Labor Pains - The Birth of a Contract

This exhibit presents excerpts from the pamphlet, "The Story of the First Contract," published by the Hotel and Motel Trades Council of New York in 1972 on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of its first labor agreement covering New York City's hotel workers. The pamphlet tells of the early struggles of these workers, the birth of their union and the signing of the first of a series of contract that established the wages and working conditions they enjoy today.

The exhibit also shows how the union used a variety of artistic techniques to help convey its message. Except for the first painting, all of the photographs and drawings used in this exhibit are from "The Story of the First Contract."

Portrait of Jay Rubin painted
by Raphael Soyer.
Pamphlet cover: "the story of the
first contract."

The 35th anniversary celebration of the Hotel and Motel Trades Council was held before a packed Madison Square Garden. Founding president Jay Rubin said that "above all, with the signing of the first contract, we brought dignity to one of the most depressed and exploited categories of workers."

Jay Rubin addressing the June 1, 1972
Hotel Workers' Rally.
Cartoon of worker carrying a tray as
he slinks past the table.

President Rubin wrote that in the years before they had a contract the workers "were regarded as servants who were entitled to no rights and who probably wouldn't know how to exercise them anyway."

1912, the same year in which the cartoon appeared was also the year of the first general strike of New York City's hotel and restaurant workers. It started at noon on May 7, and within two weeks, some 18,000 hotel and restaurant workers were on strike.

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