Document 12: "First Chinese Dress Strike Stirs San Francisco Labor," Justice, 15 March 1938, pp. 1-2.


    The following article in the ILGWU's newspaper, Justice, praised the Chinese workers and their commitment to the new local in San Francisco. "Chinese Garment Strike Writes U.S. Labor History," the article proclaimed. Aimed at a national audience, it served to garner support for the Chinese strikers.



AFL Union Clerks
Refuse to Pass
Picket Lines


    San Francisco, Calif.--Under the banners of the ILGWU, America's first Chinese local union and first Chinese picket line are fighting the country's first battle to raise the burden of exploitation from the shoulders of Chinese workers and to end their competition with white workers in the Pacific Coast garment industry.

    One of the most heartening and significant aspects of the strike is the sturdy cooperation of the A.F. of L. store clerks who, as an expression of solidarity, are refusing to pass through the ILGWU picket lines, at great personal sacrifice.

    Following an extended period of organization work under the guidance of Vice-President Israel Feinberg, Jennie Matyas, ILGWU organizer, broke through the almost insuperable barriers of language and custom to bring the 125 Chinese garment workers employed by the National Dollar Store factory here into the Union.

    Several months of negotiation culminated in a strike, February 26, with the plant of the company and three stores it operated being surrounded by enthusiastic picket lines carrying placards in Chinese and English. And once again the ILGWU was proving to the world that the interests of all garment workers, regardless of race, color and creed, were identical.


    The pickets may be Oriental, but the course of the negotiations and strike followed a pattern familiar to all workers from coast to coast.

    There was the usual firing of active members; the usual stalling in negotiations, the usual call on the Union to prove that it represented the workers, the usual agreement to negotiate "in good faith" and the usual breaking of that agreement by the employer who, like many another employer, displayed his belief in the "sanctity of contracts" provided it was only the worker who was to display that regard for the much publicized "sanctity."

    Shortly before the turn of the year, organization of the National Dollar Store factory had reached the point where practically every worker was a member of the ILGWU and the Chinese Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, Local 341, the first Chinese trade union local in American industrial history, was chartered. The firm was immediately notified that the Union desired to meet with it for the purpose of collective bargaining.


    The employers, confident in the fact that the Chinese had never before engaged in formal trade union tactics, asked the Union to prove that it represented a majority of the workers. A consent check-off election was held at the offices of the San Francisco Regional Labor Board, January 24, in which the Union was an overwhelming victor. The firm then signed an agreement solemnly promising to negotiate.

    Initial conferences took place the next day and the parties agreed in writing to the following: Recognition of closed shop; wages agreed on would be retroactive to January 24; workers would be hired through the Union. That preliminary agreement was signed by the officers of the Union and by Mr. Harry Yip and Mr. Charles Dreyfus for the firm.


    Hardly was the ink dry on the preliminary agreement when it was announced that the National Dollar Store had sold its plant to the Golden Gate Manufacturing Company. An investigation of the new firm disclosed the fact that the new "owners" included the foreman of the plant and a Los Angeles employee of the National Dollar Stores. It is the contention of the Union that the "sale" was made to avoid negotiating with the Union but that the "new" concern was bound by the agreement to negotiate.

    The "new" concern persisted in hiding behind the "sale" and absolutely refused to meet with the Union. Confronted by such tactics, the Union called a strike and threw picket lines around the factory and three retail stores operated by the National Dollar Stores in San Francisco.

    Members of Local 1100 of the Retail Clerks International Protective Association, A.F. of L., despite the rift in the labor movement, have unerringly felt the importance of the real issue and have refused to pass through the picket lines surrounding the National Dollar stores. An effort to stampede them into a decision to pass the picket lines at one of their meetings proved fruitless. Their cooperation comes at considerable financial sacrifice because they are paying benefits out of their Union treasury.


East Meets West


By Jennie Matyas


When Kipling said:
"Oh, East is East,
And West is West,
And never the twain shall meet…"--

    he didn't know our International. At long last the East and the West certainly are meeting on the common field of unionism.

    When I expressed the hope before our Atlantic City convention that I would be able to penetrate San Francisco's Chinatown, I had little real thought that such a hope would materialize so soon.

    For years, Chinatown, in San Francisco, has been known as a recruiting field for cheap labor.

    The Chinese workers themselves believed that their only possibility of getting jobs lay in their cheapness and their ability and willingness to suffer privation for the sake of underbidding their white fellow worker-competitors. Unfortunately, the historic attitude of the white unions toward the Chinese has been expressed in the ousting of the Chinese from the labor field. Long suffering taught the Chinese to be suspicious of any appeal that might come from white unions.


    We tried in every way to persuade -- not the workers themselves, -- we could not reach them -- but socially minded members of the Chinese communities that our International never had been tainted by racial prejudice, and that we were sincere in our desire to organize the Chinese for their protection, as well as for our own.

    Even our assurances that our Union would never lend itself to a program that would take the work away from them didn't help. Indeed, it began to look as though there was a Chinese wall of distrust and fear, taller and more impregnable than the ancient wall that swings over hundreds of miles of Northern China.

    Finally something happened, -- the Chinese began to realize that, to yellow or white, workers' problems were the same color. They were ready to listen to us. A few brave souls risked everything to persuade their fellow workers that unionism was the only protection that workers in any land have.

    The National Dollar Stores, Ltd., is a Chinese corporation that owns 37 stores throughout the United States. They own one factory in San Francisco, which manufactures exclusively for them, and employs 125 needle workers. It is these workers who began to organize.

    Chinese or white, the problems of workers, in their relationship to their employers, are the same everywhere as the news story in this issue of "Justice" shows.

    The public is extremely sympathetic to the strike. Our pickets are given ice cream and candy as they march on the picket line and efforts are made to give them money. Despite their inexperience in labor situations and the bad weather making picketing extremely uncomfortable, the morale of the strikers is very good.

    All the four Chinese dailies in the town and the Labor Clarion, official organ of the San Francisco Labor Council, have given the strike sympathetic publicity.

    In the meantime, the Chinese are assuming all Union responsibilities and participate in our activities with all the enthusiasm of our oldest union-tried membership.

    Most of the Chinese members naturally talk and understand English but there is a percentage that is at home only in Chinese. Meetings are conducted in both English and Chinese and in delivering a talk I stop frequently for translation.

    We welcome our Chinese members into the ILGWU -- we welcome the opportunity of fighting with them and for them to better their conditions and the conditions of the garment workers everywhere throughout the country.

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