Marianna Costa, of Haledon, New Jersey, a retired textile union official, grew up in a neighborhood close to several weaving plants, and began working in a dye house in 1932. She recalls the long hours her mother put in at her job at National Dye and Printing, in East Paterson, and her father put in as a construction worker: “My mother left for work at 6:30 and she didn't come back until six at night. It was a long day between transportation and a ten-hour work day. She was away almost twelve hours. [My father] would leave at about seven, and he was out doing construction . . . . And he would get back by five--an hour before she did because of the transportation. He had a bicycle, so he was able to do better time. And she had to walk to a bus and walk the distance back home.”
While the 1933 Textile Workers' Strike was in progress in Paterson, New Jersey, eighteen-year-old Marianna Costa and other striking textile workers traveled to Washington, D.C., where they participated in a march in support of the adoption of federal standards for the silk industry. For Marianna, the textile workers' strike of 1933 was galvanic. Here she describes how the energy of the strike mounted as more and more workers joined it, including Marianna herself, who knew practically nothing about organized labor: “I didn't understand when the girls in the department I was in said, ‘We're going to go out.’ The chanting outside of the window, that's my first recollection. There was chanting outside of our work windows, and a big group of people. I guess they initially started by the Wideman plant, and in Riverside you start in one place and you go down [and] you weave in and out. It's all dye plants. So that if you made your run you would call these people out and they would join in that line. And they'd go to the next plant and there was a bigger line. And the line kept getting bigger and bigger. The crowd instead of being one hundred was two hundred. Two hundred would get three hundred. By the time they got to our plant half the street was just a crowd of people. And they'd say, "Come on out. Join us. We're going to strike. The president said we can. We're tired of this." And I said to the people, "What's going on? I don't understand." They says, "Oh, they're having a strike." And I asked them, "And then do what?" [They said,] "Well, then, we'll see what the union does." I said, "And what's the union?" "Oh, that's an organization that will fight for us to get better protection. I didn't even get the full comprehension, but I went with them. I wasn't going to stay alone in the plant. I went with them and we walked from the Riverside section to the Turn Hall, which was quite a walk . . . . And, anyway, when we got there, there were organizers that were trying to establish an organization to speak to the crowd and say "You got to stay out. You have a right to organize. You can do better than what you're getting. And the idea is to be firm, stay together and we'll see what we can do for you."
The strike was a turning point for Marianna. She saw the power of workers organized to improve working conditions, and was proud to participate in an action that forced factory owners to grant the strikers' demands: the establishment of a minimum wage, an eight-hour day and a forty-hour week; the right to union representation in the plants; and the rehiring of strikers without discrimination. Not long after the strike, Marianna, previously unaware of unions, was elected to an office in her union local--not a common thing for a woman to do at the time.
Interview, Marianna Costa, Haledon, New Jersey, by David A. Taylor, August 20, 1994