Inspired by the events of an actual textile-mill strike in 1929, Cash (This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014, etc.) creates a vivid picture of one woman’s desperation.
Ella May Wiggins works long, grueling hours in a mill, but it still isn’t enough to keep her children fed. The year is 1929, and fed-up workers are fighting for rights like a standard wage, a five-day work week, and equal pay for equal work. Ella’s curiosity about the union leads her to attend a rally in a neighboring town, but when she gets up on stage to sing a song that she wrote, she becomes an unexpected star of the labor movement. Her prominence makes her a target for those who view union members as communists, and Ella’s belief that African-Americans should be included in the union places her in even more danger. But Ella’s voice isn’t the only one Cash explores—there are multiple points of view, including Ella’s now-elderly daughter Lilly, an African-American porter named Hampton, and several others whose lives intersect with Ella’s. Cash vividly illustrates the difficulties of Ella’s life; her exhaustion and desperation leap off the page. She faces extreme hardship in her fight for workers’ rights, but it’s always clear that she keeps going because of her love for her children. Although it is initially a bit difficult to keep so many points of view straight, it is satisfying to see them all connect. It’s refreshing that Cash highlights the struggles of often forgotten heroes and shows how crucial women and African-Americans were in the fight for workers’ rights.
A heartbreaking and beautifully written look at the real people involved in the labor movement.