...he had therefore agreed that some sort of temporary accord between the socialists and the anarchists was advisable, if only for the evening, the funds raised for the occasion would go to support the shirtwaist makers, who were then on strike, and the steelworkers and McKeesport, Pennsylvania, who were on strike, and the anarchist Francisco Ferrer, who was going to be condemned and executed by the Spanish government for fomenting a general strike in Spain.
Led by Clara Lemlich and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, or the Uprising of the 20,000, took place from November 1909 to March 1911. Women in the garment industry, New York's largest industry, were severely mistreated, working up to 75 hours a week, required to pay for their own equipment, their clothes lockers, and even the seats they sat upon. The toilets were outside of the building, separated from the workroom by padlocked steel doors so that the women must ask for permission to go to the bathroom.
Seventy percent of the shirtwaist factories was Jewish women. Many of these immigrant women had been a part of the Bund, the General Jewish Worker's Union in Russia and Poland, so they were no stranger to organized labor. After the ILGWU called for a strike to improve working conditions and unionize the shirtwaist factories, the one thousand who responded to the strike appeal paid bitterly. They were taunted, threatened, and even arrested. Morale weakened after five weeks of a feeble strike. In November the ILGWU called for an emergency meeting to raise morale and continue the strike, at which Clara Lemlich, a 19 year-old Jewish worker, outshone the male speakers by delivering an impromptu speech in Yiddish that appealed for united action against all shirtwaist manufacturers. "In an industry with some 32,000 workers..., over 20,000 shirtwaist workers--all women--joined the Triangle strikers in a citywide walkout."
In the first month of the strike, 723 girls were arrested. The press, the clergy, women's suffrage leaders, and many upper-class New Yorkers lent support to the shirtwaist strikers. Many wealthy women provided bail money and even marched with the strikers on the picket lines. The shirtwaist management "had lost the war of public opinion".
Finally, the management consented to negotiate. Under the new terms, the workweek was reduced to 52 hours, four paid holidays were provided, employees were no longer required to provide their own tools, and a joint grievance committee was created to negotiate any further issues. The successful strike was an important milestone for the American labor movement and especially for garment industry unions.
Dramaturgy for the Ragtime musical and novel.
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