Explore the ILGWU's rich history through the Kheel Center's timeline.
- 1900 (June 3).
International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) is formed. At the founding convention, there were eleven delegates from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Newark, representing roughly 2000 members. The delegates elected Herman Grossman president and Bernard Braff general secretary-treasurer of the new union.
First ILGWU local union in Chicago is formed. This local, Chicago Cloakmakers' Union Local 5, went out of existence in 1904, and was followed by several local ILGWU unions that came and went out of existence. Beginning in 1909 with the establishment of Chicago Cloakmakers' Union Local 44, the ILGWU's presence in the Windy City was more stable.
The Amalgamated Ladies' Garment Cutters' Union Local 10 in New York, is formed. Three presidents of the ILGWU began their careers with this historically powerful union: James McCauley (1904-1905), Julian Mortimer (1907-1908), and David Dubinsky (1932-1966).
Women’s Trade Union League is formed. The WTUL worked with the ILGWU to support strikers in later years, most notably in the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, also known as the "Uprising of 20,000."
Benjamin Schlesinger becomes President of the ILGWU.
James McCauley becomes President of the ILGWU.
At the 1905 convention, the ILGWU establishes death, disability, and strike benefits under central union control, marking the beginning of increased centralization of union operations.
Herman Grossman again becomes president of the ILGWU.
First ILGWU local in Los Angeles is founded. This local went out of existence after only a few months. With the formation of Local 52 in 1910 or 1911, the ILGWU's presence in Los Angeles began to grow.
Julian Mortimer becomes President of the ILGWU.
Charles Jacobson serves as Acting President of the ILGWU.
Abraham Rosenberg becomes President of the ILGWU. His "Memoirs of a Cloakmaker" will be the source for many accounts of the early period of the union.
The “Uprising of 20,000” begins. In October, the officers of Local 25 launch the idea of a general strike in the garment sector. The agitation spreads, and on November 22, at Cooper Union, in front of thousands of assembled workers, 23-year old Clara Lemlich calls for the general strike and takes the Jewish oath. The audience enthusiastically endorses her motion and the so-called "Uprising of the 20,000" begins. It lasted 13 weeks and resulted in a contract establishing higher wages for 15,000 workers.
Cloakmakers in New York City go on strike, and their action becomes known as "The Great Revolt." Louis Brandeis helped to develop the "Protocol of Peace" between the ILGWU and the Manufacturers' Protective Association, by which the union gained higher wages, recognition, and a system for dealing with grievances.
First issue of Ladies’ Garment Worker is published. The Ladies' Garment Worker was the official organ of the ILGWU from 1910 through 1918, and it included sections in Yiddish, English, and Italian.
- 1911 (March 25).
A fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City causes the death of 146 garment workers. Some workers at the factory were Local 25 members and had participated in the strike the year before. The fire will serve as a catalyst for unionization and public support for occupational health and safety standards.
- 1911 (June 6).
Cleveland strike is called. This marks the ILGWU's first major campaign outside of the New York metropolitan area.
The Union Health Center is established in New York City. The Union Health Center provided medical, dental, and prescription services to ILGWU members. While the first of these centers was in New York City, Union Health Centers and later, Mobile Health Centers, opened in cities and rural communities throughout the United States.
Benjamin Schlesinger becomes President of the ILGWU.
“Trial of Seven Cloakmakers.” Murder charges are brought against Morris Sigman and other cloakmakers. Morris Hillquit served as defense attorney, and the seven cloakmakers were found not guilty October 8.
Fannia Cohn becomes first female Vice President of the ILGWU.
The ILGWU's Workers University at the Washington Irving High School in New York City opens. Making educational courses available to its members was an early priority of the ILGWU, and the international's Educational Department and local unions partnered with each other and schools to offer classes on labor relations, history, art, and other subjects.
First issues of Justice are published. The successor to the Ladies' Garment Worker, the new organ of the ILGWU continued to publish in English, Yiddish, and Italian. Justice remained the ILGWU's official organ until the union's merger with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) in 1995.
