Michael Dennis publishes “Women in Defense of Workers: Ella Winter, the literary left, and labor journalism in California”
Left-wing, middle-class journalists such as Ella Winter contributed decisively to the labor rebellion of the 1930s. In contrast to mainstream labor reporting, they practiced a form of anti-fascist, working-class journalism that consistently linked the drive for collective bargaining to a larger movement for social and economic justice. Winter and other writers such as Miriam deFord and Emily Joseph carried forward a tradition of labor defense, socialist feminism, and free speech advocacy that originated in the bohemian left of the early twentieth century. Rather than reducing women’s activism to communist intrigue or the exigencies of the economic crisis, this essay seeks out the deeper roots of women’s working-class journalism in the 1930s. It finds them in the democratic and aesthetic aspirations of the pre- Bolshevik left, even while it addresses the critical impact that the crisis of capitalism and the rise of fascism had on socialist feminist writers. Functioning as mediators, organizers, and witnesses to the movement, they bridged the gap between the middle and working classes, chronicling the experiences and articulating the aspirations of a multiracial proletariat. For these writers, radical commitment and responsible social commentary seemed entirely compatible. Out of this conviction, Winter and others helped build a cross-class coalition in California. In addition, they carved out lives of social purpose that allowed them to achieve a measure of female independence and professional achievement.
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Michael Dennis is a professor of American history at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. He is the author of Blood on Steel: Chicago steelworkers and the strike of 1937 (Johns Hopkins, 2014), The Memorial Day Massacre and the Movement for Industrial Democracy (Pal-grave, 2010), and The New Economy and the Modern South (Florida, 2009).