Today in Labor History – November 22nd

Ladies_tailors_strikers

The “Uprising of the 20,000,”occurred in New York, as female garment workers went struck for better pay and an end to sweatshop working conditions. 19-year-old Clara Lemlich, who led the strike, said she had no patience for talk and called for her coworkers to join in a General Strike. Their strike won some gains for workers, like a raise and a reduction in work hours to 52 hours per week, but did not end sweatshop conditions in the industry. During the strike, a Judge told arrested picketers,”You are on strike against God.” – 1909

In the black of the winter of nineteen-nine
When we froze & bled on the picket line,
We showed the world that women could fight
& we rose & won with women’s might.

Hail the waistmakers of nineteen-nine
Making their stand on the picket line,
Breaking the power of those who reign,
Pointing the way, smashing the chain.

The district president of the American Federation of Labor and two other white men are shot and killed in Bogalusa, Al. as they attempt to assist an African-American organizer working to unionize African-American workers at the Great Southern Lumber Co. – 1919

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One thought on “Today in Labor History – November 22nd

  1. From “Hellraiser — Mother Jones: An Historical Novel”

    In 1909 I go to New York to help the striking shirtwaist workers in New York by encouraging them with many speeches. Most of the shirtwaist workers are non-English speaking Europeans.

    The New York strike becomes one of the most proud accomplishments I have ever witnessed. A unified force of working women show the power of their sex and their class. And they prevail.
    After a long and painful strike on both sides of the battle, the women return to work with better wages, hours and benefits. And safer conditions.

    But, as is often the way in American discourse, there is always an exception. In this case it’s the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in the heart of Manhattan, within a few blocks of the den of thieves they call Wall Street.
    The citywide strike actually started in the Triangle sweatshop. In the end Triangle refused to settle and is allowed to continue its notorious abuse of immigrant women in the workplace.
    Among the abuses is a company policy of locking all but one exit door on the eighth and ninth floors of the multi-use building where two hundred seventy-five girls, many of them not yet teenagers, toil twelve hours a day at their sewing machines. Some bring their infants to work due to the lack of anyone being available to look after them.

    The locked doors policy is, according to the managers, to prevent girls from stealing anything of value when they leave work. Needles, threads, material, maybe a shirtwaist or two to sell on the streets to supplement their meager incomes.

    But to labor advocates, those locked doors are a hazard to the safety of Triangle employees and the union is on record with its opinion.

    On Saturday, March 11, 1910, these girls are gathering their belongings at the end of a long day’s work. An explosion is heard and a fire erupts that cannot be quickly controlled with the twenty-seven buckets of water that sit on the floors, the only defense provided by the company in case of a fire.

    The fire quickly blocks the only open door and the only fire escape collapses with workers clinging to it. Other workers climb over each other to reach the elevator, which is the only escape left to the lower floors. Those who cannot get on the elevator fling themselves down the elevator shaft in hopes of landing on top of the car. Others jump from windows where firemen and passersby try to break their falls to save them.
    Fire hoses are useless because they can only shoot water as high as the windows on the sixth and seventh floors. When the fire is out, the bodies of these poor unfortunate women and children are lined up on the sidewalk, and onlookers file by to get a glimpse of the horror brought on by a capitalist economy out of control. Press photographers are having a heyday.

    By nightfall, one hundred forty-six employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory are counted dead.

    http://www.jerryash.com

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