Cornelius Van Vorst, ca.1620; 
Jersey City Free Public Library; Grover Cleveland Political Cartoon; 
Grover Cleveland Birthplace Historical Site Collection Peter Lee, former slave, ca.1880; 
Hoboken Historical Photographs Collection; Farm Map of Hillsboro, Somerset County, 1860; 
Historical Maps of New Jersey Collection; Bathing Beauties, 1890-1930; 
American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark Collection; Flag Salute, 1950; 
Seabrook Farms Collection;
Sol Stetin, 1910-2005

Sol Stetin, who has died at the age of ninety-five, represented one of the most important and least appreciated aspects of New Jersey and American history: the rise of industrial labor unions in the twentieth century and their struggle to create decent conditions of life for American workers and their families, a ceaseless struggle that has vastly improved the entire nation's social and economic life.

Without the work of people like Sol Stetin we would have no Social Security, minimum wage laws, employee retirement pensions, medical insurance, food and drug laws, occupational safety and health laws, unemployment and injury compensation, and innumerable other acts of social legislation and government programs that the opponents of progress have always considered to represent "socialism" and coddling the poor.

And without Sol Stetin we would not have had the American Labor Museum in the Botto House in Haledon, New Jersey, commemorating the Paterson silk strike of 1913 and by extension the entire history of the trade union movement. After a lifetime of service in organizing textile workers-which included leadership of the J.P. Stevens strike that ended in establishing a union in the Stevens plants after seventeen years-Sol spearheaded the campaign to establish the museum and was its mentor for its first two decades. A resident of Paterson, he also taught labor studies and union organizing at New Jersey universities.

At the age of ninety-five, according to his obituary, he was still participating in union activity in St. Louis, where he and his wife had moved to be with their family.

Like millions of other Jews escaping oppression, Sol was brought to the United States at the age of ten from a small town near Lodz in what is now eastern Poland. In the Second World War his life in Europe would almost certainly have ended in a ditch, a ghetto or a camp after the German invasion. Instead, he became an American and repaid his adopted homeland by a lifetime of fighting for a better life for its people.

God grant we may always deserve to have among us people like Sol Stetin.

Bernard Bush
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
bbush9@cox.net

IMLS Bookmark and Share