Locals 22 and 25 purchase Unity House in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The international union later purchased Unity House, and the resort became an affordable vacation destination for all ILGWU members and their families.
Salvatore Ninfo serves as Acting President of the ILGWU.
Morris Sigman becomes President of the ILGWU.
The ILGWU calls a general cloakmakers strike. Lines of support of and opposition to the strike were drawn along Communist and anti-Communist lines. The strike was generally considered a loss for the union, as its strike funds were heavily depleted by the ordeal, and the resulting contract did not afford gains to union members.
Benjamin Schlesinger becomes President of the ILGWU
ILGWU has 31,000 members
David Dubinsky becomes President of the ILGWU
ILGWU has 198,000 members
- 1933 (August 16-19).
Dress general strike begins in New York City.
Jewish Labor Committee formed to organize anti-Nazi activities. The ILGWU was one of several organizations represented at the JLC's founding, and David Dubinsky served as the JLC's first treasurer. Throughout its history, the ILGWU worked closely with the JLC to provide aid to persecuted European trade unionists.
The ILGWU Cotton Garment and Miscellaneous Trades Department is created, with Elias Reisberg as its director. It covered Pennsylvania (excluding Philadelphia), Massachusetts (excluding Boston), New York State north of Albany, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and parts of New Jersey. The department was renamed the Northeast Department in 1946.
ILGWU helps to form Committee for Industrial Organization, precursor to the CIO.
American Labor Party is founded. ILGWU officers David Dubinsky, Luigi Antonini, and Isidore Nagler played roles in the formation of the ALP, and the ILGWU was a strong supporter of the party's candidates for a period.
ILGWU has 240,000 members.
ILGWU is expelled from the American Federation of Labor.
Pins and Needles opens at the Labor Stage Theater in New York City. This enormously popular musical was also a political satire, performed by union members and a few professional actors.
Death Benefit Fund is established to provide financial support to beneficiaries of union members who had passed away.
Research Department formed. This department supported and coordinated the union’s administrative and investigative operations, provided information on wages, working conditions, economic conditions, and other matters in the women’s garment industry, and collected and housed documents from Union administrative staff that were deemed substantive and of lasting value to the Union, whether produced internally or externally. The information gathered by the Department was of particular value during labor disputes and contract negotiations.
ILGWU withdraws from the CIO.
ILGWU is reinstated in the AFL.
Italian-American Labor Council is formed to support the United States' effort in World War II, and advocate for Italians in America. ILGWU Vice-President Luigi Antonini was the IALC's founding director; E. Howard Molisani and Salvatore Ninfo were also significant in the formation and work of the IALC. Around this time, the ILGWU had a sizable Italian membership and chartered several Italian-language local unions.
- 1941 (July 22).
Management-Engineering Department is established. This department was charged with assisting in the improvement of manufacturing techniques and operating methods, as well as providing information on “fair rate pieces.”
Upper South Department is established. As the ILGWU organized a growing number of workers in the major garment manufacturing centers in the Northeast, shops moved to other parts of the country where workers could be hired for lower wages. The establishment of the Southeast Department was one of the ILGWU's efforts to organize these "runaway" shops.
ILGWU Headquarters move to 1710 Broadway.
ILGWU negotiates first contract that includes a retirement plan with Industrial council of Cloak and Suit Manufacturers, the Merchants Ladies’ Garment Association, and the Infants’ and Childrens’ Coat Association.
Liberal Party is founded. After David Dubinsky withdrew support from the American Labor Party, he played a central role in the founding of the Liberal Party. Soon after, the ILGWU's General Executive Board, too, endorsed the new political party.
International Labor Relations Department is established “to implement the union’s interests in the international labor movement.” Jay Lovestone is named director.
Free Trade Union Committee of the American Federation of Labor is formed to support the establishment and strengthening of non-Communist trade unions outside of the United States. Though the FTUC was not a project of the ILGWU per se, the ILGWU and its officers were major supporters of the committee's work. Jay Lovestone was named secretary.
ILGWU Staff Retirement Fund is established “to provide pension program for its officers and administrative staff”
Health and Welfare Department is formed.
Legal Department is formed.
