and Labor Organizer. Albany (1993).

[Elaine Leeder (2nd ed.)]

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