How Did Chinese Women Garment Workers in New York City
Forge a Successful Class-Based Coalition during the 1982 Contract Dispute?
In the summer of 1982, more than twenty thousand Chinese garment workers, most of whom were women, turned out to join two union rallies. With a unified effort they successfully pressured their employers to sign a union contract. Never before had so many people, especially so many women, turned out over a labor dispute in New York's Chinatown. The conflict between Chinese employers and workers revealed the limits of ethnic solidarity and forcefully demonstrated workers' collective strength by bringing to the forefront class issues in the community. The strike also had a lasting impact on the thousands of women workers who participated in it. With the experience they gained from the strike, women workers continued to press for change by working in the union or joining community-based labor organizations that served as pressure groups to defend their interests. Rather than acting individually, as most of them did before the strike, women in the Chinese garment industry learned to work together. The 1982 strike thus marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the labor movement in the Chinese community and in the garment industry of New York City.
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