Political Department is formed. Gus Tyler is named first director.
ILGWU-owned WFDR-FM airs its inaugural broadcast from New York City. Radio broadcasting was one way in which the ILGWU reached its members, and in addition to the station in New York City, the union owned radio stations in Tennessee and California for a time.
ILGWU organizer, William Lurye, is murdered in New York City. New York Post reported that 100,000 attended Lurye's funeral procession. Benedicto Macri was tried for murder and acquitted.
Feature film With These Hands opens and musical narrative My Name Is Mary Brown is performed at ILGWU's 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Convention in Atlantic City.
- 1950 (May 1).
ILGWU Training Institute is established, under the direction of Arthur A. Elder. The ILGWU Training Institute offered participants one year of intensive training in labor education and leadership. Graduates of the institute were then placed in staff positions with the union, such as organizer or business agent.
ILGWU has 423,321 members.
Northeast Department creates first Mobile Health Unit “to bring health services to members in scattered, small towns beyond the reach of its established, stationary health centers.”
Twenty-five local unions of the ILGWU have over 26,000 members of Puerto Rican or Spanish-speaking descent.
ILGWU policy of investing only in federal bonds is modified to permit investment in “FHA and VA guaranteed mortgages, in savings banks, and in our own East River Housing Corporation.” This change in policy facilitated the union's financial growth at mid-century, when membership reached its peak.
- 1955 (October 22).
Dedication of ILGWU Cooperative Village. Providing affordable housing to members and their families was one element of "social unionism," which involved the ILGWU in the civic, educational, and recreational lives of its members.
Investment Department is formed. Alexander Bookstaver appointed ILGWU controller.
First ILGWU local union is formed in Puerto Rico. Local 600 represents more than 3,000 workers in the corset and brassiere industry.
Southwest Region is formed, includes Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma. Sol Chaikin is named first director.
ILGWU staff member Henry Gonzalez is elected to the Texas Senate. He is the first Mexican American to win a seat in Texas.
ILGWU has 450,802 members.
ILGWU National Scholarship Fund is established, in honor of Dubinsky’s 25th anniversary as president of ILGWU. Through an annual competition, the fund provided support to college-bound students.
- 1957 (February).
ILGWU affiliates with AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department
Dressmakers general strike. This was the ILGWU's first general strike since 1933.
Union Label Department is established, charged with “the design of the label, creation of a control system, and promulgation of a promotion program.” Julius Hochman is named director. Since its formation, the ILGWU advocated for the use of a label to indicate garments made with union labor. Throughout its history, the ILGWU had groups and offices to address the use of the label, but the formation of the Union Label Department was the largest effort yet. The Union Label commercials for which the ILGWU would become well-known were still nearly twenty years away.
- 1958 (March 19).
Fire at Monarch Undergarment Company in New York City kills 24 workers. In the aftermath of the fire, the ILGWU and the New York City Fire Department sponsor a successful fire warden program, which involved thousands of union members in monitoring conditions in their workplaces and in exposing fire hazards. The ILGWU also introduced workplace safety measures in the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements.
Welfare Funds Control Department is formed, another indictor of the ILGWU's growth and centralization of operations. Arnold Bye is appointed the department's first director.
Eastern-Out-of-Town Department is renamed Eastern Region Department.
Publication of Spanish-language Justicia is expanded to 12 pages.
- 1959 (October 20).
ILGWU Hospital is dedicated in Beersheba, Israel.
Supplementary Unemployment Benefits Fund is established.
ILGWU non-clerical staff seek recognition of a union, Federation of Union Representatives (FOUR). David Dubinsky vociferously opposed the effort, and the ILGWU never formed a union of organizers, business agents, and officers.
Political and Educational Department merge to become Political-Education Department. Education Department director Mark Starr retired that year, and the Gus Tyler was named to head the newly-formed department.
- 1961 (June 11).
ILGWU Wing of the Workmen’s Circle Home in the Bronx is dedicated.
- 1962 (May 19).
Dedication of ILGWU Cooperative Houses, Penn Station South. John F. Kennedy and other notable public figures were on hand to dedicate the opening of the ILGWU's second cooperative residence.
