Swetshops

Photo by Ida Smith copyright 2014

A Short Story

by

Ida Smith

 

 

 

The first time Christina made the mistake she worried all week she would get caught. Now, today, with Mr. Hagen hovering over her and the embarrassment of sewing men’s drawers flushing her cheeks, the mistake from last week reappeared in her thoughts. Mr. Hagen’s large paunch pressed against her shoulder, his form blocked the setting sunlight that filtered into the sweatshop cluttered with tables of sewing machines and stacks of garments, the floors littered with scraps of material.

Christina squinted, her eyes burned from hours of sewing, the next few hours would be the worst, as the outside light faded to darkness and the bare bulbs cast shadows. She didn’t see the pin and though Christina felt the machine’s foot lift, she couldn’t stop in time. The needle struck the thin metal and broke.

“You careless girl,” the back of Mr. Hagen’s hand smacked upside her face before she could react. “Do you think needles are cheap?”

“Ouch.” Christina’s helplessness churned inside. She hurried to remove the broken needle. Around her she sensed the furtive glances of her fellow workers—all hunkering behind piles of material and garments, hoping to be invisible to their boss. Why didn’t she see that pin? Why did she have to break her needle with him standing there? She wanted to shout at him. Tell him to stop. She fumbled to pull the thread from the needle.

“Hurry, you’re wasting time.”

“Yes, sir.” She retrieved another needle and returned to the red and white striped undergarments.

Mr. Hagen wandered over to Mary, a young Jewish immigrant, who’d only worked in the sweatshop for a few weeks.

Christina sewed an outside seam with as much attention on her boss as she could spare. She guessed Mary to be maybe thirteen years old. The girl tried hard but struggled to understand what was expected in a language she didn’t know.

Ash from Mr. Hagen’s cigar fell to the cloth cluttered floor as he counted the garments Mary had sewn. “There’s only eighteen here. You’re falling behind.”

Mary looked at him with large brown eyes, her dark hair pulled to a bun at the top of her head like most of theirs.

“You’d better start producing or I’ll dock your pay.”

The young girl cowered, her eyes unblinking.

“Well, don’t waste your time looking at me.” Mr. Hagen pointed at her machine. “Get back to work.”

The girl resumed maneuvering the material under the needle as she pressed the foot peddle in slow bursts.

Christina finished the side seam and went to the other—fuming the whole time at Mr. Hagen’s unrealistic expectations, especially of Mary. After several minutes Mr. Hagen wandered to the other end of the room and when his back was to her, she slipped several garments off her stack and onto Mary’s lap.

Mary nodded and added them to her pile.

 *          *          *

It was dark and cold when Christina wrapped her worn, woolen shawl around her shoulders and headed home.

Mary sidled up to her. “Thank…you?” her English slow—uncertain.

“You’re welcome.”

“Christina?” Mary grabbed Christina’s arm. “Why?” She pointed back at the factory. “Why?” The young girl pulled at her pockets and lunch pail. “Men. Why?”

“They look,” Christina added hand gestures to accompany her limited Yiddish vocabulary. “For scraps of fabric they think we steal.”

 *          *          *

“Chester, are you sick?” Christina wiped her hands on the flour bag apron she wore and knelt by her little brother. She brushed her hand across his cheek.

Chester lay on a blanket near the small stove her mother cooked on. His hazel eyes stared back—dull. At six, he was small for his age, his skin pale and limbs boney.

Christina’s two younger sisters returned home from their jobs at the sting factory. The family’s second-story room grew busy with activity. Christina cubed the small pile of potatoes and turnips that made up their evening meal.

“Has Chester been this way all day?” Christina asked.

Her mother glanced down at the listless boy. “I worry about him,” she said, her voice low. “Mrs. Wheeler always has biscuits with berry or plum preserves for him. Usually he can’t wait to eat them.” The sinewy woman paused, sniffled. “Today he declined.”

At supper Christina held him on her lap, feeding him some of her mashed turnips after she’d convinced him to eat all of his.

 *          *          *

The seamstresses trudged up the dark stairwell before sunrise. Lolita, a tall girl of nineteen or twenty handed stacks of undergarment pieces, prepared by the cutters one floor up. Christina reached for her stack but Lolita held it back. “Don’t think I didn’t see you help that little Jew. You’d better watch yourself or I’ll be sure Mr. Hagen knows.” She thrust the pile at Christina who took it, a litany of defense stitched together in Christina’s mind.

