Bread Upon The Waters : Chapter 31 : Back in the American Federation of Labor
(1896 - 1965) ~ Anarchist, Feminist Organizer and ILGWU Leader : ...an anarchist, feminist labor organizer and vise president within the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Born Rakhel Peisoty in Derazhnia, Ukraine in 1896 to a family of grain merchants, Pesotta was well educated during her childhood and, influenced by People's Will, would eventually adopt anarchist views. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "I had no ambition to hold executive authority. Valuing my own freedom, I wanted to avoid getting into harness, and to keep from becoming enmeshed in inner-circle politics. Too, I felt that I could serve the cause of my fellow-unionists just as effectively as a rank-and-file member. And it was my contention that the voice of a solitary woman on the General Executive Board would be a voice lost in the wilderness." (From : "Bread Upon the Waters," by Rose Pesotta.)
• "Soon after the 1929 stock market crash 30,000 persons in that city were jobless. Some organized the Unemployed Citizens' League, which set the pace for similar self-help groups all over the United States. Harvesting fruit and vegetable crops on a sharing basis, it set up various co-operative enterprises, which, however, were opposed by business men, who feared these would cut into their profits." (From : "Bread Upon the Waters," by Rose Pesotta.)
• "In the brief span of its life, the IWW produced men who became internationally known and whose names were torches of inspiration in many lands. Most of them paid a high price for their fame, some with their lives." (From : "Bread Upon the Waters," by Rose Pesotta.)
IN THE FACE OF THIS octopus-like opposition, the ILGWU's local leadership had failed its members miserably. Apparently it had thought that a union "just growed," like Topsy, from fresh air, California sunshine, petty squabbles, and political bickerings. And little effort was made to win the confidence of the newcomers in the sportswear industry, which had become a threat to the diminishing dress trade.
Like a household, a labor union office must have some one responsible on the job to take care of routine. If the house-keeper is long absent, dust and mold accumulate and disorder grows! There, if the general membership is neglected too long, it is in no mood to serve a union loyally.
Of the several miscellaneous locals chartered in Los Angeles, all but one, Cotton Dress Local No. 266, had given up the ghost. This feeble local, presided over by Alice Ingraham, who had Opal Alvarez, Mexican organizer, as her assistant, was located at 116 East 9th Street, headquarters of the former Pacific Coast director. The new director merged both offfices÷moving the cotton dress local, with its scant membership, into the Cloak and Dress Joint Board office at 215 East 8th Street.
The cloakmakers occupied the ground floor, while the dressmakers and sportswear workers were quartered in the front of the second in that cold and dreary two-story building. The rest of this floor was a large, barnlike loft, with a kitchen and a small stage at the end. Younger male members of our union used the floor space here for a gymnasium and a boxing ring. Card-playing members competed with them, and monthly membership meetings also were held here.
The place had lately been repainted, but was bare. So I hung bright window drapes, and pictures, flags, and posters on the walls; put in book shelves, a table for newspapers and magazines, benches for those who cared to use the library section for reading; and bought several electric heaters to provide comfortable warmth. For pinochle players I assigned rooms on the floor below÷among the cloakmakers.
I took stock, too, of our educational department. In 1933 I had initiated social and educational activities in line with the customs of the workers we had then organized. Succeeding organizers had made changes in the method of entertainment, each trying for something new, which might be discarded by the next organizer.
Miss Ingraham, had brought in some of her own ideas. One was a monthly Friday afternoon tea and style show. Club women were invited to attend as the union's guests, tea and cookies or small sandwiches were served, and they were entertained by our girls, who modeled their own products. They were told about the making of those garments, and the conditions under which such merchandise was produced in union and nonunion factories.
This and other small affairs were the only ILGWU social activities in Los Angeles. I learned later that Miss Ingraham had been planted in our office by an outside group; during local elections, she openly canvased members to vote for the Communist candidates. Before we relieved her of her duties as an organizer, she admitted to me that she knew nothing about the union apart from what she had learned from the girls in the miscellaneous local and from books. But to be known in certain circles as the ILGWU representative made her persona grata where otherwise she would have had no entree.
