Few strikes in American labor history are as important, impactful and gripping as the 1913 Paterson silk strike.
The heroic six-month strike was the longest in a city whose 125-year history of labor activism is matched perhaps only in the coalmines of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The 1913 strike marked an unprecedented alliance of skilled silk weavers and unskilled dyers helpers, of equally radical Italian and Jewish immigrants, of men and women casting aside traditional gender roles to battle intransigent mill owners and a city council and police force that ignored constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly. It marked the high water mark of the IWW’s challenge to the AFL for leadership of the American labor movement. It brought together a “Who’s Who” of the American Left from Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to John Reed, Carlo Tresca and Margaret Sanger, and it played out on a national stage in the heyday of the New York City newspaper wars.
Now leading historians and filmmakers have teamed up to make the first full-length documentary on the Paterson strike – a fast-paced drama that will be told primarily through the words and remembrances of key participants, through contemporary newspaper accounts, music and art, supplemented by the insights of leading historians. It is a character-driven drama that focuses not only on the lives of the IWW leaders and the police chief and mill owners they battled, but also on young women like Hannah Silverman and Carrie Golzio who led the fight on the picket lines and the Bottos, who were blackballed from the industry for allowing their home to be used as a strike headquarters.
Producer and Director Dena Seidel is an Emmy-awarding winning film maker who heads the Rutgers Film Bureau, has seven relatives who took part in the 1913 strike; her 2011 documentary, Atlantic Crossing, won 10 international film festival awards. Co-Director and Cinematographer Peter Schnall of Partisan Pictures is best-known for such historical reenactments as The Revolution, King Arthur and The French Revolution. Film Editor Pascal Akesson’s credits include Women, War and Peace for PBS and last year’s feature documentary The Blood in This Town.
Executive Producer and Writer Mark J. Magyar teaches labor history at Rutgers University. The son of a steelworker, Mark Magyar developed the documentary for the Roebling Museum. His team of seven humanities scholars is headed by Steve Golin, author of “The Fragile Bridge: 1913 Paterson Silk Strike,” and Nunzio Pernicone, author of “Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel.”
In addition to the Rutgers Center for Digital Film-Making, our partners include the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park, which plans to use a shorter version of the documentary for a visitors center film; the American Labor Museum/Botto House, where we are doing some of our filming; and the WNET/WLIW/WNJTV public television stations.
War in Paterson consists of 2 documentary films aimed at a broad audience, along with additional web video and a teachers’ guide with DVD intended for classroom use:
- 57-minute documentary suitable to PBS or other TV broadcast and for film festival submission. Film to premiere during fall of 2013 in Paterson, New Jersey, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary commemoration of the 1913 silk strike.
- 20-minute museum version of documentary to be used by the Paterson Museum and the American Labor Museum/Botto House in Haledon, and to be used eventually by the National Park Service as the introductory film at the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park visitors center
- A shorter 5-minute web video for use on high-visibility university websites and social media, PBS Learning Media, and the Paterson National Park website.
- An educational booklet/teacher’s guide to accompany the three DVD versions written by Professors Mark Magyar and Steve Golin to be distributed through the American Labor Studies Association, New Jersey Education Association Social Studies Group, teachinghistory.org, Paterson School District, NJ History LIstServ, websites and social media.
The dramatic events of the Paterson silk strike are certain to captivate a television audience. Our creative approach, driven by first person testimonies and compelling reenactments, will ensure that viewers identify and understand the circumstances and motivations of the factory workers who organized the strike. The economic disruptions of today – plant closings, layoffs, wage cuts and foreclosures – echo the challenges faced by workers a century ago at the height of the Industrial Revolution, when the rise of national corporations, the factory system and new machinery eroded the bargaining power of workers. The Paterson strike was a pivotal moment in U.S. history – the best and last chance of radical labor leaders to bring the American labor movement into line with the socialist bent of European unions and their labor parties. After Paterson, the U.S. labor movement would be defined by the AFL’s emphasis on getting “more” for unionized workers within the existing free-market system, rather than the IWW’s revolutionary goal of developing “one big union” to challenge the existing system.
With beautifully shot reenactments by Emmy winning cinematographer Peter Schnall interwoven with historic photos and newspaper headlines, our television story will bring to life the passion of the thousands of workers who made the Paterson Silk Strike such a pivotal event in American history.
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