International Women’s Day

When people think of the garment industry, they often think of sweatshops and the subjugation of peoples. What people seem to forget is that the struggles for worker’s rights was birthed in the garment industry. In other words, not only was the garment industry the foci of labor abuses within a newly industrialized society, it was also the gestation of the labor movement. Accordingly, there is a historical dichotomy of progressive action within our industry. It has not been one way. There has always been leadership within the industry mindful of their responsibilities of social stewardship. Less known are errants who have mended their ways with acts of contrition in attempts of redemption.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the establishment of International Women’s Day.

The first IWD was observed on 28 February 1909 in the United States following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Among other relevant historic events, it commemorates the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (New York, 1911), where over 140 women lost their lives. The idea of having an international women’s day was first put forward at the turn of the 20th century amid rapid world industrialization and economic expansion that led to protests over working conditions. Women from clothing and textile factories staged one such protest on 8 March 1857 in New York City. The garment workers were protesting what they saw as very poor working conditions and low wages. The protesters were attacked and dispersed by police. These women established their first labor union in the same month two years later.[link]

Few will ever forget the immense tragedy of the impetus for labor rights, namely the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in which 146 garment workers died. Some expired in the flames, others jumped to their deaths. As ever, the factory employed mostly immigrant workers. Behind the scenes, sans press releases eschewing public redemption, the descendants of the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory have been quietly buying up houses across the country, funding the establishment of halfway houses for women transitioning out of domestic abuse shelters. I know. I lived in one.

Sadly and somewhat resentfully, I suggest we need more of this and less of this.

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  1. Karen C. says:

    Thanks, Kathleen, for reminding people that it is International Women’s Day. I usually send out e-cards and also express sentiments on this day to all the women I encounter–and most have no idea that there is even a day for women. However, I did not now it came out of the labor movement and especially born from the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Thanks for the education.

    Also, thanks for the shout out about Curtis and his music. Was just listening to him this morning (“Move on Up”). Also, did not know that he wrote that song for a march on Washington. Love the info and education.

    Oh, and Happy International Women’s Day to you.

  2. anne says:

    The history of the labour movement in Australia is somewhat different; it grew out of the shearer’s strikes in the late 1890s (around the time when women in South Australia were granted the vote), and the International Harvester decision, where a judge decreed that workers (ok, men) were entitled to at least a minimum wage sufficient to sustain a man, his wife and children.

    The current right-wing government has recently abolished over one hundred years of proud history, and now the balance is all in favour of the employer; and women’s pay rates have been sliding backwards.

    I love your story of the Triangle Shirtwaist houses – it’s wonderful what they’ve done!

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