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The formation of the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union was somewhat of a miracle.

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Introduction

The formation of the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union was somewhat of a miracle. During the 1880's and 1890's ladies garments were made in small units and in countless, isolated sweatshops. A sweatshop was a makeshift factory, which was dimly lit and poorly ventilated. Impoverished people, mostly, women and children worked at top speed for more than twelve hours a day, cutting and sewing, often taking work home to make a small wage. These sweatshops became a major problem in the late 1800's when large numbers of immigrants poured into the country. The owners of the sweatshops took advantage of the immigrants' ignorance and poverty to get them to work for lower wages. After the introduction of the electric sewing machine in the mid 1890's, female workers dominated the garment industry. The new machines required less strength and skill to operate than the foot-powered model that it replaced, therefore that enabled unskilled women to obtain jobs formerly held by men. At the same time, machines for edge pressing, collars, and padding came into use. This enabled women to obtain jobs requiring special skills. Women quickly moved into new branches of the women's garment industry, producing shirt waists, wrappers, underwear and children's clothes in factories. ...read more.

Middle

(Stein, pg. 85) Although the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union was made up of mostly women, they were seldom found in the leadership positions above the lowest level. Helen Marot states in her book, "American Labor Unions," the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union is the third largest union affiliated with the American Federation. This union has jurisdiction over one of the largest fields in which women work. It is officered by men who believe that women make good strikers, but who have no confidence in their ability to handle union affairs." (Tax, pg. 239) Less than half a year after the shirtwaist strike was settled, fifty thousand cloakmakers were on the picket lines in a general industry strike. (Stein, pg. 87) In contrast to the previous strike, these employees were mostly men, family breadwinners fearful of the grim reality of hunger that a strike brings. Instead of settling their dispute by hundreds of shop agreements, the cloakmakers strike was resolved by a single Protocol of Peace in which workers and employees had bargained collectively. They set up uniform wage scales and minimums; an arbitration board to settle disputes and a Joint Board of Sanitary Control which was responsible for the health, safety and decent living standards of the garment workers. This Union victory caused the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union to grow in membership. ...read more.

Conclusion

From 1968 to the early 1990's the union lost more than 300,000 workers as a result of low cost imports and the transfer of factories overseas to such countries as Central America and Asia. (ILGWU, pg.1) The laborers in these countries work as cheaply as nine cents per hour. Due to this increased competition from foreign subcontractors sweatshops started to flourish once again in the United States. (Sweatshop Journal, pg. 31) In 1995 the 125,000 member ILGWU merged with the 175,000 member Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). (ILGWU, pg. 1-2) In general the public is not fond of striking workers. They are viewed as an annoyance and an inconvenience. Recently a transit strike in New York crippled thousands of commuters in their ability to get to work. Teachers strikes often inconvenience working parents when their children are out of school and must find temporary day care until the strike is settled. The public often fears crossing picket lines for fear of physical harm and harassment. Finally, the field of health care should not permit strikes or walk outs of any kind. This could be potentially dangerous to the lives of patients in hospitals and health care facilities. Additionally, occupations that affect large groups of people such as transportation should not be allowed to strike. The government should regulate them so that the population is not brought to a grinding halt. ...read more.

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