The ILGWU stands for one of the largest labor unions in the United States, one of the first U.S. unions to have a primarily female membership, and a key player in the labor history of the 1920s and 1930s. The letters mean The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. This label (pictured below) can be found in vintage clothing made in both Canada and the USA. It is a good marker to look for when buying, collecting vintage clothing.
The ILGWU was founded in 1900 in New York City by seven local unions, with a few thousand members between them. The union grew rapidly in the next few years but began to stagnate as the conservative leadership favored the interests of skilled workers, such as cutters. This did not sit well with the majority of immigrant workers, particularly Jewish workers with a background in Bundist activities in Tsarist Russia, or with Polish and Italian workers, many of whom had strong socialist and anarchist leanings. They also progressed to become a big business.
In the late twentieth century the rapidly declining ILGWU attempted to organize new immigrant sweat-shop labor and defended the rights of undocumented workers. But the old pattern of collaboration with employers to protect the industry persisted. Indeed, some Hong Kong sweatshops moved to New York in the 1980s and set up as union shops. Former ILGWU officials dominated The Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees, which was formed in 1995 through a merger of the ILGWU with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, an old rival based in the men’s clothing industry. UNITE merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) in 2004 to create a new union known as UNITE HERE. The two unions that formed UNITE in 1995 represented only 250,000 workers between them, down from the ILGWU’s peak membership of 450,000 in 1969.
The ILGWU sponsored a contest among its members in the 1970s for an advertising jingle to advocate buying ILGWU-made garments. The winner was Look for the union label.The Union’s “Look for the Union Label” song went as follows:
Look for the union label
When you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse,
Remember somewhere our union’s sewing,
Our wages going to feed the kids and run the house,
We work hard, but who’s complaining?
Thanks to the ILG, we’re paying our way,
So always look for the union label,
It says we’re able to make it in the USA!
When I am looking for vintage clothing, I also keep an eye out for this Union Label. Some of the clothing in my store Shuushuu by Lulu does have this label and I make a point of mentioning it in the description. Clothing made before 1995 may have this label in them.
Next time: Canada, French English Labels