Sol Stetin, a dedicated pioneer of the American labor movement for more than 70 years and a past president of the Textile Workers Union of America, died in St. Louis on May 21 due to complications from leukemia. He was 95 years old.
In the 1970s, Stetin fought for the rights of textile workers in the South, where he helped unionize workers at the J.P. Stevens Company. That campaign was the basis for 1979 film “Norma Rae,” which starred Sally Field.
Stetin was born in Pabianice, Poland. In 1921, at the age of 10, he immigrated with his family to the “Silk City” of Paterson, N.J. During the Depression, Stetin worked in a dye shop, joined a union and became an organizer.
He resigned as president of TWUA in 1976 to facilitate a successful merger with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Stetin served on the executive council of the AFL-CIO and as an executive vice president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, now known as Unite/Here! until his retirement.
The organizer received a number of awards, including an honorary doctorate from Rutgers University in 1961 and the Puffin Foundation’s Heroes and Heroines of Social Conscience Award in 1999. In retirement he helped found Haledon, N.J.’s American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark, which has grown into a model for labor education.
In 2001, after 80 years in Paterson, he moved with his wife, Frieda, to St. Louis, where he became an active member of the St. Louis chapter of Jobs With Justice and a member of the St. Louis Worker Rights Board.
In his honor, contributions can be made to the American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark or to Jobs With Justice to fund an annual Sol Stetin fellow.