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International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union

International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union

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The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union was once one of the largest labor union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

s in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, one of the first U.S. unions to have a primarily female membership, and a key player in the labor history of the 1920s and 1930s. The union, generally referred to as the "ILGWU" or the "ILG," merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union
Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America
The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America was a United States labor union known for its support for "social unionism" and progressive political causes. Led by Sidney Hillman for its first thirty years, it helped found the Congress of Industrial Organizations...

 in 1995 to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE
- Labor unions :*Unite the Union, a British and Irish trade union, formed by the merger of Amicus and T&G*Unite Union, a trade union in New Zealand*Unite Union , a trade union in Australia...

). UNITE merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union
Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union
The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union , was a United States labor union representing workers of the hospitality industry, formed in 1891. In 2004, HERE merged with the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees to form UNITE HERE. HERE notably organized the staff of Yale...

 (HERE) in 2004 to create a new union known as UNITE HERE
UNITE HERE is a labor union in the United States and Canada with more than 265,000 active members The union's members work predominantly in the hotel, food service, laundry, warehouse, and casino gaming industries...

. The two unions that formed UNITE in 1995 represented only 250,000 workers between them, down from the ILGWU's peak membership of 450,000 in 1969.

Early history

The ILGWU was founded in 1900 in New York City by seven local unions, with a few thousand members between them. The union grew rapidly in the next few years but began to stagnate as the conservative leadership favored the interests of skilled workers, such as cutters. This did not sit well with the majority of immigrant workers, particularly Jewish workers with a background in Bundist activities in Tsarist Russia, or with Polish and Italian workers, many of whom had strong socialist and anarchist leanings. They also progressed to become a big business.

The Uprising of 20,000 and the Great Revolt

The ILGWU had a sudden upsurge in membership that came as the result of two successful mass strikes in New York City.

The first, in 1909, was known as “the Uprising of 20,000” and lasted for fourteen weeks. It was largely spontaneous, sparked by a short walkout of workers of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, involving only about 20% of the workforce. That, however, only prompted the rest of the workers to seek help from the union. The firm locked out its employees when it learned what was happening.

The news of the strike spread quickly to all the New York garment workers. At a series of mass meetings, after the leading figures of the American labor movement spoke in general terms about the need for solidarity and preparedness, Clara Lemlich
Clara Lemlich
Clara Lemlich Shavelson was a leader of the Uprising of 20,000, the massive strike of shirtwaist workers in New York's garment industry in 1909. Later blacklisted from the industry for her labor union work, she became a member of the Communist Party USA and a consumer activist...

 rose to speak about the conditions she and other women worked under and demanded an end to talk and the calling of a strike of the entire industry. The crowd responded enthusiastically and, after taking a traditional Yiddish oath, "If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from the arm I now raise," voted for a general strike. Approximately 20,000 out of the 32,000 workers in the shirtwaist trade walked out in the next two days.

Those workers, primarily immigrants and mostly women defied the preconceptions of more conservative labor leaders, who thought that immigrants and women could not be organized. Their slogan "We'd rather starve quick than starve slow" summed up the depth of their bitterness against the sweatshop in which they worked. The strike was a violent one. Police routinely arrested picketers for trivial or imaginary offenses while employers hired local thugs to beat them as police looked the other way.

A group of wealthy women, among them Frances Perkins
Frances Perkins
Frances Perkins , born Fannie Coralie Perkins, was the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet. As a loyal supporter of her friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, she helped pull the labor movement into the New Deal coalition...

, Anne Morgan and Alva Vanderbilt Belmont
Alva Belmont
Alva Erskine Belmont , née Alva Erskine Smith, also called Alva Vanderbilt from 1875 to 1896, was a prominent multi-millionaire American socialite and a major figure in the women's suffrage movement...

, supported the struggles of working class women with money and intervention with officials and often picketed with them. They earned the derisive label "the Mink Brigade".

The strike was only partially successful. The ILGWU accepted an arbitrated settlement in February 1910 that improved workers' wages, working conditions, and hours, but did not provide union recognition. A number of companies, including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, refused to sign the agreement. But even so, the strike won a number of important gains. It encouraged workers in the industry to take action to improve their conditions, brought public attention to the sweatshop conditions.

