March 16, 1966
General Executive Board
International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union
52nd Street and Seventh Avenue
New York, New York
My dear colleagues,
As you probably known, since the age of 15 my life has been spent in the labor movement. From this movement I got my moral and spiritual nourishment. It has provided the guide for my life, giving it direction and purpose in helping workers to achieve a better life.
The principal arena of my life has been our union which I joined in June 1911 at the age of 19. Although I had participated in other sections of the movement here and abroad, it was in 1916 that I became active in the union. I served in many capacities in our union before I was entrusted with the presidency in 1932. Up until this very moment, my life has been wrapped up in the problems and the growth of our union.
To me, as to many other leaders of our union, serving the ILGWU has not been a career-it has been our life's work. Beyond all of my struggles through the years-the many complex problems, fighting off enemies, suffering setbacks and pushing forward on new frontiers-I have always had the vision of a Great Union-great not only in numbers and resources, in contributions to the community and labor movement but great also-and especially-in the enrichment of the spiritual as well as the material life of the individual worker.
Having devoted my life to our union and the labor movement since my early youth, I came to feel, prior to the 1959 convention, that it was time to give up the cares and burdens and the heavy responsibilities of my office-and I gave serious thought to retiring. Frankly, I wanted more time for my family and for myself in the remaining years of my life.
However, as you will recall, we came to that convention confronted by a number of new, developing problems.
Local 25 had been made the target of an anti-trust indictment. The strong anti-labor bias of the charges was further emphasized by their being linked with unfounded allegations of racketeering. Basic protective provisions of our agreements were alleged to be monopolistic, unfair trade practices.
Actually, these provisions were first formulated in the mid-twenties by a special commission appointed by New York's Governor Al Smith. The commission included such distinguished public-spirited citizens as Herbert H. Lehman, Prof. Lindsay Rogers, George Gordon Battle, Bernard L. Sheintag and Arthur D. Wolf. Their recommendations have withstood many challenges, even a case before the Federal Trade Commission shortly before the Local 25 indictment.
This was a politically-motivated attempt by the then national Republican administration to besmirch the reputation of our union. It would have seriously undermined the basic structure of our collective arrangements upon which the livelihood and the security of workers depended not only in our industry but also in the other needle trades. I considered it my duty, irrespective of my personal needs and wishes, to see to it that our union was vindicated, that the unwarranted attack was exposed and our vital interests were protected.
We had also begun to make real progress toward the merging of our 41 retirement funds. This was a big task, seriously affecting our members. I was determined to complete this task but at the time I didn't think it would take six years.
Another problem of deep concern was created by the union-within-the-union. I considered this a direct challenge to a vital trade union principle. It also created a potentially serious threat to the internal unity of our union, similar to the bitter experience we had with the Communists in the twenties.
It was followed by the politically-motivated Congressional (Powell-Zelenko) investigation. This was an attempt to smear our union's outstanding record in civil rights and racial equality. Unjustified and wholly unfounded charges were made that our union had discriminated against Negro and Puerto Rican workers.
As you know, these extraordinary and crucial problems have been resolved.
First, the indictment against Local 25 was thrown out of court. Our union was completely vindicated. The structure of our collective relationships was preserved. We defeated this trumped-up charge just as we defeated similar frame-up attempts earlier in our union's history.
Second, the false charge of racial discrimination levelled [sic] against us by the so-called Congressional investigation collapsed under the crushing weight of our union's long record of dedication to the cause of civil and human rights. In fact, the Powell-Zelenko committee never even filed a report with the Congress.
Third, we finally succeeded in bringing about the creation of the ILGWU National Retirement Fund-a major landmark in the welfare program of our union.
Finally, only last September, a decision by the Circuit Court of Appeals had the effect of liquidating the problem of the union-within-the-union (FOUR) thus ending this effort to divide and disrupt our organization.
While we were dealing with these problems, new challenges arose in our industry. Giant firms with diversified production began to spread. We became concerned with their affect [sic] on old firms and established standards. We studied these new developments and at our 1965 Convention we took long range action to deal with them.
We established a Master Agreements Department to deal with these giant firms that cut across traditional industries and organizational lines.
We adopted guide lines for future collective bargaining. While these are not a cure-all for all of our complex industrial problems, they have already shown their beneficial effect in recent negotiations.
We strengthened job security for our members by developing the idea of levels of employment. This insures that growing and expanding firms share their increased production equitably between their old workers and their new ones.
These achievements-like all the other achievement in the 34 years I have been President of our ILGWU-are the result of the good fortune I have had in enjoying the confidence, the respect and cooperation of my colleagues on the General Executive Board as well as of all other officers and members. This has been the major factor in our success in overcoming threats to our union whether by Communists seeking to infiltrate our ranks or by other political enemies.
In the recent mayoralty election in New York, elements hostile to our union and envious of its achievements-inside and outside the labor movement-tried to exploit differences of opinion among our top leadership. But we disappointed them by proving that we were right in our policy and by emerging from the experience solidly united.
Now, with no major problems of an emergency nature confronting our union, I feel justified in turning again to personal considerations. I have decided to retire and I hereby submit to the General Executive Board my resignation as President of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
In handing back to you the reins of my office, I wish to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the members of the General Executive Board, to the managers of the locals, to our officers and members for their never-failing faith in me and in our union and for their understanding help through the years.
It is mainly because of this cooperation, this unity, that together we have been able to achieve higher standards and a better life for our members and the prestige and high standing of our union in the labor movement, in local communities, in the nation and even abroad.
For their loyalty and cooperation, I express my appreciation to the many members of the staff who have been imbued with the spirit of our union and have made their contributions to its progress.
On other occasions I have said-and I repeat it here-I am what I am because of the union. I shall always be grateful for the opportunity given to me to be of service to others.
I leave the Presidency of our union with the conviction that it is strong, stable, influential and widely respected, that it is firmly rooted in the ideals and principles of the pioneers who preceded me, who founded it and fought and struggled to build and preserve it. It is a union that is demonstrating its ability to adjust to changing conditions.
I am confident that you will extend my successor the same measure of cooperation that you have always extended to me. With a united organization, he will continue the work of my predecessors and myself in upholding the traditions of our union and in leading it to new successes for the benefit of our members and the greater prestige of our union.
I want to assure him of my wholehearted support and my readiness at all times to assist in any possible way.
Since I am aware that for you this decision comes unexpectedly, I know how you feel. Nevertheless, I urge you to respect my wishes. I am planning to go on vacation and I will leave for Europe within the month. Therefore, I request that you accept my resignation and that my retirement take effect April 12, 1966.
I suggest that you proceed immediately to elect my successor. After you have elected him, and before the adjournment of this meeting, it would be a great privilege if you would permit me to install the next President of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.