Finding a shortage of machine operators in the new type of work and a surplus in others, I set up a re-training school in our headquarters, similar to the one I had established in Boston, as one way of combating unemployment and the "training school" racket. Our school comprised a completely equipped modern garment shop, with special machines for overlocking, pinking, blind-stitching, button hole making, felling, and general sewing. Concepcion Cisneros, a skilled operator, expert in using 32 different kinds of special machines, volunteered her evenings and became chief instructor of more than 200 workers.
Manager Wishnak also inaugurated a price-adjustment class to re-train shop chair-ladies and shop committees in up-to-date methods of settling piece rates on garments.
For the children of our members there were Saturday classes in clay-modeling, painting, music, dancing, singing, and general recreation.
I took full charge of the organizing department and had Miss Ingraham explain her methods to me.
Having inherited various cases pending before the National Labor Relations Board, she spent hours daily at the NLRB office, usually returning empty handed. These cases were in widely scattered sections and but remotely related to our industry. What struck me as odd was that in several practically the same group of girls was involved. We called them together now and offered to retrain and place them in union shops.
One case was that of the Hollywood Maxwell Company, makers of corsets, brassieres, and "who-can-tells."
"What are 'who-can-tells'?" I wanted to know.
"That's what the trial examiner asked Dr. Bowen, owner of Hollywood-Maxwell," Millie Goldberg, an organizer, said.
"What did Dr. Bowen say?"
"They look natural, and feel natural÷but they aren't natural!"
These hand-made, soft, full false breasts, "gay deceivers," which made the figures of slim, flat-chested movie stars look so attractive in the films, were produced mostly by home workers. Movie queens of the Paramount studios were serviced by Hollywood Maxwell, others by Westmore Brothers, with foundation garments and who= can-tells.
"How did we happen to get mixed up with them?" I asked.
I was told that Bill Busick had organized the Hollywood-Maxwell factory a few years before, and later the union had been drawn into NLRB proceedings.
That factory was far outside our geographical range, in the heart of Hollywood, on Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, a few blocks from the famous Hollywood Bowl. About a dozen girls appeared at a noon meeting in a rented hall near by, and our organizers served sandwiches, soft drinks, and cake. The affair savored of a small town "social" rather than a serious union meeting. Back at the office, I took out the Hollywood-Maxwell file and began to study this strange case.
Bill Busick, brought into our organization at the time of the 1933 dressmakers' general strike, had remained as educational director and general organizer, under the supervision of Vise-President Feinberg.
A happy-go-lucky fellow who could get up in the middle of the night and make an inspiring speech to any group of workers, Bill was invaluable during the upsurge of organization in all labor fields in Southern California.
He had a variety of hobbies cultivating marine gardens, collecting books, tinkering with inventions. To patent a new kind of tooth brush, he needed more money than his ILGWU salary, so he began borrowing from friends and ended by obtaining loans from "friendly employers."
After his drive among the Hollywood-Maxwell workers, the firm signed a collective agreement with Local 266 in September, 1937, providing for maximum hours, minimum wages, and improved working conditions. But meanwhile the firm fostered a company union, and when the agreement expired a year later, refused to renew it. We were compelled to appeal to the NLRB.
At the hearing it developed that Dr. Bowen, head of the firm, also had invented a toothbrush, and that he and Bill Busick had formed a partnership to finance Bill's invention. Apparently Dr. Bowen wanted to influence the union official.
It was revealed that Dr. Bowen had agreed to pay Busick $25 a month to have the ILGWU defeated at an election conducted by the NLRB.1 About January, 1938, he lent Busick $275 after Bill had told him that his wife was ill and he had to pay doctors' bills. Bowen hoped to create "better feeling all around" and win the expected NLRB election for the company-controlled brassiere workers' group.
Busick, no longer connected with our union, testified that when offered the bribe he had consulted the NLRB regional director, who had approved his acceptance of the money, which was to be produced later as evidence that the firm acted in bad faith. Unfortunately, the records of these conversations, taken down by an NLRB stenographer, had disappeared, and Busick couldn't prove his case.