- 1962 (August).
House Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor hold hearings about racial and ethnic discrimination in the ILGWU. Herbert Hill, Labor Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was the key figure in this critique, focusing on discriminatory practices of Local 10.
Eastern Region Retirement Fund and 40 other ILGWU retirement funds merge to become the ILGWU National Retirement Fund on December 17, 1964, assets totaling $215 million.
Master Agreements Department is established. Wilbur Daniels is named director.
Thirteen Union Health Center and 6 Mobile Health Units in operation—the most in the union’s history.
Forty-one local and regional funds merge to form the National Retirement Fund.
The General Executive Board votes to sever relations with Workmen’s Circle Home, because 6 non-Jewish ILGWU members were denied admission.
David Dubinsky retires. He becomes head of the newly-formed Department of Retiree Services.
Louis Stulberg becomes President of the ILGWU.
Central Organization Department formed “as coordinator of ILGWU organizing efforts that involve firms in more than one ILGWU jurisdiction.” Douglas Levin is named director.
- 1966 (October 25).
Workers at Kellwood Corporations Ottenheimer Division (Little Rock, Arkansas) go on strike. The strike lasted over a year and ended without a contract. The ILGWU and Kellwood were then involved in a lengthy legal battle, which the union finally won. The strike was significant because it was one of the ILGWU's early major actions in the south, and it took place around the time when the union's international leadership was under severe criticism for its racial politics.
ILGWU has 455,164 members.
Dubinsky Foundation is established “to support a number of projects and institutions not already covered by regular ILGWU contributions. Emphasis is put on projects that relate to labor, liberalism and immigration.”
- 1968 (September 12).
First ILGWU Staff Conference is held at Unity House.
ILGWU mail service prescription program is established for US and Canadian members.
ILGWU disaffiliates from the Liberal Party of New York.
E. Howard Molisani is elected president of the Italian-American Labor Council.
Charles Zimmerman is elected president of the Jewish Labor Committee.
- 1969 (February 28).
“The main building of Unity House—including dining room, kitchen, administrative offices, children’s dining room, staff dining room, bar, pavilion, sugar bowl, newspaper stand and the lobby which included a series of murals by the Mexican master, Diego Rivera—was destroyed by a fire during the night of February 28, 1969. The destruction was complete" (General Executive Board Report, 1971).
ILGWU has 442,333 members.
ILGWU Archives are established. Henoch Mendelsund is named the director, and shortly after taking his post works to develop an oral history project with ILGWU members, staff, and officers.
ILGWU has 428,734 members. At this point the effects of the competition from foreign imports and the loss of jobs are being felt. The steady decline in the number of ILGWU members has started.
10 Union Health Centers and 4 Mobile Health Units are in operation.
ILGWU has 99 collective bargaining agreement with employer associations, 13 master agreements with large firms which have shops in many areas of the country, and 2,000 contracts with individual firms. In all, these agreements cover close to 10,000 shops in some 26 trades.
1st Joint Conference of ILGWU-ACTWU-Zensen. This was the first annual meeting between the major garment workers' unions in the United States and Japan to discuss issues of shared interest.
Sol Chaikin becomes President of the ILGWU.
ILGWU has 376,750 members.
First “Look for the Union Label” advertisement airs on television. The Union Label Compliance Office formed.
New York Union Health Center’s Member Assistance Program (MAP) is established to offer “comprehensive professional counseling and support services” to members and families, including “alcohol and drug, personal and family problems, consumer and legal problems, as well as assistance in locating needed community resources.”
America’s Next Great Designer Awards, sponsored by the ILGWU, is established.
Prescription drug coverage for members in Puerto Rico begins.
ILGWU has 348,380 members.
Pins & Needles revival is staged at New York’s Roundabout Theater with a professional cast.
- 1978 (November 30).
ILGWU joins ACTWU in rally in New York City against J.P. Stevens.
Apparel Job Training and Research Corporation, with representatives from labor, industry, and government “to match up unskilled workers who want jobs and employers who need new workers, but cannot absorb the cost of training them.”
