Strikes, Unions, and Supporting Our Daughters: Paul David Adkins on Labor and Women’s Movements


******** screaming like bullets to earth.

I always felt the women’s movement, per se, had much in common with the labor movement: people fighting against low pay, squalid working conditions and callous, predatory bosses. With the recent attack on unions in Wisconsin, I felt it important to return to the roots of feminism as it relates to the workplace; the ceaseless struggle to be valued as people, not property.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and Women’s Garment Workers Strike of 1909 illustrate the importance of these events in today’s political climate. Feminism is not merely a word, nor is it animated by slogans. It embodies the spirit of a life-and-death struggle encapsulated by women forced to choose between burning and falling to their deaths, just because they needed to work. And it takes the fight to those who should have cared, but instead chained the doors and fled at the first hint of fire.

I understand my role in feminism is limited primarily to supporting a select few women, mainly my daughters. I take to heart Neil Postman’s classic educational treatise Teaching as a Subversive Activity. I want my daughters to recognize the importance of Alice Paul, and be inspired to reintroduce, and pass, the ERA, so we discuss these issues. I want them to embrace the eloquence of Susan Faludi, the incisiveness of Naomi Wolf, the ferocity of Naomi Klein, so we read their books. I want them as women to appreciate their roles as active participants in whatever they pursue. And I want them to understand the consequences of indifference, to paraphrase the poet Stevie Smith, with their airborne bodies not flying, but falling.


Paul David Adkins, “Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, 9th Through 11th Floors, Asch Building, New York City, 25 March 111,″ Pg. 26

So to Speak Summer 2011 Online Issue featuring poetry and art







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4 thoughts on “Strikes, Unions, and Supporting Our Daughters: Paul David Adkins on Labor and Women’s Movements”

  1. Hi Paul-from-the-past!

    Great to see you again so many years later and here at STS!

    It is amazing how daughters and sons bring the issues of feminism close. When my daughter was born, the straights (straits?) and logjams I had navigated myself as a girl and young woman and could sometimes convince myself I’d put behind me were suddenly right there once again and doubly important.

    And my daughter got married last year and so in a few years I may have a grandchild. Let’s hope whether she’s a girl or a boy, she’ll grow up in a world less inclined to see things in pink and blue.

  2. Hi Paul!

    I really appreciate your post for its compassion and explanation of activism through feminism. I completely agree with you when you speak about the intersections of women’s movements and labor movements as a fight for a very similar end result. To be good people in our world, we have to understand each other as living beings who struggle and fear and love and as deserving of equal rights. We accomplish compassion through education. And it is so refreshing and enlivening to hear your story about providing opportunities for your daughters through education to grow up to be compassionate, smart, strong people.

  3. Thanks, Sheila!
    In the past I weighed membership in feminist organizations but didn’t really know if I or women members would feel comfortable. As an introvert, I am averse to joining groups anyway.

    I don’t look to our current institutional teachers for anything beyond basic education. As my children attend a quite odd school system, I am able to review their lessons (especially history) and shred the textbook biases with them. This provides the opportunity for a very valuable exercise in critical thinking, for my children to see that the official version of things can, and should, be questioned by the target audience. It’s an odd type of bonding — “Daddy, what did the history book lie to me about today?” “Well, let’s see what it said about Christopher Columbus . . . ” It’s like story time with integrity!


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