Several months later, in 1910, the ILGWU led an even larger strike, later named "The Great Revolt", of 60,000 cloakmakers. After months of picketing, prominent members of the Jewish community, led by Louis Brandeis
Louis Brandeis
Louis Dembitz Brandeis ; November 13, 1856 – October 5, 1941) was an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939.He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Jewish immigrant parents who raised him in a secular mode...

, mediated between the ILGWU and the Manufacturers Association. It led to the Agreement known as the "Protocol of Peace". In it, the ILGWU won union recognition and higher wages, as well as a rudimentary health benefits program. The employers won a promise that workers would settle their grievances through arbitration rather than strikes during the term of the Agreement (a common clause in Union contracts today).

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and its aftermath

The union also became more involved in electoral politics, in part as a result of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history...

 on March 25, 1911, in which more than a hundred shirtwaist makers (most of them young immigrant women) either died in the fire that broke out on the eighth floor of the factory or jumped to their deaths. Many of these workers were unable to escape because the doors on their floors had been locked to prevent them from stealing or taking unauthorized breaks. More than 100,000 people participated in the funeral march for the victims.

The fire had differing effects on the community. For some it radicalized them still further; as Rose Schneiderman
Rose Schneiderman
Rose Schneiderman was a prominent United States labor union leader, socialist, and feminist of the first part of the twentieth century...

 said in her speech at the memorial meeting held in the Metropolitan Opera House on April 2, 1911 to an audience largely made up of the well-heeled members of the WTUL:
I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.

This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.

We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.

Public officials have only words of warning to us – warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.

I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.

Others in the union drew a different lesson from events: working with local Tammany Hall
Tammany Hall
Tammany Hall, also known as the Society of St. Tammany, the Sons of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, was a New York political organization founded in 1786 and incorporated on May 12, 1789 as the Tammany Society...

 officials, such as Al Smith
Al Smith
Alfred Emanuel Smith. , known in private and public life as Al Smith, was an American statesman who was elected the 42nd Governor of New York three times, and was the Democratic U.S. presidential candidate in 1928...

 and Robert F. Wagner
Robert F. Wagner
Robert Ferdinand Wagner I was an American politician. He was a Democratic U.S. Senator from New York from 1927 to 1949.-Origin and early life:...

, and progressive reformers, such as Frances Perkins
Frances Perkins
Frances Perkins , born Fannie Coralie Perkins, was the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet. As a loyal supporter of her friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, she helped pull the labor movement into the New Deal coalition...

, they pushed for comprehensive safety and workers’ compensation laws. The ILG leadership formed bonds with those reformers and politicians that would continue for another forty years, through the New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

 and beyond.

Growth and turmoil

The ILGWU was able to turn the partial victory of the Great Revolt into a lasting victory; within two years it had organized roughly ninety percent of the cloakmakers in the industry in New York City. It improved benefits in later contracts and obtained an unemployment insurance fund for its members in 1919.

At the same time political splits within the union were beginning to grow larger. The Socialist Party split in 1919, with its left wing leaving to form various communist parties that ultimately united under the name of the Communist Party USA
Communist Party USA
The Communist Party USA is a Marxist political party in the United States, established in 1919. It has a long, complex history that is closely related to the histories of similar communist parties worldwide and the U.S. labor movement....

. Those left wing socialists, joined by others with an IWW or anarchist background, challenged the undemocratic structure of the ILGWU, which gave every local an equal vote in electing its leaders, regardless of the number of workers that local represented, and the accommodations that the ILGWU leadership had made in bargaining with the employers. Left wing activists, drawing inspiration from the shop stewards movement that had swept through British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 labor in the preceding decade, started building up their strength at the shop floor level.

The Communist Party did not intervene in ILGWU politics in any concerted fashion for the first few years of its existence, when it was focused first on its belief that revolution in the advanced capitalist
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 countries was imminent, followed by a period of underground activity. That changed, however, around 1921, as the party attempted to create a base for itself in the working class and, in particular, in the unions within the AFL.

The party had its greatest success and failure in that effort in the 1920s in the garment trades, where workers had experience with mass strikes and socialist politics were part of the common discourse. Party members had won elections in some of the most important locals within the ILGWU, particularly in New York City, in the early years of the decade and hoped to expand their influence.

Internal battles

In 1923, Benjamin Schlesinger
Benjamin Schlesinger
Benjamin Schlesinger was the President of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union from 1903–1907, for a second term from 1914–1923, and for a third and final term from 1928 until his death in 1932...

