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Gladstein, Caroline Decker. OAC

 
 

 

Biographical History

Born in 1912 in Macon, Georgia, of immigrant Jewish Eastern European parents, Caroline Decker Gladstein became involved with radical politics and trade union organizing in her early teens through the influence of her older brother, then a student at Columbia University in New York City, and her older sister who was a national officer of the left-wing Workers' International Relief organization. After moving with her family to Syracuse, N.Y. at age 12, Gladstein met many of the leaders of left-wing organizations who were offered hospitality in her parents' home. She joined the Young Communist League in her teens, helped organize cigar workers and shoe workers in Binghamton, N.Y. and became a speaker at such events as International Women's Day.

She took part in the first New York State Hunger March and in demonstrations of unemployed in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area at the start of the Depression and became active in organizing unemployed councils and foreign language-speaking groups of workers in Syracuse, N.Y. She took an active role in the first National Hunger March on Washington, D.C. and had the responsibility of finding food and shelter for 2000 marchers who came from the West Coast.

Through her sister's involvement with relief efforts for the striking miners in Harlan County in 1930, Gladstein went South to work at the Harlan County Strike headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee, helping organize miners and textile workers in that area and working on obtaining support and relief funds. Following this period, she returned to the Pittsburgh area and served as secretary to the Communist Party district director, working to organize unemployed councils and steelworkers unions in that area. During this period, she took an active role in the International Youth Day March to Youngstown, Ohio, which became a bloody battle when marchers were attached by the "iron and steel" police employed by the steel corporations.

Early in the thirties, Gladstein went to California with the Free Tom Mooney Delegation and became involved with the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union, as its secretary, organizing migrants in camps throughout California and taking part in the 1932 Cherry Pickers' Strike, the 1934 Apricot Pickers Strike and the Cotton Pickers' Strike of that period. She organized a national 30-day training school in agricultural organizing for workers and Communist Party members which lasted for a few years.

In 1934, Gladstein was sentenced to prison under the California Criminal Syndicalism Act and spent three years in jail. Following her release, she became a legal secretary, married Richard Gladstein, a labor and civil rights lawyer, and raised four children. She considers herself primarily a trade union organizer who feels strongly that "workers will learn from experience" and that "if there are radical social changes, it will come as a result of the experiences that they [the workers] have had, not because somebody is going to superimpose it from the top."

From the finding aid for Caroline Decker Gladstein Oral History (California Historical Society, North Baker Library)

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