At her cramped station Christina filled the bobbin and pinned the front and back of the first pair of drawers together. She hated sewing men’s underwear and union suits and wished they could go back to sewing shirtwaists. Outside she heard chanting and leaned back to see a group of women and several men picketing the dress factory across the street.

Mr. Hagen rose from behind his desk and strode to the windows behind Christina. “Lazy fools,” he said. “They’ll find themselves sleeping in the street and eating garbage.”

Christina shuddered at the thought. She’d always felt that her family of six, huddled in their one room apartment, eating meals that never filled their bellies, was as close to bad as things could get. Why couldn’t their employers see that the workers were exhausted and starving? Six days a week they trudged to work, often before the sun rose and returned home long after sunset. They did this all with no recourse. If you complained you’d be fired or your pay docked.

Yet she’d never seen her boss even thread a needle and his protruding belly testified to a full bowl.

She picked up two more pieces of fabric and noticed blood, one of the cutters must have hurt himself.

“I trust none of you are foolish enough to try and strike,” Mr. Hagen said and pulled on his suspenders.

“Strikers will be punished without mercy.” He took a moment to look at each one of his employees then returned to his windowed office.

“As if you’re showering us with mercy right now,” Christina muttered and rubbed her sore neck with fingers numb from the cold workroom. She couldn’t decide what was worse—the buildings sweltering oven-like heat in summer or the icebox cold in winter. They were never allowed to waste time stoking the stove in the work room. Only the stove in Mr. Hagen’s office was lit. She rubbed her hands together before pinning the next two pieces.

The women’s shouts outside brought a smile to Christina’s lips which she bit to hide her pleasure. The idea that they, as employees and people had a voice in how they were treated, a voice in their lives excited Christina. She hoped and prayed those brave souls picketing outside would succeed.

Mr. Hagen approached the center of the work room as Christina wound a new spool of thread through the machine and needle. He clapped his hands to get their attention. “In light of some waste and poor management of our supplies I have made some changes.” He held up a sheet of paper. “This here document is to notify you of those changes.” He hammered the paper to a post in the middle of the room and returned to his office.

The women crowded around the notice. “What does it say?” several asked.

Christina strained to see, the words blurry from where she stood.

“That word says ‘shall,’ ” one girl said.

“I think that says, ‘cost of,’ ” said another.

Lolita pushed several of the girls and women aside to stand in front of the notice. “Notice: From this day…” she mumbled several words. “All workers shall…” more mumbling. “Cost of…” She pulled her wool shawl around her. “Oh, my. Aren’t some of you going to be sad?”

“What does it say?” they asked.

“Read it to us.”

“I’m not your servant girl. You want to know what it means, you read it,” Lolita said and walked away.

“Get back to work,” Mr. Hagen yelled.

Christina returned to her sewing machine her stomach tightened. Paper notices were never good. If only she could read more than a few common words. Outside the chants of the strikers latched onto her frustrations like the bobbin’s thread onto her top stitch as she stitched the waistband.

Across the room Mr. Hagen yelled at one of the women whose machine kept jamming. What made him so angry? Didn’t he make more money than them? At least he could fill his stomach. She thought of her own father who never raised his voice at them despite struggling to find work as a cripple.

She recalled their discussion at dinner several weeks earlier. Her father had found work washing windows. At one home some women were having a tea and discussing women’s suffrage and the evils of child labor. He’d found hope that maybe things would change someday but feared it would be too late for his own children. An idea threaded its way through her thoughts as the needle punched pricks of thread through the cotton making something new from angled pieces of otherwise nondescript fabric.

At noon Christina shared her cornbread with Mary whose lunch paled in comparison to her own meager meal. She startled when screams from outside permeated the dingy, ice-crusted windows. They all stared in horror as the women strikers were beaten by police, some dragged to paddy wagons.

Mr. Hagen looked out over the scene and rubbed his hands. “It’s about time. Those women are lucky to have jobs. Complaining about wages and hours and other nonsense. You women just need to know your place.”

Mary’s eyes were wide with fear. Christina squeezed her hand. Her earlier idea raised pin pricks of fear.

“Get back to work,” their boss ordered.

Christina slumped back into her chair, knowing she had six to eight hours of work left and too little food and sleep to look forward to. At another table a mother of five worked, sweat glistened on her forehead and rumor had it she was coughing up blood. Everyone kept their distance. Though no one spoke the word, they all knew it was tuberculosis. The woman shouldn’t have been working, but children need to eat.