, the International's President, resigned; the convention elected Morris Sigman
Morris Sigman
Morris Sigman was president of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union from 1923 to 1928.-Early life:Born in Russia, Morris Sigman spent his youth working as a lumberjack before moving to London in 1902. In 1903, Sigman emigrated to New York City and began work as a presser in the cloak...

, who had previously been Secretary-Treasurer of the International before resigning in a dispute with Schlesinger, as its new President. Sigman, a former IWW
Industrial Workers of the World
The Industrial Workers of the World is an international union. At its peak in 1923, the organization claimed some 100,000 members in good standing, and could marshal the support of perhaps 300,000 workers. Its membership declined dramatically after a 1924 split brought on by internal conflict...

 member and anti-communist, began to remove Communist Party members from leadership of locals in New York, Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

 and Boston.

Sigman could not, however, regain control of the New York locals, including Dressmakers' Local 22, headed by Charles S. Zimmerman
Charles S. Zimmerman
Charles Sasha Zimmerman was an American socialist activist and trade union leader, who was an associate of Jay Lovestone. Zimmerman had a career spanning five decades as an official of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union...

, where the CP leadership and their left wing allies, some anarchists and some Socialists, enjoyed strong support of the membership. Local 22 rallied to prevent the International from physically retaking their union hall. Those unions led the campaign to reject a proposed agreement that Sigman had negotiated with the industry in 1925, bringing more than 30,000 members to a rally at Yankee Stadium
Yankee Stadium
Yankee Stadium was a stadium located in The Bronx in New York City, New York. It was the home ballpark of the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1973 and from 1976 to 2008. The stadium hosted 6,581 Yankees regular season home games during its 85-year history. It was also the former home of the New York...

 to call for a one-day stoppage on August 10, 1925.

After Sigman called a truce in the internecine war with the left-led locals, followed up by a reform of the ILGWU's internal governance system that gave proportional weight to locals based on the size of their membership, the left wing of the union was even stronger than before. Sigman depended on the support of David Dubinsky
David Dubinsky
David Dubinsky was an American labor leader...

's cutters union, many of the Italian locals, and the "out-of-town locals", many of which were mere paper organization
Paper organization
A paper organization is any group which exists more in theory than reality. The term "paper organization" is used in two different contexts, that of the military and that of the labor movement.-Military:...

s, to hold on to his presidency at the 1925 convention.

The inevitable showdown came the next year. The International supported the recommendations of an advisory board appointed by Governor Al Smith that supported the union's demands that jobber
Jobber may refer to:* A being or tool that "jobs", pecks, or stabs, such as:**Jobber, a length of drill bit**Nut-jobber, a nuthatch**Tree-jobber or wood-jobber, a woodpecker* A brand of printing press by Golding & Company...

s be financially responsible for the wages owed by their contractors and that workers be guaranteed a set number of hours per year, while allowing employers to reduce their workforces by up to ten percent in any given year. While Sigman and Dubinsky supported the proposal, the CP-led and influenced locals denounced it. The New York Joint Board called a general strike on July 1, 1926.

The left wing locals may have hoped that a general strike, which had the support of even the right wing locals loyal to Sigman, would be a quick success; it was not. Employers hired "Legs" Diamond and other gangsters to beat up strikers; the union hired their own protection, led by "Little Augie" Orgen
Jacob Orgen
Jacob "Little Augie" Orgen was a New York gangster involved in bootlegging and labor racketeering during Prohibition.-Biography:...

, to fight back. When the strike went into its third month, the left wing leadership went to A.E. Rothstein, a retired manufacturer, to ask him to intercede. He suggested they talk to his estranged son, Arnold Rothstein
Arnold Rothstein
Arnold Rothstein , nicknamed "The Brain", was a New York businessman and gambler who became a famous kingpin of the Jewish mafia. Rothstein was also widely reputed to have been behind baseball's Black Sox Scandal, in which the 1919 World Series was fixed...

, a gambler with widespread influence in the New York underworld.

Rothstein was able to get the hired gangsters on both sides to withdraw. The local leadership was then able to negotiate a modified version of the agreement they had rejected before the strike began. While they had reservations about the concessions they were accepting, the left wing recommended it.