The contract terminated and no election was held. The firm agreed to bargain with the ILGWU if a comparison by the board proved that our membership tallied with the firm's payroll as of February, 1939. Meanwhile the inside company union renewed its activity and the firm reneged on its promise.
The NLRB ruled that the ILGWU was the appropriate collective bargaining agency for all Hollywood-Maxwell employes and found the company union guilty of violating the National Labor Act by fostering an inside, company-controlled organization. But the company refused to obey the order.
I told the union members that it was better for us to drop the case. I was too busy to travel out to Hollywood Boulevard during the day to meet a handful of shop workers when they could come to our downtown office, as did others after work hours.
We tried to get the right to bargain for our members only, but the firm's attorney, Watkins, who was also chief counsel for Southern Californians, Inc., refused.
I filed that case and proceeded with the others.
In the next one, I. Youlin, maker of American Legion insignia, after prolonged hearings, was ordered to take back employes discharged for union activity and give them two years' back pay. Of the ten workers involved, one now lived in New York, one woman had become a mother and was occupied at home, several had got other jobs, and some were already hack with the firm. But they all accepted the back pay checks!
Other pending cases concerned a knitgoods firm, a chenille factory, a sportswear firm; some involved only one or two workers. The case of Evelyn Frocks, makers of cloaks and suits in Vernon, an incorporated village owned by the Southern Pacific Railway outside of Los Angeles, I turned over to the Cloak Makers' Union.
We also called together those girls who were involved in some of these cases, offering to re-train them and place them in union shops.
Our 1940 convention was to open May 27 in New York, and I was anxious to clear up all tag-ends before leaving. Dressmakers' Local 96 had elected me by acclamation as one of its delegates. Ethel McGee, new local president, was the other, and Virginia Barazza, California-born Mexican member of the local, was alternate.
Every one of the 18,000 seats in Madison Square Garden was filled at the opening of the convention. Governor Lehman of New York spoke, and the cultural division of our educational department, with Louis Schaffer as its enterprising director, staged a stupendous pageant, I Hear America Singing. Based on Walt Whitman's heroic poem, it presented a rousing cavalcade of American history. More than 1,000 were in the cast, many coming directly from the shops to participate in the performance.
On a Sunday 120,000 ILGWU members were convention guests at the World's Fair, crowding into the Court of Peace to hear a musical program and addresses by Eleanor Roosevelt and Senator Robert F. Wagner.
Business sessions were held in Carnegie Hail. Appointed secretary of the education committee, of which Harry Wander was chairman, I divided my time between its conferences and the convention floor, making it a point to hear the outstanding speeches by governmental, civic, and labor notables.
Always our conventions are different from others; surprises are frequently sprung by delegations from various areas. When Meyer Perlstein, our Southwestern director, made his report, the delegation from that territory marched into the hall dressed in regional costumes÷Texas cowboys and cowgirls whooping it up; San Antonio Mexicans in gay attire, singing Spanish songs; Kansas farmers in overalls, wide straw hats, and red bandannas, their women in sunbonnets and voluminous skirts. Matching this, a bevy of beautiful girls from the knitwear group held all eyes as they appeared in bathing suits of the latest styles, made by their own members.
President Roosevelt was endorsed for a third term, and the delegates paraded around the hall, cheering wildly. The assemblage voted condemnation of the Stalin-Hitler pact; demanded liberation of all working-class political prisoners in Soviet Russia, and particularly the freeing of Ehrlich and Alter, Polish labor leaders; urged passage of the LaFollette-Thomas bill to outlaw labor spies, strikebreakers, and gunmen in industrial conflicts; and called for a federal health insurance system, to round out the national social security program.
There were days when that conclave was saddened and subdued by the news from Europe: the surrender by the King of Belgium of his army of 5,00,000, the British retreat to the Channel at Dunkirk, the disintegration of France as the Nazis marched across that country, the impending fall of Paris. Word of those successive appalling disasters colored the speeches, and gave pause to every delegate. A continent was breaking up. The Hitler blight, more terrible than the Black Death of the Middle Ages, was spreading at undreamed-of speed. Countless thousands of working people were being massacred or plunged into brutal slavery. Where would it all end?