Christina’s heart pounded as the sun lowered itself to bed. Her earlier idea still burned in her mind and now a decision must be made.

She wandered to the post which held the notice and glanced around. Everyone was busy gathering their things. She lifted her shawl to wrap it around her, snagged the notice, and slid it under her sleeve.

 *          *          *

A light snow drifted down as Christina waited at the door of a two-story brownstone in a nice neighborhood. A housekeeper answered and Christina explained who she was and asked to speak with Mrs. Arnold.

“It is late, come back in the morning.”

“That is not possible. Please, I won’t take much of her time.”

“Who is it Deloris?” A pleasant woman in her fifties wearing a white shirtwaist and deep blue, ankle-length skirt stepped next to the housekeeper. “Do I know you?”

“No, Ma’am. My father.” She pointed back to her father who waited on the sidewalk. “Washed your windows.” She swallowed. “He said you could read. I sew for the garment makers. I wished to ask if you could read this for me?” She pulled the paper from under her shawl and thrust it toward the woman. “Please, I must know what it says.”

Mrs. Arnold looked between Christina and her father. “Very well, come in.”

Christina took in the floral wallpaper and rich wood banister. She followed the finely dressed woman into a sitting room where a fire crackled.

“Please, warm yourself,” the woman offered and turned on a lamp. She procured reading glasses and settled into a stuffed armchair. “Where did you say you got this?”

“At work, my boss posted it today.”

The woman sighed, “it says:

NOTICE

From this day forward, all employees

shall be responsible for the cost of needles

and thread which will be deducted from

weekly pay.

The Management

There was silence. Christina calculated the number of needles and spools she used to make Mr. Hagen’s garments. How much money would be subtracted from her meager wage to pay for these necessities? As it was, a day’s wages could buy only five pairs of men’s drawers though she sewed so much more than that. It took several days wages to purchase a shirtwaist. What next? Would her boss force them to buy the fabric? A heaviness blanketed her.

“That hardly seem fair,” the woman said.

The words jolted Christina from her thoughts. She hung her head. “No, it doesn’t. Thank you for your time. It was kind of you to help me.” She moved to the door.

“Wait, I don’t mean to intrude. But, how old are you?”

“Eighteen, Ma’am.”

“And you don’t know how to read?”

“Only a little. My father fell into a machine when I was eight. That is why he limps and has only a thumb on one hand. He couldn’t work, and I have three younger siblings, so I left school and went to work to help my family. I sew clothes. At first, I only made fifty cents a day. But I’ve become fast and now I make a dollar a day—six a week.” Christina looked at the notice in her hand. “I don’t know how much I’ll make now.” Her stomach growled.

The woman’s dark gray eyebrows now looked like storm clouds above flashing hazel eyes. “This is an outrage! This is exactly what I’ve been telling the women in my ladies club. Men should be paid enough to support their families. Women should be paid what their labor is worth. Children should be allowed to attend school. The workers should not be taken advantage of.”

“Yes, Ma’am. But what can we do?” Christina’s words surprised her. Who was she to talk to this upper class woman? Yet there seemed to be empathy and understanding in this woman’s ways.

“Do you belong to a union?”

“No.”

“If you women come together and organize, maybe even strike so their garments don’t get made, maybe that will make a difference. They can’t sell their product if you don’t make it. They need to understand how important you are.”

Christina liked this woman. But then Mr. Hagen’s threats crowded their way into Christina’s thoughts and she remembered the police taking away the women. Striking wasn’t as easy as Mrs. Arnold thought it was. She looked at the notice and thought about the reduced wages. Something must be done.

 *          *          *

Christina talked with strikers the following morning. Several held signs that read, “International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union.”

“We’re having a big meeting next Monday night at Cooper Union,” a worker told her. “There is power in numbers.”

An excitement grew in her. Mrs. Arnold’s words spun through her mind. As workers they held more power than they realized. Without them, their employers didn’t have a product. She sat at her sewing machine, ideas interlinked with hope as the needle quickly united threads from the spool and bobbin. Her mind was so consumed that she repeated the mistake she’d feared. She quickly stuffed the garment under the pile of un-sewn pieces and forced herself to pay attention as Mr. Hagen paced back and forth.

He stopped by the post, the bare nail sticking out. “Where’s the notice I posted yesterday?”

