How Did the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and Chinese Garment Workers Unite to Organize
the 1938 National Dollar Stores Strike?
Although the labor movement in California had demonized Chinese immigrant laborers, countervailing pressures gave trade union leaders reasons for seeking to organize Chinese workers. The continued existence of ill-paid Chinese contract shops in various trades provided employers with alternative sources of supply. The very existence of a low-wage Chinese sector in San Francisco manufacturing was a cause for concern among labor leaders in the city and that concern grew in periods of high unemployment such as the Great Depression. This document project explores a moment when the concerns of a national union, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), and the aspirations of Chinese women garment workers came together and resulted, first, in a significant organizing campaign, and, second, in a successful strike against the largest garment manufacturer in San Francisco's Chinatown. While the strike in the end was successful, it did not prove to be a turning point for women garment workers in Chinatown. Still, the National Dollar Stores strike marked an important transition in the labor history of Chinese and Chinese-American women in the United States, demonstrating that Chinese women garment workers would organize to improve wages and working conditions and establishing a link between Chinese women garment workers and the nation's leading union in the women's garment industry.
back to top