Factional divisions within the CPUSA, however, led the party leadership to reject the offer. As one member of the CPUSA and a leader in Local 22 recalled the scene, one of the members of the committee said, when presenting the agreement to a meeting of the shopfloor leaders, "Maybe we could have gotten more, but . . .", at which point a party leader interjected, "They didn't get more. If there is a possibility of getting more, go and get more." The rest of the leadership, unwilling to appear less militant, joined in urging rejection of the deal.

That ended negotiations with the employers and kept the strike going another four months, at the end of which the union was nearly bankrupt and the left leadership almost wholly discredited. Sigman took over negotiations, settled the strike and then proceeded to drive the Communist Party from any positions of influence within the ILG.

Dubinsky's rise to power

The failed 1926 strike nearly bankrupted the ILGWU; the International also lost, for a time, some of the locals that chose to follow their expelled leaders out of the ILGWU rather than remain within it. Sigman also proved nearly as abrasive, although not as fierce, toward the right wing within the ILGWU, leading Dubinsky to suggest in 1928 that the union should bring back Schlesinger, who had gone on to become General Manager of the Forward
The Forward
The Forward , commonly known as The Jewish Daily Forward, is a Jewish-American newspaper published in New York City. The publication began in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily issued by dissidents from the Socialist Labor Party of Daniel DeLeon...

, the highly influential Yiddish newspaper in New York, as Executive Vice-President of the union.

Sigman did not like the proposal, but acceded to it; five months later he resigned in a dispute with the union's executive board and Schlesinger replaced him, with Dubinsky named as Secretary-Treasurer. Schlesinger died in 1932 and Dubinsky, still Secretary-Treasurer, became President of the ILGWU as well.

Dubinsky proved to be far more durable than his predecessors. He did not brook dissent within the union and insisted that every employee of the International first submit an undated letter of resignation, to be used should Dubinsky choose to fire him later. He also acquired the power to appoint key officers throughout the union. As he explained his position at one of the union's conventions: "We have a democratic union – but they know who's boss."

Under his leadership the union, more than three fourths of whose members were women, continued to be led almost exclusively by men. Rose Pesotta
Rose Pesotta
Rose Pesotta was an anarchist, feminist labor organizer and vice president within the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.-Biography:...

, a longtime ILGWU activist and organizer, complained to Dubinsky that she had the same uncomfortable feeling of being the token woman on the ILGWU's executive board that Dubinsky had complained about when he was the only Jew on the AFL's board. The union did not, however, make any significant efforts to allow women into leadership positions during Dubinsky's tenure.

The Great Depression and the CIO

As weak as the ILGWU was in the aftermath of the 1926 strike, it was nearly destroyed by the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

. Its dues-paying membership slipped to 25,000 in 1932 as unionized garment shops shut or went nonunion or stopped abiding by their union contracts.

The union recovered, however, after the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act
National Industrial Recovery Act
The National Industrial Recovery Act , officially known as the Act of June 16, 1933 The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), officially known as the Act of June 16, 1933 The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), officially known as the Act of June 16, 1933 (Ch. 90, 48 Stat. 195, formerly...

, which promised to protect workers' right to organize. As in the case in other industries with a history of organizing, that promise alone was enough to bring thousands of workers who had never been union members in the past to the union; when the union called a strike of dressmakers in New York on August 16, 1933 more than 70,000 workers joined in it – twice the number that the union had hoped for. It did not hurt, moreover, that the local leader of the NRA was quoted as saying – without any basis in fact – that President Roosevelt had authorized the strike. The union rebounded to more than 200,000 members by 1934, increasing to roughly 300,000 by the end of the Depression.

As one of the few industrial unions
Industrial unionism
Industrial unionism is a labor union organizing method through which all workers in the same industry are organized into the same union—regardless of skill or trade—thus giving workers in one industry, or in all industries, more leverage in bargaining and in strike situations...

 within the AFL, the ILGWU was eager to advance the cause of organizing employees in the steel, automobile and other mass production industries that employed millions of low-wage workers, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants. The ILGWU was one of the original members of the Committee for Industrial Organization, the group that John L. Lewis
John L. Lewis
John Llewellyn Lewis was an American leader of organized labor who served as president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960...

 of the United Mine Workers
United Mine Workers
The United Mine Workers of America is a North American labor union best known for representing coal miners and coal technicians. Today, the Union also represents health care workers, truck drivers, manufacturing workers and public employees in the United States and Canada...

 formed within the AFL in 1935 to organize industrial workers, and provided key financial support and assistance; Rose Pesotta played a key role in early organizing drives in the rubber and steel industries.

