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1. In 1917–19, a wave of rent strikes swept New York. Amid wartime shortages and skyrocketing prices, tenants across the city defied their landlords and refused to pay exorbitant rents. Most strikes were led by working-class immigrant women—many of whom were socialists.
2. From the Bronx to Brooklyn, women helped form the tenant leagues and neighborhood councils that led the strikes. “All of these successful organizations were marked by a supportive relationship with the Socialist party,” writes Joseph A. Spencer.
3. “The leagues flourished in areas of Socialist electoral strength and held meetings in Socialist halls. Socialist lawyers and officials played key leadership roles, while women of the consumers leagues allied with the party did much of the organizing.”
4. In 1919, “a city marshal, fifty policemen, and thirty union movers arrived to dispossess…tenants [in Williamsburg], but the moving men refused to do so when the striking women displayed their tenant league membership cards and insisted that they too were ‘union members.’”
5. Since many women worked in their homes, Robert Fogelson writes in THE GREAT RENT WARS, “it would be up to them to persuade other tenants to join the strike, mobilize the support of neighbors and shopkeepers, walk the picket lines…”
6. “…discourage prospective tenants from renting apartments in buildings whose residents were on strike, and perhaps put up other tenants whose families had been dispossessed (and whose belongings had been put on the sidewalk).”
7. “More than the men, it was the women who would have to stand up to the landlords (and their agents) and face the marshals, schleppers, and in some cases, police officers.”
8. “Speaking of Brownsville, [Socialist Party newspaper] the Call wrote in late April 1918, ‘On every block there is a procession of women wheeling baby carriages back and forth in front of the “struck” houses or a row of them.’”
9. “To call attention to the strike, the tenants posted signs on their windows, often in Yiddish as well as English, that read ‘This house is on strike!’ and ‘Down with profiteering landlords!’”
10. “In another practice that infuriated the landlords, the striking tenants hung flags outside their windows, American flags in some households, red (or Socialist) flags in others.”
11. “If women had the courage to confront rapacious employers and heavy-handed foremen…why should they be afraid of greedy landlords and abusive agents?”
12. “If women were willing to walk off the job even if it meant standing up to brutal policemen and hostile judges…why should they be less willing to withhold the rent even if it meant standing up to unsympathetic marshals and indifferent schleppers?”
13. “If women were ready to risk losing their jobs in order to improve their wages and working conditions, why should they not be ready to risk losing their homes in order to make sure that their families had enough to eat?”
14. “If the women of New York were up to taking part in strikes and boycotts to protect their families against unfeeling employers and unscrupulous retailers, why should they not be up to going on strikes to protect them against avaricious landlords?”
15. It was through the courageous efforts of these women-led tenant groups that New York’s first rent control laws were won in 1920. Since then, women—many of them socialists, immigrants, and people of color—have continued to be at the forefront of struggles for housing justice.
16. The history of women tenant organizers in New York is far too rich to fit into a tweet thread! In addition to Fogelson’s book, check out THE TENANT MOVEMENT IN NEW YORK CITY, 1904–1984, available for free online at libcom.org/book/export/ht….
17. Today, as women around the world walk out of their workplaces and homes and into the streets, we celebrate the past, present, and future of radical women-led tenant movements. ✊ ✊🏻 ✊🏼 ✊🏽 ✊🏾 ✊🏿 #InternationalWomensDay #WomenStrike #TenantPower
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