On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day, and equal rights for women. Their ranks were broken up by the police. Fifty-one years later, March 8, 1908, their sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again, honoring the 1857 march, demanding the vote, and an end to sweatshops and child labor. The police were present on this occasion too.
The labor struggle in the US is an exciting one, but it traditionally concentrates on men. A little examination shows that women carried their weight and their share from the beginning, both supporting the men’s organizing and quite soon, after realizing that women’s needs were ignored in the existing unions, forming women’s caucuses or all women’s unions. The first all women strikes took place in the 1820’s in the New England tailoring trades.
The most famous of the early strikes took place at the Lowell cotton mills in Massachusetts. Here young women worked eighty-one hours a week for three dollars, one and a quarter of which went for room and board at the Lowell company boarding houses.
(Photo: Women corset workers on strike, 1937. From the collection of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union Photographs.)
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- When Women Occupied Congress (coolrevolution.net)