Dubinsky was unwilling, on the other hand, to split the AFL into two competing federations and did not follow Lewis and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers when they formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations
Congress of Industrial Organizations
The Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO, proposed by John L. Lewis in 1932, was a federation of unions that organized workers in industrial unions in the United States and Canada from 1935 to 1955. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 required union leaders to swear that they were not...

 as a rival to, rather than a part of, the AFL. Dubinsky also had personality differences with Lewis, whom he resented as high-handed.

In addition, Dubinsky was alarmed by the presence of Communist Party members on the payroll of the CIO and the fledgling unions it had sponsored. Dubinsky was opposed to any form of collaboration with communists and had offered financial support to Homer Martin
Homer Martin
Homer Martin was American trade unionist and socialist.After high school he attended Hewing College and received his AB from William Jewel College...

, the controversial president of the United Auto Workers
United Auto Workers
The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, better known as the United Auto Workers , is a labor union which represents workers in the United States and Puerto Rico, and formerly in Canada. Founded as part of the Congress of Industrial...

, who was being advised by Jay Lovestone
Jay Lovestone
Jay Lovestone was at various times a member of the Socialist Party of America, a leader of the Communist Party USA, leader of a small oppositionist party, an anti-Communist and Central Intelligence Agency helper, and foreign policy advisor to the leadership of the AFL-CIO and various unions...

, a former leader of the Communist Party turned anti-communist, in his campaign to drive his opponents out of the union. Lewis, by contrast, was unconcerned with the number of communists working for the CIO; as he told Dubinsky, when asked about the communists on the staff of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee
Steel Workers Organizing Committee
The Steel Workers Organizing Committee was one of two precursor labor organizations to the United Steelworkers. It was formed by the CIO in 1936. It disbanded in 1942 to become the United Steel Workers of America....

, "Who gets the bird? The hunter or the dog?"

The ILGWU began reducing its support for the CIO and, after a few years in which it attempted to be allies with both sides, reaffiliated with the AFL in 1940. Dubinsky regained his former positions as a vice president and member of the executive council of the AFL in 1945. He was the most visible supporter within the AFL of demands to clean house by ousting corrupt union leaders; the AFL-CIO ultimately adopted many of his demands when it established codes of conduct for its affiliates in 1957.

Electoral politics

Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman
Sidney Hillman
Sidney Hillman was an American labor leader. Head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, he was a key figure in the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and in marshaling labor's support for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.-Early years:Sidney Hillman was...

, leader of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, helped found the American Labor Party
American Labor Party
The American Labor Party was a political party in the United States established in 1936 which was active almost exclusively in the state of New York. The organization was founded by labor leaders and former members of the Socialist Party who had established themselves as the Social Democratic...

 in 1936. At the time Dubinsky and Hillman were both nominal members of the Socialist Party, although Dubinsky had, by his own admission, allowed his membership to lapse during the factional fighting of the 1920s. The Labor Party served as a halfway house for socialists and other leftists who were willing to vote for liberal Democratic politicians such as Roosevelt or Governor Herbert Lehman of New York, but who were not prepared to join the Democratic Party itself.

The new party was subject to many of the same fissures that divided the left in the late 1930s. For a while after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

, CPUSA members within the ALP condemned FDR as a warmonger because of his support for Britain. At one particularly stormy meeting Dubinsky and the other leaders were only able to hold their vote endorsing Roosevelt after moving from room to room and calling the police to arrest those who had disrupted the meeting.

Dubinsky ultimately left the Labor Party in 1944 after a dispute with Hillman over whether labor leaders in New York, such as Mike Quill
Mike Quill
Michael J. Quill was one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America , a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expanded to represent employees in other forms of transit, and the President of the TWU for most of the first thirty years of its existence...

