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June 3: The ILGWU

June 3, 2011

The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) was founded on this date in 1900, bringing together several smaller labor groups representing Jewish and Italian workers, predominantly young women. They “worked nine-hour days,” writes Cody Bay, “probably crammed into some moldy basement with locked doors and a complete dickhead for a boss who was likely also a mobster.” Wages were about $3 a week, the equivalent of about $77 today, some of which had to be kicked back to bosses to pay for electricity and thread. The ILGWU mounted strikes (which were met with violence) in 1909 and 1910, and grew rapidly after the 1911 Triangle Fire disaster. David Dubinsky served as president of the union for 32 years until 1966, by which time it had some 450,000 members.

“The bosses set themselves up as your fathers, and punish you by slapping you in the face, just like your father does.” — Rose Schneiderman, 1913