Sewing machines clattered to a stop.

“Well?”

Christina swallowed. She’d meant to replace the paper but had forgotten. Why did she always get so caught up in her thoughts that she forgot what she should be doing?

Mr. Hagen now walked around the room. “Did you take it?” he asked a tall woman.

She shook her head.

“I demand to know who took it or there’ll be repercussions.”

Over a piece of paper? Christina couldn’t let the others suffer, though this was exactly why they needed to come together. Surely they would see that. “I took it.”

“What?” Mr. Hagen was moving toward her.

“I just wanted to know what it said.”

“You took company property?”

The only sound came from the strikers outside.

“I brought it back.” She dug into her lunch pail and retrieved it. “See, here it is.”

Her boss now leaned over her. He snatched the paper from her. “What else have you taken?”

“Nothing. I promise you, nothing.”

“We’ll see about that.” He yanked her to her feet, his hands patting, groping.

“Stop.” She slapped at him. “What you do is shameful.”

He shoved her to the floor. “You are only a girl. You remember your place.” He looked up at the others, “Why aren’t you working. Get to work.”

 *          *          *

Women huddled around her on the sidewalk, asking about the notice. As she began to tell them, two men who searched the employees for stolen fabric appeared, shooed the women away.

“Mr. Hagen’s concerned you’re going to make trouble,” a man with a wool coat and hat said.

Christina backed up.

The men pressed her into an alley.

She wished to flee but they blocked her path. Behind her garbage barrels and a brick wall sealed off the passage. A mangy cat hissed at them then fled.

“So he’s sent us to make sure you don’t cause any trouble,” the other said and jammed his fist into her stomach.

Christina doubled over.

“We knows you was talking to those strikers and union people.”

She looked up in time to catch a fist to her chin and spun away. The first man yanked her back and punched her in the nose. Warm blood poured over her lips. “Stop. Stop.” The wind left her as he hit her in the stomach. She held her hand out as feeble protection.

Outside the alley other garment workers and pedestrians scurried past.

One of the men grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm behind her back. He held it there while the other struck her several more times. She kicked at them, they laughed. “You women think you can tell us men what to do?”

The man behind her pulled her head back by her hair.

“Mr. Hagen wants to make sure you stay away from those strikers and union people. Do you understand?” said the man in front of her.

Christina looked at the man through a swelling eyelid, her head leaned back, prepared for another blow. “Yes,” she said, her voice a whisper.

“Good. And don’t forget or it will be worse next time.” The man behind shoved her to the ground. Sharp stones and bits of glass gouged into her hands and knees. One of the men kicked her in the side and they left.

 *          *          *

Christina flinched as her mother washed her wounds. Her father sat the table, drumming his thumb against the table.

“I’m sorry. I only want to make things better. We work so hard and yet we can’t even fill our bellies. It’s not right.”

“I know,” her mother said and smoothed Christina’s brown hair.

“Mrs. Arnold says we need to join together, force them to change how they treat us.”

“That’s fine for her to say. I’m sure Mrs. Arnold has plenty of food in her pantry,” her mother said. “How are we going to have enough food if you strike or are too beat up to work?”

Through her good eye, Christina looked at her younger siblings, the girls helped with dinner, and Chester asleep by the stove, tired from tagging behind their mother as she cleaned houses. Even with all but Chester working they didn’t have enough to eat. “The strikers and union members agree. They say we need to stick together. If they keep cutting our wages we can’t eat either.”

“The girl has a point,” her father said.

“Joseph,” her mother said. “Whose side are you on?”

“I’m on the side of right. What these people do is wrong.”

“We need Christina’s income to buy food. Where will the food come from?”

Joseph stopped his thumping. “The good Lord will provide.”

“If the Lord is so good, why does he allow this to happen?”

Christina sat with a cool cloth to her eye, listening to her parents.

“Maybe God allows evil to see if we will stand up for good. So we may have a choice.”

“Phaf. Choice. What choice do we have?” her mother said. “Work for these rats and scrape by or fight them and die.”

“Or fight them and win,” Christina said. “There’s lots of us workers. If we band together they’ll have to listen.”

“Christina knows the good she ought to do,” Joseph said.

“So it is good to allow her brother and sisters to go without food?”

“Mother, if Mr. Hagen charges me for thread and needles I will bring home less pay. Some bosses charge for the electricity the seamstresses machines use. If he does that, I will bring home even less.”

