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July 7: The Great Revolt

July 7, 2011

The Cloakmakers Strike, known as the “Great Revolt” and involving more than 50,000 workers, began in New York with a mass walk-out on this date in 1910. The strike had been carefully planned by the new ILGWU, which had learned a great deal from the previous year’s “Uprising of the 20,000,” the strike of women shirtwaist makers. Among the striking cloakmakers, some 10 percent were women, and a third were Italian, the rest Jewish. Their demands were for union recognition and a closed-shop system (ie., all workers in a given factory must belong to the union), a 48-hour work week, double pay for overtime, and abolition of the “inside contractor” system. Their strike met with bitter resistance from the larger garment companies, which hit the workers with thuggery, arrests, injunctions, and police violence. The Women’s Trade Union League provided more than 200,000 quarts of milk to strikers’ children. In October, 2010, Louis Brandeis entered the fray as an arbitrator and managed to create “The Protocol of Peace,” which ended the strike. Brandeis, however, was an opponent of the “closed shop,” and the ILGWU’s failure to insist on this stipulation enabled employers to violate the terms of the Protocol with regularity.

“The Protocol of Peace marked a decisive turning point [because] . . . its basic idea was later copied by the other needle trades . . . and in time its influence spread throughout American industry. . . It introduced the notion that labor had a stake in efficient management, continuous prosperity and social responsibility. The Protocol assumed a benevolent partnership between capital and labor . . .”—Benjamin Stolberg