OUT OF THE SWEATSHOP: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy by Leon--Ed. Stein

OUT OF THE SWEATSHOP: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy

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Each of them knew what the strike meant."" At its graphic best, this documentary history of the unionization of the needle trades conveys just that: what, for a critical instance, the 1910 Cloakmakers' Strike meant to the workers, to union lawyers and officials, the daily press, social spokesmen, a political analyst-along with the course it took, from the difficulties of organizing 1800 separate workplaces to the more intractable problem of finding a definition of ""union shop"" acceptable to all. As editor Stein points out in his useful introductory overview, the garment industry is uniquely ""competitive and chaotic"": ""the product--fashioned women's garments--remains the most unstandardized and unpredictable commodity in the market economy."" (An object lesson to visiting Russians, The Economist remarked in 1960.) All the more noteworthy, then, the Protocol of Peace establishing compulsory industry-wide arbitration that emerged (with the aid of Louis Brandeis) from the strike--later to be emulated, undermined, and eventually revived in the post-New Deal machinery for determining garment-bygarment rates of payment. En route, Walter Lippmann sounds the tocsin for minimum wages and a decent standard of living; ""the Communists violently oppose constructive measures"" (New Republic, 1925) and take over union leadership; and, returning to power, stalwarts Schlesinger and Dubinsky recoup the union's fortunes and pursue runaway shops into the hinterlands (now extended, beyond effective reach, to Japan and Korea). From the testimony of early abuses to the last glowing tributes, this is--unashamedly--a paean to the ILGWU; but multifaceted, juxtaposing a unionist's observation that ""every decent person in Russia""-whence the Jewish workers came--""was more or less"" a revolutionary in the early 1900s with TR's 1913 recognition that ""these young girls are absolutely helpless if they are obliged to bargain for their rights individually.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1977
Publisher: Quadrangle/New York Times