ROSE PESOTTA is many things, but I think of her chiefly as possessing built-in energy. Her vitality is not induced by regimen, nor summoned by an act of will. It is in her genes. Talk with her a few minutes as casually as you may, and strength is poured into you, as when a depleted battery is connected to a generator.
If this is true in a chance meeting with an individual, what do you suppose happens when she sets out to rouse and direct a throng of her fellow-workers? You will find out in this book. She draws on rich resources of training, travel, and experience. What is a crisis to another is to her a gleeful adventure.
But you must not think that she has a permanent elation. A person who is never fatigued exhausts others. She tells you that sometimes after long and hard exertion she was tired. That is the physical counterpart of a saving spiritual let-down. Her magnetism is more than mere bodily electricity. It is pity and sympathy and ever-present personal modesty. She puts herself in your place, and knows your difficulties better, somehow, than you can yourself.
My appreciation of Rose Pesotta goes back more than two decades to the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women in Industry, when I was in the role of one of her instructors. Of course a teacher who is worth his salt is first of all a student, and I am thankful that I learned from her She brought a knowledge of Russia, whose Revolution filled all our minds, and of clothing factories over here that were being transformed, by workers' organized struggles, from sweatshops. She had the indispensable rebellion, yes, but even then she quickly followed protest with plan. Enough of us stopped with indignation. She had the reserve of strength, and of self-confidence, that went on to cure. She could be partisan, but refused to be partial. She had in her mind a solution, a restored whole.
As the years have passed, her native power has taken on added precision. Hers is a controlled vigor. Once a workman in a drop forge gave me a demonstration of his skill. Poised high above his anvil was a hammer of steel weighing tons. He put his watch on the anvil and, with a pedal, played that smashing block only fractions of an inch above the crystal. It was the beauty of mastery. Rose Pesotta's anvil is the promise of a great free America. Her hammer is moral force joined with affection. And when she has heated the obstinate iron to glowing, she knows how to tap as well as to pound.
Her story reveals, with the self-effacement of day-to-day fact, how she has helped to shape the lot of workers in many cities and industries where she has gone as a union organizer. She has moved as a creator through changing scenes the loyalty of our unions in the First World War, followed by assaults from without and from within, until the great depression sank them to impotence; then a fresh start when the New Deal sanctioned the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and the mixed blessing of industrial as against craft resurgence.
Rose Pesotta was born within the Pale, vast Russian ghetto of Tsarist days, but found her way out of it in her teens. She wanted freedom for herself and for others. And in succeeding years a host of troubled people engaged her compassion and her fighting ingenuity. Confused scores of thousands needing to be supported against associations of employers allied with the police, wretched Mexicans exploited as only Southern California knows how, Puerto Ricans in the mud of poverty from which colonial dependency has not lifted them. She has not quit with the needle trades, but has rallied rubber and auto workers, pick-and-shovel men, and more. Her democracy has embraced chambers of commerce, judges, and Governors, for she knows how to persuade and reprove them too. She has the faculty of seeing a problem complete.
When she brought me the manuscript of this narrative she was in a hurry to get back to the shop where, after a decade as a general, she elects to be a private, operating a sewing machine. A thousand upturned faces or a single swift seam, the pattern of America's social future or the fashion of a dress, they claim her equal zestful fidelity.