This flat instance of discrimination inspired the officers of the Woman’s Trade-Union League to protest to Police Commissioner Baker against the arbitrary oppression of the strikers by the policemen. He was asked to investigate the action of the police. He replied that the pickets would in future receive as much consideration as other people. The attitude of the police did not, however, change.
It was to these events, as Natalya Urusova found, that the foreman of the Bruch factory had referred when he asked the girls, with a sneer, why they didn’t join their “sisters.” Going to the Union headquarters on Clinton Street, she learned all she could about the Union. Afterward, in the Bruch factory, whenever any complaints arose, she would say casually, in pretended helplessness, “But what can we do? Is there any way to change this?” Vague suggestions of the Union headquarters would arise, and she would inquire into this eagerly and would pretend to allow herself to be led to Clinton Street. So, little by little, as the long hours and low wages and impudence from the foreman continued, she induced about sixty girls to understand about organization and to consider it favorably.
On the evening of the 22d of November, Natalya, and how many others from the factory she could not tell, attended a mass meeting at Cooper Union, of which they had been informed by hand-bills. It was called for the purpose of discussing a general strike of shirt-waist workers in New York City. The hall was packed. Overflow meetings were held at Beethoven Hall, Manhattan Lyceum, and Astoria Hall. In the Cooper Union addresses were delivered by Samuel Gompers, by Miss Dreier, and by many others. Finally, a girl of eighteen asked the chairman for the privilege of the floor. She said: “I have listened to all the speeches. I am one who thinks and feels from the things they describe. I, too, have worked and suffered. I am tired of the talking. I move that we go on a general strike.”
The meeting broke into wild applause. The motion was unanimously indorsed. The chairman, Mr. Feigenbaum, a Union officer, rapped on the table. “Do you mean faith?” he called to the workers. “Will you take the old Jewish oath?” Thousands of right hands were held up and the whole audience repeated in Yiddish: “If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from the arm I now raise.”
This was the beginning of the general shirt-waist strike. A committee of fifteen girls and one boy was appointed at the Cooper Union meeting, and went from one to the other of the overflow meetings, where the same motion was offered and unanimously indorsed.