Sophie, 14, has just started working as a dressmaker under brutal conditions. She works 13-hour days, but can’t work fast enough for the plant’s out-of-line foreman. Her older sister, Rose, drags Sophie to a union meeting where a hall of agitated women vote to go on strike. Hours, pay and workplace safety are all at stake. As the country grapples with the Depression, in a context where immigrants face stigma and resentment from all sides, Rose and Sophie walk a cold, windy picket line. Rose is arrested after stepping in to defend her workmate, who was fighting off scabs trying to enter the factory, and gets thrown in jail. Sophie now faces the strike on her own, in addition to having to take care of her sick mother, a situation far beyond her experience. The story combines many struggles—from working poverty wages in sweatshop conditions to the life of young immigrant women facing anti-Semitism—as the sisters navigate life-changing situations. Their story shows the many challenges and personal sacrifices that are sometimes necessary when fighting for the greater collective good. Though the result of the strike was not all that great, the sisters prevail. Their fight, and a welcome intervention by Emma Goldman near the end, strengthens their character, understanding and resolve to fight this and other battles over their lifetime. 44 Hours or Strike! is a fast-paced and accessible read that serves as an introduction to solidarity, unions and the power of sticking together.
Originally published in the January/February 2016 edition of the Monitor.