“You have my blessing,” her father said.

Christina’s heart swelled at her father’s words. It was the first time she felt empowered to change her life, their lives, since she’d quit school. Her father understood the situation, her need to make a difference.

“Young lady, there are others who depend on you. Remember that.”

“Yes, Mama.” As quickly as her father had threaded her needle with hope her mother had cut the thread.

  *          *          *

Christina struggled to see the material’s edge, her head ached, and her seams wobbled. It took all her energy to focus on her work. By afternoon she was behind her quota. At lunch Mary gave her a slice of rye bread and slipped one of her garments onto Christina’s pile.

That evening the women lined up to receive their week’s pay. As the women in front of her received their wages murmurs and grumblings rose.

“What is this?” an older woman asked.

“Your pay. Now move on,” Mr. Hagen said.

“But this isn’t right. You’ve shorted me.”

“You were notified of the changes.” He pointed to the paper most couldn’t read. “Now move on.”

A thick silence filled the room and those waiting in line looked at Christina who nodded. “That’s what it says. We now buy our thread and needles.”

“You can’t do this,” the older woman said.

“I can and I have. If you don’t like it, don’t come back.”

The next woman in line took her pay, looked at it. “I can’t buy enough food for my children with this.”
“That’s not my concern. Now move along.”

When it was Christina’s turn Mr. Hagen counted out four dollars and eighty-five cents. This was so unfair. She bit her lip. Afraid to say anything for fear she’d get another beating.

“I would have paid you five-fifteen, but you didn’t make your quota today.”

She opened her mouth—

“Do I need to have my boys talk with you again?”

“No, sir.”

She blinked back the tears as she left the building. Most of the strikers had gone home for the evening—their employer’s long hours no longer applied to them. Her father’s blessing rang in her ears—followed by her mother’s admonition.

  *          *          *

Christina’s eye was no longer swollen, just purple. That Monday she made her quota. After work she and Mary walked as though they were going home, but veered to Cooper Union, descended the stair and entered the Great Hall. Inside men were already speaking. The girls weaved their way through the crowded auditorium and stood along the wall near one of the tall, white columns. For several hours various men spoke—each warned against rash decisions and the disadvantages of going on strike.

Christina bored of the men’s speeches. She understood their caution, had sensed the same from her mother. But what would this accomplish? Very little, and if it did, she would see it only when she was old and gray.

Her attention wandered to the tall arches spanning between columns scattered throughout the auditorium. Christina wondered how the arches’ large smooth stones stayed in place, high above their heads, deterring the weight of the building above from crushing them.

Then, a young woman with dark, tight curls stood. “I am a working girl,” she said in Yiddish. “One of those who are on strike against intolerable conditions.”

Christina leaned forward, her full attention on the young woman who couldn’t be much older than herself.

“I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms,” the woman continued. “What we are here for is to decide whether we shall strike or shall not strike. I offer a resolution that a general strike be declared now.”

“Yes, yes. Now. Strike now!” the words escaped from Christina’s mouth.

Applause erupted, all around her were shouts of agreement, fists shook in the air, feet stomped against the wood floor. “Strike, strike, strike, strike. Stop the slavery. More pay. Less hours,” the women shouted.

The chairman came to the young woman’s side. “Will you take the old Hebrew oath?” he asked.

“We will,” the women said.

Christina raised her right arm with most in the room, “If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from the arm I now raise,” she repeated in Yiddish.

The two girls walked home hand-in-hand. Giggles of excitement masked their fears. Hundreds of garment workers had exploded from the meeting empowered by the swell of their numbers and the hope of change. They did have a say in their future. They could change their lives.

As the darkness around them tried to impress its reality they forged through on the thread of faith. How could their employers ignore their demands? They would have no products to sell without them. In their youthful naivety they underestimated the depth of their bosses’ pockets in comparison to the shallowness of their own.

Christina slipped into her family’s room, hoping not to wake anyone. Her father sat by the stove, it’s fire uncharacteristically still burning. Little Chester lay in his arms wrapped in a worn wool blanket. All of her enthusiasm shed itself at the door.

She knelt beside them. “Is he going to die?”

Her father looked at his son and then at her, his cheeks wet in the fire’s glow. “I don’t know.”

“He is so weak.”

“Yes. A growing child needs meat…and bread…and milk.” He looked at the void where four fingers belonged. “I haven’t been able to give him that. Give any of you that.”

