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In the city of Mayagüez, on August 28, 1933, two thousand workers went on strike calling for better wages, a safe workplace, and the right to unions, among other demands. Through these struggles, women needleworkers were able to influence the implementation of the provisions of the National Recovery Administration and the formulation of the industrial codes that would affect their lives at home and at work. A focus on the Mayagüez Needleworkers' Strike of 1933 sheds light on broader developments in Puerto Rico during the New Deal period. The needleworkers' labor struggles were not only struggles for the achievement of specific economic demands, but also represented the collective effort of workingwomen, who were denied political rights, to be heard in a world in which they were not considered full citizens because of their class and gender status.
To explore the events of the 1933 needleworkers' strike in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico; to compare and contrast three different newspaper accounts of the violence associated with the strike.
Have students read Caroline Manning, The Employment of Women in Puerto Rico (1934) as homework in preparation for class. Ask the students at the beginning of discussion to summarize the conditions of women's employment in the needle trades in Puerto Rico in the early 1930s. What were the women's wages? What kind of work did needleworkers do? What type of garments were made in Puerto Rico?
Next read "Two Thousand Workers in Riots Yesterday in Mayagüez," La Democracia, 30 August 1933. What were the writers' attitudes toward the striking workers? What did they recommend to contain the violence?
Next read "The Mayagüez Strike Degenerates into Bloody Riots," La Correspondencia de Puerto Rico, 30 August 1933. How did this article portray the striking workers? Factory owners? The police? How was the article's perspective different from that evident in La Democracia?
Compare the attitude of the editors of the Unión Obrera with these two articles by reading "Strike in Mayagüez: Massacre of Defenseless Women," 31 August 1933. According to the editorial, why did needleworkers strike? Who did the editorial blame for the violence? What advice did the editorial have for the strikers? How were the attitudes of the editors similar to or different from those expressed in La Democracia? Were their attitudes similar to or different from those of the writers for La Correspondencia de Puerto Rico?
Short paper assignment: Ask students to write a 2-3 page essay summarizing the similarities and differences in the newspaper accounts of the strike discussed in class. Ask them to theorize about what may have been at the root of the different perspectives expressed in the three articles.