The climax of the convention was the appearance of President William Green of the American Federation of Labor, welcoming the ILGWU back into its ranks. Our International had been suspended from the A F of L in 1936 for aiding the Committee for Industrial Organization in its campaign to organize the unskilled mass-production workers.
In 1900 the ILGWU was chartered with 2,000 members. The passing of forty years saw our membership fluctuate like the course of a roller-coaster. After 1933 it steadily climbed. To maintain decent conditions for our members it was necessary to raise the standards of others; conditions in all industries are rightfully the concern of all organized labor. Hence we helped to form the Committee for Industrial Organization, designed to organize unskilled mass-production workers into industrial unions. For this offense we were suspended from the A F of L. From the beginning our president and various members of the GEB tried vainly to bring both groups together, and reestablish peace in the labor movement.
During the formative stages of the CIO, our International closely co-operated with it, giving generous financial and moral assistance. But when the committee called a constitutional convention in 1938, with the purpose of forming an organization which would rival the American Federation of Labor, we refused to take part. For two years our union remained an independent body.
Repeatedly the A F of L heads had invited us to "come back home," and such an invitation came before the GEB while we were in session.
Overnight we of the GEB had weighed the advisability of accepting that invitation to return to the parent fold. Upon assurance from Mr. Green that our proposals for the future of the national labor movement would be taken up at the next A F of L convention, we voted to recommend reaffiliation.
When Mr. Green handed our old charter back to President Dubinsky, there was great jubilation among the six hundred-odd delegates. But at that moment, as I stood on the platform with the other members of the GEB, I found myself touching the scar above my left eye, souvenir of the razor slash inflicted by an A F of L zealot in the Cleveland knit-wear strike. Near me stood Abe Katovsky, who had nearly been killed, and on the convention floor I could see Louis Friend, cruelly knifed in that same violent period. So I could not join the others in their unbridled enthusiasm÷the thought of those nerve-racking days haunted me.
At the close of the convention I was unanimously reelected for a third term on the General Executive Board, as the International's "only woman vise-president."
That spring I was invited to attend an informal meeting at the home of Melvyn Douglas in Hollywood, at which James Carter, our attorney, told me current political problems would be discussed.
Driving along Hollywood Boulevard, enroute, I wondered what sort of a person Mr. Douglas was in real life. In the films he usually depicted an easy-going, teasing lover, whose one thought apparently was to get his girl good and sore and then marry her.
His home, an old Spanish house, stands on a hilltop near where John Charles Fremont signed the treaty with the Mexicans in 1847. At night, from the broad veranda can be seen the shimmering lights and multi-colored neon signs of the world's film capital.
Mrs. Melvyn Douglas, a slender, charming woman in evening dress ÷better known as Helen Gahagan÷introduced us to her husband.
I was agreeably surprised. Douglas was the antithesis of the types and character he generally assumed on the screen. Tall, handsome, broad-shouldered, and light haired, with a twinkle in his eyes, he proved to have a serious concern about the nation's social, economic, and political trends. At the moment he was serving on a relief commission appointed by Governor Olson.
Helen Gahagan, herself a capable actress, had left the stage to raise a family, yet busied herself in behalf of the migratory agricultural workers, whose lot was still tragic. She and her husband were active New Dealers, and were soon to depart for the Democratic national convention, to which Douglas was to be a delegate from California.
In this gathering at his home were men and women from many walks of life, lawyers, educators, social service workers, state and federal employes, movie folk, labor union officials, and liberals with various affiliations.
Douglas gave those present an outline of pending social reforms in a clear, informative way that would have done credit to a professor of political economy. The ensuing discussion, lively and illuminating, showed that his guests were deeply solicitous about the issues that would come up in the election campaign. A get-acquainted session followed, and it was pleasant to find friends from various parts of the country. Among them were Dr. Oliver Carlson, authority on labor problems and Governor Olson's public relations director, whom I had known when he was on the faculty of an Arkansas college; James Carter, soon to be appointed California Motor Vehicle Director; John Packard, well known lawyer and chairman of the State Welfare Commission, formerly a prominent Socialist; Bill Seligman, Brookwood Labor College student, who was now Los Angeles representative of the United Shoe Workers' Union; Louis Ellit, of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers; A. A. Levitt of the Jewish Daily Forward; and representatives of several newly formed industrial unions, linked with both the A F of L and the CIO. Here, too, I met people connected with Jewish and Catholic welfare groups, whom I enjoyed cultivating later.
