Memory in Cloth

Safety and Solidarity for New York City Garment Workers


Memory in Cloth: Safety and Solidarity for New York City Garment Workers celebrates the immigrant women and the sewing skills they used to strengthen historical memory and collective identity.  Memory quilts, union clothing to wear in parades, and the “collective ribbon” stitched in cloth and etched into metal for the Triangle Memorial all play a part in NYC garment workers’ fights for workplace safety, union organizing and solidarity. As the permanent memorial to the victims and survivors of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire is installed on NYU’s Brown Building, the images in this exhibit reflect the themes of the memorial.  We remember in order to improve the present factory conditions, safety on the job, worker organizing, and social unionism.

The organized garment workers before and after the tragedy of the Triangle Factory and the outpouring of public support sparked by the fire led to important new labor and safety laws. The Union Label was promoted as a symbol of fair working conditions. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union embraced a culture of “social unionism”—fighting for decent working conditions while organizing for community issues such as education, health care, immigrants’ rights. The 1982 Chinatown garment workers’ strike was a notable example of social unionism as it made its mark on the union and community even 40+ years later.

Memory in Cloth highlights ILGWU history and the sewing skills and creativity that the garment workers, artists and activists have used to preserve historical memory and create solidarity. It was on display at NYU’s Tamiment Library n Fall 2023, to coincide with the dedication of the new permanent Triangle Factory Fire memorial.