We Are One
The 1982 Chinatown Garment Workers Strike
SECTION 2: The Organizers—Committee to Defend the Union Contract
In the spring of 1982 the ILGWU negotiated a contract renewal with hundreds of employers covering nearly 150,000 garment workers along the north east coast. All had agreed upon a contract save for the contractors belonging to a Chinatown association of garment manufacturers. The union made the choice to continue working without a contract and approach the employers individually.
The Committee to Defend the Union Contract was formed, with hundreds of worker volunteers signing up thousands of members to support the contract. Using Chinese/English language leaflets, phone banks and media outreach, they engaged the community and countered the contractors’ “us versus them” narrative, which emphasized the common ground for Chinese contractors and workers versus the union leaders and the large clothing manufacturers.
The Local 23-35 newsletter that summer includes great images of the behind-the-scenes work. The images below show union leaders and worker organizers galvanizing the crowd at the rallies.
Organizer/interpreter Shiree Teng, Columbus Park, 1982. Courtesy of Kheel Center, Cornell University.
Speakers at the ILGWU Chinatown rally in Columbus Park, including Shui Mak Ka (left). Courtesy of Kheel Center, Cornell University.
Garment worker volunteers at Columbus Park Rally, 1982—note the jackets made of Union Label fabric. Photograph by Corky Lee, courtesy of Estate of Corky Lee.
Wing Fong Chin in Columbus Park. Courtesy of Winifred Chin.
Jay Mazur, Local 23-25 manager, speaking onstage at Columbus Park. Courtesy of Kheel Center, Cornell University.
Sol Chaiken, ILGWU president, speaking on stage in Columbus Park, behind him, from l to r: Tony Scuito, Asst Manager Local 23-25; Harry Van Arsdale, President, NYC Central Labor Council; Celia Flores, Vice Chair, Local 23-25 Executive Board; Jay Mazur, Manager, Local 23-25; Wing Fong Chin, Chair Local 23-25 Executive Board. Courtesy of Kheel Center, Cornell University.
Masegale (Dudu) Monnapulla at Columbus park rally. Photograph by Corky Lee, courtesy of Estate of Corky Lee.