She wrapped her arms around his shoulder. “You’ve done the best you could do.”

“But it’s not enough.”

Christina stroked Chester’s pale cheek.

“You’d better get to bed. Work will come early.”

Christina slipped in beside her sisters. How could she strike when her brother needed food and medicine? Yet how could she buy enough food and even medicine with Mr. Hagen cutting her pay? Maybe she could get another job—but there were no better paying jobs for girls like her. Her only hope was to force their employers to pay them more. But how long would that take? And could Chester hold on?

She tossed and turned. When she slept she was back in the Grand Hall pledging not to turn traitor but even as she spoke a circle widened around her and she found herself trying to hold Chester, her hand withered.

 *          *          *

Hundreds of woman chanted in the streets. Christina watched them from the window by her sewing machine. Some carried signs that read, “Striking Garment Workers.” Others waved American flags. Young girls wore large sashes that read, “Abolish Child Slavery.” Christina massaged her cold hands. She wanted so desperately to be among them.

Mr. Hagen stood in the center of the room, his pocket watch in hand. “It’s good to see that most of you—” His gaze stopped at an empty chair. “That most of you realize this business of striking is foolishness. Now let’s get to work and finish this order. Who knows, there might be a ten or fifteen cent bonus in it for you.”

He turned to Christina, “I half expected you to be out there. Looks like my boys beat some sense into you.”

Shouting strike among thousands of other workers was easier than declaring strike in a cramped, cold room with five hungry family members. Christina shoved a pin into the butt of an undergarment. She hated how Mr. Hagen flaunted his power over them. What was a fifteen cent bonus after charging them a dollar for thread and needles?

The chants of the strikers outside aroused in her a feeling of betrayal to what she believed was right. The memory of Chester’s pale face and her ever-constant hunger screamed betrayal of her family when she thought of striking.

After lunch a young girl knocked at the workroom door. She was maybe seven, Christina guessed.

Mr. Hagen appeared from his living quarters attached to his office and pointed to an empty chair and unused sewing machine. “Show her how to sew the garments,” he told another worker.

The girl reminded Christina of her sisters, of herself. She probably couldn’t even read. She was afraid and struggled to press the machine’s peddle and still see the seam she sewed.

Christina wondered if striking would change anything. If it could save this little girl and the thousands like her from child slavery. She reached for another garment to sew and saw the one she’d made the mistake on.

That night, in the bustle of everyone leaving, Christina snuck into Mr. Hagen’s office and into his living quarters beyond. A bundle from the laundry boy sat on a table. She pressed the clothes down and squeezed the undergarment under the twine then returned to the work room.

  *          *          *

Christina veered from the sweatshop entrance the following morning and joined the other strikers. There, in a warm coat, handing out mittens was Mrs. Arnold.

“I was hoping I would see you,” she said to Christina and handed her a pair. “After hearing of the strike I gathered my ladies club and convinced them we must support our fellow women.”

Christina took the mittens and slipped them on her already cold hands.

Mrs. Arnold leaned in, “The newspaper says there’s between ten and fifteen thousand striking garment workers and more keep joining.

Christina smiled.

  *          *          *

That evening Mr. Hagen hobbled about the floor of his living quarters. He had thrust one foot through a pair of undergarments but the other stuck in mid-air unable to break through the leg Christina had sewn close.

(Copyright 2014. No part of this story may be republished or copied without prior permission from the author.)

 Behind the Scenes:

On November 22nd, 1909, thousands of garment workers met at the Cooper Union in New York City to discuss the possibility of striking. After several hours of cautionary talk by union men, Clara Lemlich, a twenty-three year-old Ukrainian immigrant stood and gave the speech you read in the story. Thousands took the oath and the next day 15,000 New York garment workers flooded the streets demanding changes in working conditions, hours, and wages. The “Uprising of the 20,000” as it was called, lasted two months, with numbers shrinking as the effects of poverty took their toll. Many women were beaten, over 700 women were arrested, and nineteen were sent to a workhouse. Though conditions didn’t improve immensely, manufactures did agree to negotiate pay rates, a 52 hour work week, 4 paid holidays a year, and to no longer charge seamstresses for the needles and thread they used.

Copyright 2014 – Ida Smith

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true accounts of sweatshop workers:

My First Job By Rose Cohen and Days and Dreams By Sadie Frowne

For more information on sweatshops see:

Sweatshops

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