Driving home, we agreed that movie stars might be just as misunderstood and misrepresented as labor leaders. Reading the slush in movie magazines and scandal sheets about Hollywood life, who would believe that such meetings actually took place?
When our educational department was functioning to my satisfaction, I invited Helen Gahagan Douglas to address a meeting at union headquarters. I wanted the local membership to meet the wife of a movie star and to hear the inside story about "glamour girls of the films."
"When you read a sensational story about an actor or actress," she said, "remember that's merely the studio's conception of a Hollywood publicity buildup. Movie players are for the most part earnest and sincere in their efforts to provide entertainment. They are usually not responsible for choosing film stories nor for the direction."
Artists had to work hard, live normal lives, get adequate sleep, and be physically and mentally fit to keep up the grind, Miss Gahagan told us.
"If they habitually stayed out nights, drinking and fooling around in night clubs, their voices would crack and record badly, and their faces would look haggard and worn on the screen."
The few who did such things had short-lived careers.
Our contacts with the movie colony grew closer, and some of the stars showed eagerness to meet with our members. We found that just as the enemies of organized labor used any unfavorable publicity about a minor union official as an excuse to smear all union leaders, as grafters, racketeers, and "jobholders," so the film people suffered because mediocrities happened to get reams of publicity, which overshadowed those who were capable and fine-grained.
When Melvyn Douglas walked into the meeting room to take his seat as a member of the State Relief Commission, he heard a biting comment from an idling spectator: "I suppose this is one of the few sober moments in a drunken Hollywood actor's life."
Seeing him constantly on the go, always ready to serve other people, I often wondered when he had time to rest. This was true also of his friend, Edward G. Robinson, and of many others. Top-rank players usually were generous in giving their time and money to worthy causes. Once Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and John Garfield, scheduled to speak at a home for the aged, spent the afternoon sitting on a platform, as I did, waiting for their turn to speak, and there was no publicity in it, either!
I had ample opportunity also to meet the smaller fry, extras and stunt performers who worked on a day-to-day basis, and whose names never appeared on the marquee of any movie house. Without their support few pictures would be complete. I met competent actors who served as "doubles" and performed hazardous stunts with their backs to the audience. Then the faces of the featured players were shown in brief close-ups. In one case, a stunt man who doubled for one of the best known actors in spectacular films, after performing breath-taking falls and dangerous fencing, took to drink because of the nerve-strain, became unreliable, and found it difficult to get jobs.
Mike Donovan, whose daughter Mary was on our Los Angeles staff, had been connected with the film industry in Hollywood for years as an extra. A sturdy Irishman, well over fifty, he portrayed a cop, a miner, a pioneer, at $11 to $20 per day, depending on the type. But daily Mike had to sit chained to the telephone and the wire had to be kept open at all times for studio calls. Hence there were two phones in his Hollywood home. His wife was a wardrobe woman, and their younger daughter, Helen, a shapely apparel model, occasionally got odd jobs in scenes requiring formal wear.
Once Mike announced that a film had just been released in which he had a big part÷a locomotive engineer. So all of us at the union office went to see When The Daltons Rode. We sat through it twice, and saw no one who resembled Mike. "That part was cut out," he explained sadly.
Some players with real talent never got to the attention of the proper people and fell by the wayside; a few, despondent, took to dope. Newspaper stories about the sudden death of one of these would note that he or she took an over-dose of sleeping tablets.
What was most gratifying was to meet reputable movie stars at union meetings and conventions as delegates from their locals. Some of the outstanding "glamour girls" and male idols of the screen were active union members. Robert Montgomery was an early president of the Screen Actor's Guild. Central Labor Council meetings were attended by representatives of the motion picture industry as well as of the variety artists, who mingled on equal terms with less affluent bricklayers, garment workers, and truck drivers. At the convention of the California State Federation of Labor that fall, the delegation from the Movie Actors' Guild included Lucille Gleason, Frank Morgan, and Kenneth Thompson.
