Municipal Government

Spotlight on American Labor History

April 17, 2017
By Bill Hohlfeld

Bill Hohlfeld

The Clothes We Wear
Last night’s “Spotlight” piece was about the International Ladies Garment Workers Union Strike of 1916. Let me cut to the chase right here. They won. They got higher pay, better conditions and union recognition. Let’s think about that fact for a moment.

The strike was organized and orchestrated by women, who were still quite literally second class citizens. It would be another four years until they would be granted the right to vote. They were immigrants. Mostly Jewish and Italian, and newcomers to our shores, they had no clout, political power or machine to back them up. They stood pretty much on the lower rungs of the working class ladder, and they knew it. But, I repeat. They won. The question is: Why?

Some would call it stubbornness. Some would call it courage. For most, I imagine it would be a burning desire to cut themselves a bigger slice of the American pie. However many individual motives and characteristics that were involved, there was a cement that bound them together. In union language, it’s called solidarity. That seems, at least at times, to be sorely lacking these days. And for organized labor, that’s a problem.

Now, one might argue that the world’s economy is far more complicated than it once was, and that is an undeniable fact. With globalization and its subsequent race to the bottom, manufacturing,  of clothing in particular, has morphed in ways we never would have imagined What is not true, however, is the claim that “you can’t get anything made here anymore.” I know it isn’t true, because I have the clothes in my closet to prove it. My U.S. Wings leather jacket, my three piece Joseph Aboud suit, my Stormy Kromer shirts and my Union Line denim jacket are just a few examples. I could name more.

I will grant you that I have to work a little harder to find what I want sometimes. Usually, I have to pay a bit of a premium. But regardless of all that, in addition to much of my clothing, my car, my kitchen appliances, my briefcase and even my watch, proudly wear the sticker: Made in the USA, and much of it is union made. So in commemoration of that ILGWU strike of April 1916 I’m sending out a challenge to all the LaborPress readers. Make it your business to buy at least one American made product in the next month or so. Nag your friends to do the same thing. Shame them into it if you must. It may take a little longer, or cost a little more, but it will give you something you may not have felt in a while. It will give you a sense of solidarity. you will know you played your part in a fight that is much larger than any of us can handle on our own. That feeling is solidarity.

Here’s a link to get you started. (If you don’t find what you want here, keep looking. There are plenty more.)

April 17, 2017

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