Work In Garment Industry Sweatshops:
Photos From Yesterday And Today
The horror of sweatshops isn't always visible in photos: like being forced to clock in two hours after you've started working, and again at the end of the day, two hours before you're actually finished. It's being paid at a piece-rate so that you work at a grueling pace, and yet still earn less than minimum wage at the end of the week.
It's being forced to work Saturdays, or until 11 P.M. when there's a rush, whether you want to or not. It's the youthful energy and potential of teenaged workers wasted in full-time sweatshop jobs that lead nowhere.
It's having no way to change things, because if you complain, you're fired. It's the fear that leads people to accept these conditions, because there are no other jobs.
These photos above were taken mainly in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York; the newer-looking shops are in San Francisco and Oakland, California.
We'd all like to make sweatshops a thing of the past. Take the time to dedicate this holiday season of conscience - make sure everything you buy contributes to the solution, not the problem.
--by Cara Metz; all photos copyright Cara Metz/UNITE and are for educational purposes only, not to be reprinted.
Dehumanizing sweatshop conditions persisted in the workrooms of various industries throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Waves of immigration fed the labor force that supplied the industry with easily exploited workers.
The garment and textile unions strove tirelessly throughout the decades to provide garment workers with clean and safe shops, livable wages, hours that allowed freedom to indulge in the normal human events of family, friends, neighborhood, church or synagogue. They educated workers in their basic rights, supported them in their demands to employers and championed life-saving legislation.
As the decades passed, factories pulled up stakes and moved to avoid workers' gains. The problem persists. In 1911, 146 workers perished in the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. In 1991, 25 workers died behind illegally locked doors of a Hamlet, North Carolina poultry processing plant, in a building with no sprinklers or fire alarms, which the state had not inspected despite workers' complaints. In 1995, a clothing manufacturer in El Monte, California enslaved recent Southeast Asian immigrants to make garments that were sold in U.S. department stores.
Sweatshops continue to exist wherever greed takes precedence over human need.
-- text by Hope Nisly, Cornell University Labor-Management Documentation Center.
The historic photographs displayed on this website are provided from the ILGWU Archives and the ACWA Records by the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. They are displayed for educational purposes only. Permission for further use must be obtained from the copyright holder. Downloading or copying these photographs may result in legal action and liability on the part of the user. Further inquiries can be made to the Kheel Center at (607) 255-3183.
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