When the ILGWU musical comedy hit, Pins and Needles, came to Los Angeles for a second engagement in the spring of 1941, the International took over the whole Biltmore Theater for the opening night. During the three weeks' run, leading movie players were well represented among the guests, encouraging our young actors, mostly recruited from the garment industry.
On our return from the ILGWU national convention, our campaign was intensified. We had to get straying members back before we could even attempt to organize others. Alienated unionists were the biggest obstacle.
Concha Andrews, who had served conscientiously in the 1933 strike, came into my office "to apologize for listening to a lot of gossip."
"Concha darling," I told her, "there's no need of that. Roll up your sleeves, as in the good old days, and let's clean up this town."
She brought other Mexican women back and they made the place hum.
I began arranging Saturday and Sunday outings, renting busses at the union's expense to take our crowd to points of interest. One of these was Long Beach, famous for the Townsend Plan, which called for the payment of $200 a month to every jobless person of good moral character over sixty years old. Money for this was to have come from a national two per cent tax on every financial transaction. But it never went through because Dr. Francis Townsend, real estate dealer, was unable to persuade Congress to appropriate $2,000,000 to cover the initial outgo.
Long Beach had an institution called the Spit and Argue Club, largely composed of retired Iowa farmers and their wives, who held forth on a broad platform at one end of a lagoon formed by constructing an oval breakwater in the Pacific Ocean. Each afternoon an open forum was staged there, with speakers discussing all sorts of social panaceas. Hymns and IWW songs were sung, and usually there would be square dances to fiddle-music. In a quiet corner, too, some of those present made bets on horse races.
We heard some of the speeches and debates, which dealt with such subjects as Technocracy (still a live issue then in California), the high cost of living, the moral state of the nation, juvenile delinquency, Upton Sinclair's EPIC (End Poverty in California) plan, and the Ham-and-Eggs plan. Both of these latter proposals had rocked the state.
After thirty years as a Socialist Party candidate, Sinclair, world-famed writer and crusader for social justice, changed his political affiliation in 1934 and ran for Governor as a Democrat. "Production for use" was the keynote of his program. It called for abolition of the sales tax, which hits the poor hardest; a tax on idle land; tax exemption for small homes and ranches; a $50-a-month pension for all needy persons; and widespread creation of jobs for the unemployed by the State. Despite massed assaults by reactionaries upon him and his platform, Sinclair rolled up 879,000 votes, being defeated by Frank Merriam, Republican, who got 1,138,000.
Sinclair's campaign carried Culbert Olson into office as State Senator, and four years later, running on a similar platform, he became Governor. Immediately after his inauguration he set Tom Mooney free in a dramatic ceremony in the State House in Sacramento, thus keeping a campaign pledge.
Following his defeat, Sinclair went back to his study and resumed writing books, turning out a notable series of novels dealing with international events and circumstances of three decades which led up to the present carnage.
Almost $1,000,000 was collected and spent in less than a year by the promoters of the Ham-and-Eggs plan, fostered by Robert Noble, "an obscure politico-economic lecturer," and two brothers, Willis and Lawrence Allen. They proposed to have the State pay $30 in one-dollar warrants every Thursday to every resident over fifty. These were to be redeemed by stamp selling, holders attaching a one-cent stamp to each warrant each week to use it as cash That plan got 1,043,000 votes, not enough to make it a law..
The one tangible benefit to California's elder population from these agitations appears to have been an increase in old age pension payments from an average of $21 a month in 1934 to $38 a month in 1941.
We also staged an excursion to Santa Catalina Island, three hours away in the Pacific Ocean. For this I began by renting a "watertaxi" a large junk with tarpaulin canopy, seating 60 or 70 persons. We issued a leaflet setting the trip rate at $1.75÷the regular steamer rate was $3.50 and our garment workers jumped at the opportunity. Chartering one water-taxi at a time as the tickets were sold, by Sunday morning I had seven filled to capacity, seating nearly 500 men, women, and children.
