Labor Movement in the 1930s

Historical content: 
The New Deal and World War II
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing



Read the following excerpt from an interview with a textile factory worker named Marianna Costa.  In the interview, Costa talks about working conditions at the Arrow Piece Dye Works prior to the strike of 1933 and the things that changed because of the strike. 


Working in Patterson Folklife Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

Source text: 

“It was a ten hour work day. You worked Saturdays. And if you had to work on holidays you had no choice. There was no time-and-a-half that I recall, nobody got time-and-a-half. . . . You had no job security, you had no grievance procedure. They didn’t like you, they fired you. If you made a little mistake, you were out. If you got hurt and God forbid you reported it, you were out. Workmen’s compensation existed but I don’t know if you were ever able to collect on it. Long hours and a long work week. Nobody to demand sanitary conditions or workloads. There was nothing. 

And that’s what we accomplished [union name]. We accomplished workloads, union representation, ... time-and-a-half, a five-day work week, work clothes, vacation pay—and of course later on was pension and group insurance—grievance procedure, no layoffs unless you had arbitration. My God, it was a new world.” 


Listen to the interview with Marianna Costa.  

Source audio: 

Additional facts related to Costa's interview:

1. Textile workers in Patterson, New Jersey (home of Arrow Piece Dye Works) had gone on strike in 1913.
2. This interview was conducted in 1994, when Marianna Costa was 78 years old.
3. In the 1930s textile factory owners could fire most textile workers for any reason.
4. A massive nationwide strike of textile workers in 1934, a year after the Arrow Piece Dye Works strike, failed badly. 

Question: Which 2 of the 4 facts above help you determine whether Costa's experience was typical or atypical for textile workers in the 1930s?

Explain your reasoning.  

About the Assessment

Like Edison and the Kansas Housewife, this exercise measures students’ ability to source and contextualize a document. Students read an excerpt from a 1994 interview with labor organizer Marianna Costa. Students must then select the two facts that help them determine whether Costa’s experience in the labor movement was typical or atypical of the experiences of most textile workers in the 1930s.