, who either were members of the Communist Party or were seen as sympathetic to it, should be given any role in the ALP. When Hillman prevailed, Dubinsky and his allies left to form the Liberal Party. The ALP went on to endorse Henry Wallace
Henry A. Wallace
Henry Agard Wallace was the 33rd Vice President of the United States , the Secretary of Agriculture , and the Secretary of Commerce . In the 1948 presidential election, Wallace was the nominee of the Progressive Party.-Early life:Henry A...

 in the 1948 presidential election, while the ILGWU campaigned energetically for Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

, nearly bringing New York State into his column.

Dubinsky had hopes of launching a national liberal party, headed by Wendell Willkie
Wendell Willkie
Wendell Lewis Willkie was a corporate lawyer in the United States and a dark horse who became the Republican Party nominee for the president in 1940. A member of the liberal wing of the GOP, he crusaded against those domestic policies of the New Deal that he thought were inefficient and...

, the Republican candidate for President in 1940 who had soured on the Republican Party after his defeat in the primaries
Primary election
A primary election is an election in which party members or voters select candidates for a subsequent election. Primary elections are one means by which a political party nominates candidates for the next general election....

 in 1944. In Dubinsky's eyes this new party would attract the internationalists in the Republican Party and the bulk of the Democratic Party, without the white Southern conservative bloc that commanded so much power in Congress. He proposed that Willkie begin by running for Mayor of New York City in 1945; Willkie, however, died before the plan could get off the ground.

Dubinsky and the ILGWU played an active role in the Liberal Party for most of the 1950s and up until his retirement in 1966. The ILGWU ended its support for the party after Dubinsky left office.

Other social and cultural efforts

The ILGWU turned its attention to social and cultural matters at an early stage in its history, establishing a resort for union workers, a university that offered courses in union leadership skills, citizenship and the English language, and a health clinic. The Union also sponsored sports teams and musical groups, while union members staged the topical musical Pins and Needles
Pins and Needles
Pins and Needles is a musical revue with a book by Arthur Arent, Marc Blitzstein, Emmanuel Eisenberg, Charles Friedman, David Gregory, Joseph Schrank, Arnold B. Horwitt, John Latouche, and Harold Rome and music and lyrics by Rome...

. The ILGWU, following the lead of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, also developed housing for its members. The ILGWU, for a time, also owned radio station
Radio station
Radio broadcasting is a one-way wireless transmission over radio waves intended to reach a wide audience. Stations can be linked in radio networks to broadcast a common radio format, either in broadcast syndication or simulcast or both...

s in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 (WFDR-FM 104.3, now WAXQ
WAXQ is a radio station with a classic rock format in New York City. The station is owned by Clear Channel Communications.-WFDR:...

), Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 (KFMV 94.7, now KTWV
KTWV is a commercial radio station located in Los Angeles, California, broadcasting to the Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside–San Bernardino and Ventura County areas on 94.7 FM. KTWV airs a hybrid Smooth AC radio format branded as "94.7 The Wave"...

), and Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga is the fourth-largest city in the US state of Tennessee , with a population of 169,887. It is the seat of Hamilton County...

 (WVUN 100.7, now WUSY
WUSY "U.S. 101" is a commercial radio station licensed to Cleveland, Tennessee, USA, and broadcasting to the Chattanooga, Tennessee area...


Dubinsky was also active in the Jewish Labor Committee
Jewish Labor Committee
The Jewish Labor Committee is an American secular Jewish organization dedicated to promoting labor union interests in Jewish communities, and Jewish interests within unions. The organization is headquartered in New York City, with local/regional offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago...

, which the ILGWU, along with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, the Workmen's Circle and other groups, helped establish in 1934 to respond to Hitler's
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 rise to power and to defend the rights of European Jewry. After the war the ILGWU and other groups affiliated with the JLC helped arrange for adoptions of orphaned children who had survived the war. The JLC also played a part in the work of the AFL-CIO's Civil Rights Department.

Decline of the union

The union often saw itself, both before and during Dubinsky's years at the head of the union, as the savior of the industry, eliminating the cutthroat competition over wages that had made it unstable while making workers miserable. Dubinsky took pride in negotiating a contract in 1929 that contained no raises, but allowed the union to crack down on subcontractors who "chiseled". Dubinsky even claimed to have once turned down an employer's wage offer in negotiations as too costly to the employers, and therefore harmful to employees. Dubinsky summarized his attitude by saying that "workers need capitalism the way a fish needs water."

