Bread Upon the Waters (1944) by Rose Pesotta (by Tamiment Library, NYU)
Rose Pesotta (1896-1965) was an anarchist, feminist labor organizer and vice president within the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
Born Rakhel Peisoty in Derazhnia, Ukraine in 1896 to a family of grain merchants, Pesotta was well educated during her childhood and, influenced by the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), would eventually adopt anarchist views. In 1913, at the age of 17, Pesotta emigrated to New York City and found employment in a shirtwaist factory, quickly joining the ILGWU, a union representing the mostly Jewish and Latina female garment workers. Working hard to educate her fellow workers, Pesotta was elected to the all male executive board of ILGWU Local 25 in 1920.
Pesotta also contributed occasional articles to the anarchist newspaper Road to Freedom (the successor to Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth), where she found herself on more than one occasion debating other anarchists on the merits of working within traditional union structures, and was heavily criticised for such activities by Marcus Graham.
Pesotta played a key role, together with Lea Roback, in the unionization of Montreal’s women’s garment workers, in the ILGWU, in April 1937.
In 1944 Pesotta resigned from the executive board of the union in protest of the fact that, despite 85% of the union’s membership were women, she was the sole female executive member. She had repeatedly complained to David Dubinsky, then president of the union, that she felt uncomfortable being the token women on the board but the union continued to not allow other women to rise to leadership positions, despite the fact that Dubinsky had voiced a similar protest years earlier about being the only Jew on the executive board.