We Are One
The 1982 Chinatown Garment Workers Strike
SECTION 4: Legacy—Culture of Solidarity
A culture of solidarity among workers, though at times more aspirational than real, was a signature feature of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union throughout the twentieth century.
The 1982 strike was a watershed moment—particularly for the immigrant Chinese women garment workers—many of them wives/mothers. These seldom-heard women workers were emboldened. They became more active in community organizations, particularly around schools and healthcare. Their concerns were taken seriously in the union, as child care centers and the immigration project grew.
The decline of clothing manufacturing in the US began well before the strike, and the trend has only gathered momentum in the decades since.
The lasting impact of the 1982 strike can also be detected in the children and grandchildren of strikers and organizers. Many of them went to college, and some have now returned to enrich and spark positive change in the neighborhoods they grew up in and advocate for garment workers around the world.
• A poem by Alina Shen (opens in new window)
Local 23-25 ILGWU members at a protest against racial discrimination in Chinatown on June 21, 1992. Part of the 1992 Campaign for Economic Justice at Foley Square. Courtesy of Museum of Chinese in America.
Labor Day Parade circa 1989, left to right Katie Quan, Wai Chun Ng, 3 children of members, Mei Yung Liew, Cindy Sai Leung, Yuk Ling Tang, Mary Chin, Yuk Lin Sun, Mei Yin Tsang, Lana Cheung and Anna Ng. Note the wide range of the marchers’ ages, the fact that they are carrying American flags and that they have carefully coordinated their matching apparel. Photograph by George Colon, courtesy of George Colon and Kathy Andrade.
Local 23-25 quilt featuring union's cultural initiatives, circa late 1980s. Private collection, photograph of quilt by Teddy Fung. This remarkable quilt was made by members of Local 23-25 who belonged to the Chinese and the Hispanic committees of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). It was produced under the direction of organizer Kathy Andrade and presented to the president of the ILGWU at the union's convention in the late 1980s.
Detail: square commemorating the 1982 strike.
Katie Quan, Shu Mak Ka,Wing Fong Chin, Betty Leung and Po Ling Ng at Chinatown garment workers strike 30th Anniversary event at the Museum of Chinese in America. Photograph courtesy of MOCA.
Audience at Museumof Chinese in America 30th Anniversary event. Photograph courtesy of MOCA.
Young child in a union hat. Photograph by Corky Lee, courtesy of Estate of Corky Lee.
A new generation listens to Shu Mak Ka (Mrs Ka) at a panel about garment workers history at Wing On Wo on Mott Street in Chinatown, 2019. Photograph by Marion Aguas, courtesy of the Wing On Wo Project.
Joy Mao created this “Hundred Families Robe” in collaboration with the Chinatown community during her 2021 artist residency at Wing On Wo. Photograph by Mengwen Cao, courtesy of the W.O.W. Project.
Filmmaker Betty Yu created a five-minute video capturing the essence of the 1982 strike for the 2021 Triangle Fire Commemoration. Courtesy of Workers United and the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.