We Are One
The 1982 Chinatown Garment Workers Strike
SECTION 1: Factory Work and Union Culture—1970s and 1980s
To understand the strike we need to ask: What was the work like? How did union organizers create a culture of solidarity? Immigrants have always been key to a thriving garment industry in the U.S, and in the 1970s and 1980s the work was still hard on body and mind, conditions often unsafe, and wages not sufficient. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union, a leader in advocating for immigrant rights, was active in Chinatown in many of the ways it had been in the Lower East Side decades before. Classes to improve English fluency, assistance with citizenship applications, and a variety of social and cultural activities all helped engage workers. There were 25,000 Chinese garment workers in NYC by 1980; more than 80 percent were women; unlike the Jewish and Italian young women who came before, most of these workers in Chinatown were married.
Chinese American Voters League of the Local 23-25 ILGWU, Kathy Andrade at far left. Photograph by Emile Bocian, courtesy of Museum of Chinese in America.
Voter registration 1970s. Wing Fong Chin papers, courtesy of Tamiment/NYU.
ILGWU members in Labor Day parade, with banner reading “We’re Proud Naturalized U.S. Citizens and Voters,” circa 1980s. Photograph by George Colon, courtesy of George Colon and Kathy Andrade.
Labor Day parade, ILGWU members wear clothing made from fabric with the union label and carry signs calling for support of undocumented workers, circa 1981. Photograph by George Colon, courtesy of George Colon and Kathy Andrade.
ILGWU English language class taught by Daniel Lam at space in the Transfiguration Parochial School in Chinatown, circa 1980s. Photograph by George Colon, courtesy of George Colon and Kathy Andrade.
Factory Worker, 1984. Photograph by Paul Calhoun, courtesy of Museum of Chinese in America.
Men working in a shirt press factory, 1979-1982. Photograph by Paul Calhoun, courtesy of Museum of Chinese in America.
A garment worker iron pressing pants, 1976-1985. Photograph by Robert Glick, courtesy of Museum of Chinese in America.