- 1979 (March).
South Bronx Working Center is established to “aid in the unionization drive, establish a presence in the area, and help link labor and community issues.”
Department of Organization and Field Services is established. The department was responsible for, among other things, the coordination and survey of organizing activities, coordination and administration of information services including computer utilization, and the administration of all OSHA-related matters. It also coordinated the identification and implementation of new services.
Health and Safety Program is established within Department of Organization and Field Services.
ILGWU has 322,505 members.
Collection Control Department is formed for “assisting and supervising union affiliates in their efforts to collect payments due from employers to various ILGWU benefit funds.” Samuel Byer is named first director.
Louis Stulberg Hospital is dedicated at Kfar Saba, Israel.
Union Label Compliance Office and Union Label Department merge.
Local 23-25 strikes, when manufacturers in Chinatown refuse to sign a contract with the ILGWU. With tens of thousands of workers walking out, this strike is believed to have been one of the largest labor actions to take place in New York City's Chinatown.
ILGWU has 282,559 members.
Local 23-25 Immigration Project is established. Muzaffar Chishti is named director. The Immigration Project provided guidance to local union members and their families on legal issues relating to immigration and naturalization status.
ILGWU has 247,570 members.
Garment Industry Development Corporation established in New York City. The GIDC was a cooperative effort between the ILGWU, the city of New York, and the New York Skirt and Sportswear Association to support the garment industry in New York City.
Chinatown Day Care Center opens in New York City.
Jay Mazur becomes President of the ILGWU.
Immigration Project becomes part of the International, with offices in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It was the first such program to be part of a union in the United States.
Worker-Family Education Program begins offering ESL (English-as-Second-Language) classes in New York City.
ILGWU has 196,445 members.
Options for Older Workers program is established “to assist older workers (50-55+) faced with, or recently displaced by plant closings.”
Construction begins on Alturas de San Juan, “a federally subsidized housing complex […] developed with the cooperation of the ILGWU” in Puerto Rico.
- 1986 (December).
Final issue of Giustizia is published. The publication is replaced with four-page Italian-language supplement to Justice.
ILGWU Archives closes and contents are transferred to the Kheel Center, Cornell University.
Associate ILGWU Membership (AIM) program is established to give “former and future members and opportunity to play an active role in the life of our union.”
Professional and Clerical Employees (PACE) division is created to “organize workers in the clerical, professional and health care field into a unit tailored to their needs.”
Metro Organizing Department is created.
Warehouse Employees Division is created to organize “workers in warehouse and distribution centers in the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas.”
ILGWU has 165,710 members.
Unity House closes. After eighty years of serving as an affordable vacation destination for ILGWU members and their families, a meeting place for the union and allied organizations, and a site for educational classes and trainings, Unity House shuts down due to the prohibitive cost of maintaining the property.
Council for American Fashion (CAF), representing labor and management, is formed. Its purpose was to help "establish and coordinate local committees that run a variety of projects to improve working conditions, stabilize union employment and persuade state and local governments to match private investments to this vital industry.”
Occupational Health Clinic opens at Union Health Center in New York City.
Four-page Chinese language supplement is added to Justice.
Local 23-25 is the largest local union of the ILGWU, with a membership of over 22,000.
Three Union Health Centers are still in operation.
“Justice for Garment Workers” campaign launches in California. In Los Angeles, the Garment Workers Justice Center opens.
ILGWU has 146,506 members.
Campaign for Justice is launched to fight exploitation of working immigrants.
Council of American Fashion Labor-Management Industry Development Fund is established to fund “efforts of benefit for both garment workers and employers.”
Garment Workers Center opens in San Francisco.
ILGWU has 130,473 members.
A broad-based coalition organizes to try to keep garment manufacturer Leslie Fay from closing down its operations in Pennsylvania. The manufacturer agrees to keep production facilities open for one more year.
ILGWU Immigration Project in Los Angeles helps in fight against anti-immigrant Proposition 187 ballot initiative in California. However, the proposition ultimately passed.
ILGWU and Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union merge to create Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), representing roughly 250,000 members.