Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, along with Victor Reuther, will be inducted into Labor’s International Hall of Fame on May 17 in Washington, D.C.
Reuther was instrumental with organizing of industrial plant workers in Flint, Mich. The United Auto Workers was founded in 1936 amidst a great uprising of industrial workers, including the UAW’s most famous battle – the 1936-37 Flint sit-down strike – where a six-week occupation of GM factories by autoworkers forced the company to recognize the union and effectively breaking the back of the open shop.
Reuther later held several offices within the UAW, including leading the union’s Education and International Affairs departments. His brother, Walter, was UAW president from 1946-1970.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, nicknamed “Rebel Girl,” was a labor activist and militant in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies), a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and leader of the Communist Party USA.
At age 17, Flynn became a labor organizer and organized campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania; silk weavers in New Jersey; restaurant workers in New York; miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Mont., and Spokane, Wash., and textile workers in Massachusetts.
Born in Concord, N. H., on August 7, 1890, her family moved to New York when Flynn was 10. Her parents introduced her to the ideas and movement for socialism and at the age of 16. She gave her first speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women.” Flynn advocated for women’s rights, birth control and right to vote. She played an important role in the campaign for equal pay for women and the establishment of day care centers for mothers working in industry. She wrote a column on feminist issues for the Daily Worker.
She was persecuted for her political beliefs and served a two-year prison sentence in the 1950s because she was a Communist. She wrote about her time in prison in “The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.” The ACLU ousted Flynn because of her political beliefs in 1940, but reinstated her posthumously in 1976.
Her book “Rebel Girl” is available from International Publishers.
Click here to view historical letters, documents and photos of Flynn and Joe Hill.
For more biographical information see People’s World Women’s History special “Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the Rebel Girl.”
Photo: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn speaks at a 1913 rally of striking workers in Paterson, N.J. (CPUSA collection/Tamiment)