This letter to the editor of the Chinese Digest represents the beginning of a dialogue between Jennie Matyas, organizer for the ILGWU, and the second-generation Chinese-American activists who edited the monthly. Throughout her organizing efforts, Matyas had to make the case for unionization, noting here the significantly higher wages paid to unionzed garment workers. Here we can see that Chinese workers were being encouraged to unionize by both second-generation Chinese American intellectuals and non-Chinese union officials. The existence of advocates for unions within the Chinese community in San Francisco no doubt made garment workers more receptive to the union message Matyas preached.
To the Editor, CHINESE DIGEST:
I read with great interest the article entitled, "I covered the Picket Lines" by L.A.H. as well as your editiorial in the June issue. It pleased me to note that both the article and your editorial implies the need for unionization among Chinese workers.
Your editorial sends out a "clarion call" for other labor unions in San Francisco and in the state of California to emulate the Culinary Unions in "permitting" Chinese workers into their union membership.
The organization which I represent, the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, would not only "permit" Chinese into its membership, but would welcome them with open arms. For some time, now, we pleaded with your "fellow-villagers," kinsmen, and friends to join our Union and to receive our support in establishing higher wages and shorter hour among the needle workers in the Chinese community.
Our Union, internationally, never had any racial barriers. We have always held that yellow, white, or black workers all have the same problems! Whatever their creed, race, or color, workers need the protection of organization if they are to receive wages which will guarantee decent living conditions for themselves and their families. Where workers are unorganized, supply and demand, and hunger and need, are the only laws which govern employment conditions and wages.
Garment workers in the Chinese community, we are told, work for wages ranging from $4 and $5 to between $13 and $16 a week. In the same industry, union workers receive from $19 to $30 per week for a shorter work week. The difference in wages in the Chinese community is not due to the fact that the workers are Chinese! It is due to the fact that they are not organized, that they have no collective bargaining power, that they stand as individuals and consequently suffer from underbidding and exploitation.
The conditions of the Chinese garment workers in San Francisco differ from that under which Chinese are employed elsewhere in that they work for Chinese "employers" who are themselves employees, or contractors, for the large American manufacturers. The Chinese "employers" or contractors need organization as much as their workers do. They act as individuals. The manufacturer pits one against the other in his attempt to get a low price. The result is that each contractor is forced to underbid the other. In turn, the contractor, because he receives so little from the manufacturer, must pay little to his workers. The Chinese garment workers live in poverty and insecurity not because they are Chinese, but because they still work under a system in which each stands weak and alone.
The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union not only "permits," but pleads with Chinese garment workers to join our organization, to help abolish low wages and cutthroat labor competition. We are asking all progressive Chinese, to whom the welfare of the community is a serious concern, to help us in interpreting the meaning of unionzation to Chinese workers so that they may understand the purpose of organization and share in the benefits which come with organization-good working conditions and a wage adequate to provide a decent standard of living.
Organizer and Educational
Director International Ladies'
Garment Workers' Union.
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