Our excursion was a big success. Santa Catalina Island, twenty-eight miles long, is owned by the Wrigley chewing-gum family and has become a base for the motion picture industry, most South Sea pictures being produced there. Its hills and winding trails and tropical verdure made the island a popular vacation place. A never-ending fascination for visitors was the glass-bottom boats, through which marine life could be seen in great variety.
Carrying food for the day, our members brought their whole families. For each water-taxi our educational department supplied song sheets and a leader with a good voice. Next day the garment market buzzed with talk about that holiday.
The organization campaign proceeded steadily. Our educational activities, widely popular, included re-training of hand-workers whose jobs had been blotted out by introduction of new machines; advice about unemployment insurance and other forms of social security, filling out tax returns, placing children in camps, and helping women m maternity cases. Timid recruits became ardent organizers and missionaries for us.
America Iglesias Thacher, one of the six daughters of Santiago Iglesias, late Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico in Washington, came in one day bringing regards from her sister Laura, whom I had known on the island. America's husband was working for Douglas Aircraft m Los Angeles. I hired her as my secretary, and could not have asked for a better one. She had been active in the Puerto Rican labor movement, served as translator in President William Green's office at A F of L headquarters in Washington, worked for the Pan-American Union, and for two years had been secretary of the Central Spanish Relief Committee for Republican Spain.
Her experience had given her a clear insight into Latin-American economic and social problems. At once she plunged into the new work with the zeal of a propagandist.
That fall we were invited to enter a float in the A F of L Labor Day parade. We cheerfully accepted and got busy designing our own. Julius Bohlen, our handy man, undertook to build it, in sections, at union headquarters. Over the week-end Julius, his assistant, three of my friends÷Sue Adams, John Donovan, and Melvyn M. Jones÷and I did the painting and decorating. On Sunday we assembled the sections in; a parking lot opposite the union offices.
A broad platform was placed on a big truck. Above the driver's seat arose a tall structure simulating a garment factory building. In the back the platform became a stage for a style show, showing the evolution of women's wear.
Joint Council members were fearful that our quota in the parade would be small; members often left town on such a long week-end. But I planned to circumvent that÷we would publicize a children's float. What parents would miss the opportunity to have their offspring ride in a parade?
The idea clicked. On Labor Day, the children, all dressed up, milled around their mothers, beaming with excitement. Their float was the hit of the parade. A big red Mac truck covered with red, white, and blue bunting carried fifty youngsters who sang union songs at the top of their lungs, while crowds on Broadway sidewalks cheered them. Signs on both sides of the truck proclaimed those kids "100% union made."
Next in popularity was our style show float, with fifteen union girls dressed in ancient and modern garb, the older garments being rented from the Western Costume Company, which services the motion picture industry with period clothing.
Here were the primitive leopard skin, the low-necked Marie Antoinette gown, the bustle skirt, and the old fashioned bathing suit, flanked by simple and glamorous modern attire. After the floats marched hundreds of our members, headed by a brass band. Dr. Carlson, who watched the parade from a Broadway window, says our crowd stood out "like a victory thumb."
The following year we entered two floats, built by a commercial firm. Julius Bohlen noted, with professional jealousy, that these weren't nearly so well made as ours the previous year. But we were then in the midst of an organization drive, and we had no time to build our own. Sportswear and cotton dress workers gathered for the parade by thousands, and we had two children's floats and several brass bands.
The spring of 1941 was notable for our fashion show and ball in the Biltmore Hotel, where Robert Montgomery came unannounced and thanked our union for its contributions to the Bundles for Britain campaign.
At the State Federation of Labor convention that fall in Santa Monica, I was one of the ILGWU delegates. The arrangements committee invited us to display our products and to stage a style show at a dance. We brought several dummy models and various types of garments manufactured in the Los Angeles factories, and worked up a window-type exhibit, with literature and posters from our edu- cational department.
The style show went off with flying colors, the United Garment Workers' Union (A F of L) sending several male models to display men's furnishing. The delegates and guests made it clear that we would have their whole-hearted support in any conflict with the employers.
1. NLRB hearings Hollywood-Maxwell Company, Case No. C1489 decided June 12 1940. Pages 645-678 Vol. 94, May-June, 1940.
From : Anarchy Archives
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