Shortly after this was written, several IGWU locals, including Local 88, would leave the A.F. of L. to join the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
‘The Iron Hand in the Canvas Glove’ by Marie Jordan, President of Local 88 of the International Glove Workers Union from Women Today. Vol. 1 No. 1. March, 1936.
How girl workers organized to fight a boss who chiseled on wages and agreements, told by MARIE JORDAN, President of Local 88, International Glove Workers Union.
WHEN workers find conditions are so bad that they just can’t be worse, they begin to think of joining a union. We workers of the Canvas Glove Factory worked from 45 to 50 hours a week.
We had to pay for the parts of our machine when they broke. We had to pay for our needles and, when it was dark, every time we put a light on the machine we would find money missing in our pay envelopes. If we missed a stitch on a glove it would be sent back, and we would be docked for it.
We never got our right pay. There was always money missing. If you tried going down to the boss to complain, he’d say: “If you don’t like it, go home!”
We had three cuts since the N.R.A. We do piece work and our workers average from $9 to $10; experienced girls got $13 to $14. Some girls made as little as $6 and $7 a week.
The place was not kept in a sanitary condition. We couldn’t talk, they watched us like hawks. Several times things got so bad we walked out, but we were not organized, we had no union, and so we came back.
Conditions were getting worse for us and in September forty girls walked out because they were given another wage cut. They went out to find out about a union. They were sent to the Women’s Trade Union League. Then I joined them. The Women’s Trade Union League sent out two, organizers, Eleanor Mishnun and Helen Blanchard. They went to our boss and tried to get us better conditions. He wouldn’t do anything about it. And the organizers asked us if we were willing to go on strike. We agreed, and they got signs for us, and we began to picket the factory. Two days later twenty other workers joined us. We rented a store for strike headquarters.
In October the Women’s Trade Union League helped us get a charter from the International Glove Workers Union (American Federation of Labor). On October 9th the boss signed an agreement for union recognition. We were to work 45 hours during the busy season, 40 hours otherwise, with a raise on all piece rates, even for girls who did not go on strike. He promised to stop all deductions and Saturday work.
Soon we found we were being tricked. He gave union girls the worst work, the kind of work we were not accustomed to, and we earned less money. He showed in all ways that he intended to discriminate against union girls. He did this so the girls could see that belonging to the union would not help them. Then he started firing union members. He organized a company union and tried to make union girls join. He said if we joined we would not be discriminated against. Not one of us joined but those girls who did not strike did.
On October 21st he fired another union girl. I went down to remind him about the agreement he had signed and he yelled: “Get the h– out of here and mind your own business! “
As I went out Mr. Gerber told me to take my union girls along. The girls put their hats and coats on and we all walked out. We didn’t believe he really meant to fire us–and we stayed around, thinking he would change his mind. We then telephoned the Women’s Trade Union League and Miss Mishnun came right out. She tried to talk to the boss but it was hopeless. Then Mr. Largay of the State Labor Board came to arbitrate but couldn’t do anything.
Next day we began to picket. Our signs read: “I. Gerber signs contract with union and breaks it. That’s why we are out.” “I. Gerber tried to make union members of the International Glove Workers Union, Local 88, join his illegal company union.”
On October 24th, Minnie Torre and I were arrested, and accused of assault. I was accused of hitting a scab with a lead pipe which I had never seen before until I saw it in court. A few days later Mr. Gerber had sent his scabs down to start a fight with the pickets. I wasn’t even there, but I got a summons just the same. We were detained five hours at the police station. The Women’s Trade Union League helped us get bail.
The morning after we were arrested, we were on the picket line again. The case came up for trial, but was postponed. Then the boss applied for a temporary in junction. Judge Wenzell of Kings County Supreme Court granted it. He had absolutely no grounds for doing that.
The judge said he did not believe anything I said, because I was too low-voiced. He said that presidents of unions are not elected for their low voices and shyness. He said I was not a shrinking violet but “shriekingly violent.” That was his principal reason for granting the injunction.
The Central Trades and Labor Council of New York appointed a committee to work with the State Federation of Labor to appeal the case. The entire labor movement is aroused about the trial for a permanent injunction. If the judge’s decision is allowed to stand, the anti-injunction act recently passed has no meaning.
In the meantime the National Labor Board held a hearing on the company union which was formed by the Canvas Glove Company and the discrimination against union girls.
We are still out on strike after twelve weeks, but we know we will win. Now that we are organized we feel we have the strong support of the labor movement behind us. The labor unions have helped us financially and the Women’s Trade Union League guides us in our struggle. for our rights and is helping us in every way.
Now we workers believe that in union there is strength. We have made up our minds we’ll never go back without our union.
The Working Woman, ‘A Paper for Working Women, Farm Women, and Working-Class Housewives,’ was first published monthly by the Communist Party USA Central Committee Women’s Department from 1929 to 1935, continuing until 1937. It was the first official English-language paper of a Socialist or Communist Party specifically for women (there had been many independent such papers). At first a newspaper and very much an exponent of ‘Third Period’ politics, it played particular attention to Black women, long invisible in the left press. In addition, the magazine covered home-life, women’s health and women’s history, trade union and unemployment struggles, Party activities, as well poems and short stories. The newspaper became a magazine in 1933, and in late 1935 it was folded into The Woman Today which sought to compete with bourgeois women’s magazines in the Popular Front era. The Woman today published until 1937. During its run editors included Isobel Walker Soule, Elinor Curtis, and Margaret Cowl among others.
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