Policing the industry became much harder, however, as gangsters invaded the garment district. Both the employers and the union had hired gangsters during the strikes of the 1920s. Some of them, such as Louis "Lepke" Buchalter
Louis Buchalter
Louis "Lepke" Buchalter was a Jewish American mobster and head of the Mafia hit squad Murder, Inc. during the 1930s. After Dutch Schultz' request of the Mafia Commission for permission to kill his enemy, U.S. Attorney Thomas Dewey, the Commission decided to kill Schultz in order to prevent the hit...

, remained in the industry as labor racketeers who took over unions for the opportunities for raking off dues and extorting payoffs from employers with the threat of a strike. Some also became garment manufacturers themselves, driving away unions, other than those they controlled, by violence. While Dubinsky himself remained untouched by graft, a number of officers within the union were corrupted.

The ILGWU was unable, on the other hand, to prevent the flight of formerly unionized shops to other parts of the US or abroad, where unions were nonexistent and wages far lower. The garment industry is an exceptionally mobile one, requiring little capital, using easily carried equipment, and able to relocate its operations with little or no advance warning. The union lost nearly 300,000 members over twenty years to overseas manufacturing and runaway shops in the south.

In the meantime, the membership of the union changed from being predominantly Jewish and Italian to drawing on the latest wave of immigrant workers: largely from Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

, the Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a nation on the island of La Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands that are shared by two countries...

 and China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 in New York and other east coast cities and from Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

, and Asia in Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 and other western and southern centers of the industry. The leadership of the union had less and less in common with its membership and very often had no experience in the trade itself. The union won few gains in workers' wages and benefits in the years after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and gradually lost its ability to keep sweatshop conditions from returning, even in the former center of its strength in New York.

In the last decade of Dubinsky's tenure some of these new members began to rebel, protesting their exclusion from positions of power within the union. That rebellion failed: the established leadership had too strong a hold on the official structure of the union, in an industry in which members were scattered across a number of small shops and in which power was concentrated in the upper echelons of the union, rather than in the locals. Without the support of a mass movement that would have given the majority an effective voice, individual insurgents were either marginalized or co-opted.

The union also found it nearly impossible to organize garment workers in communities such as Los Angeles, even when going after established manufacturers such as Guess?
Guess is a American clothing line brand. Guess also markets other fashion accessories besides clothes, such as watches, jewelry and perfumes. The company also owns the line Marciano.-Founding:...

. Organizing on a shop by shop basis proved largely futile, given the proliferation of "fly by night" contractors, the number of workers willing to take striking or fired workers' jobs, the uncertain immigration status of many workers and the kinship connections that bound many workers to their foremen and other low-level managers. The union found itself in 1995 in nearly the same position that it had been in more than ninety years earlier, but without any prospect of the sort of mass upsurge that had produced the general strikes of 1909 and 1910.

The ILGWU merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in 1995, to form UNITE. That organization merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union to form UNITE HERE
UNITE HERE is a labor union in the United States and Canada with more than 265,000 active members The union's members work predominantly in the hotel, food service, laundry, warehouse, and casino gaming industries...


Look for the Union Label

The ILGWU sponsored a contest among its members in the 1970s for an advertising jingle to advocate buying ILGWU-made garments. The winner was Look for the union label. The commercial featuring the famous song was parodied on a late-1970s episode of Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live is a live American late-night television sketch comedy and variety show developed by Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol. The show premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, under the original title of NBC's Saturday Night.The show's sketches often parody contemporary American culture...

 in a fake commercial for The Dope Growers Union and parodied on the South Park
South Park
South Park is an American animated television series created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone for the Comedy Central television network. Intended for mature audiences, the show has become famous for its crude language, surreal, satirical, and dark humor that lampoons a wide range of topics...

episode "Freak Strike
Freak Strike
"Freak Strike" is the 3rd episode of the sixth season of the Comedy Central series South Park and the 82nd episode of the series overall. It originally aired on March 20, 2002.-Plot:...

" in a public service announcement calling for daytime talk shows to have real, physically deformed freaks on their shows instead of freaks who are actually "stupid trailer trash from the South".

The Union's "Look for the Union Label" song went as follows:
Look for the union label
When you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse,
Remember somewhere our union's sewing,
Our wages going to feed the kids and run the house,
We work hard, but who's complaining?
Thanks to the ILG, we're paying our way,
So always look for the union label,
It says we're able to make it in the USA!

See also

External links