This Week in History
For the week of Monday May 5, 2014
On May 7, 1937, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union ended its Montréal Dressmakers’ Strike, having achieved great success! During the strike, French and Jewish Canadians banded together with unprecedented solidarity to secure workers’ rights.
This unity came when the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) brought their fight for workers’ rights to Montréal. The ILGWU invited a talented strategist to help organize the workers, Rose Pesotta, a Jewish American. In an effort to bring together the French Canadian majority and the Jewish minority, she used traditional methods, such as home-visits and leaflets, but also added innovative bilingual newsletters and radiobroadcasts to engage French workers.
Their work led to the creation of the Dressmakers’ Local 262 of the ILGWU at a union meeting in January 1937. A local newspaper, the Illustration Nouvelle, published a photo of the meeting and the seven women shown in it lost their jobs because their employers feared unions. Workers reacted by picketing outside one of those employers, Queen City Dress, with every member of Local 262 uniting around them. The seven women were rehired, but their working conditions remained terrible.
At midnight on April 14, the ILGWU tried to recreate that spirit of unity by calling a surprise strike. The strike lasted until May 7 with as many as 8,000 workers demanding action. Their demands were answered! The emerging deal brought union certification, a 44 hour work week, the chance to file complaints and indirectly led to the increase of their weekly salary to $16.
The Montreal Dressmakers’ Strike of 1937 was designated a National Historic Event for bringing women into the labour movement and for the important role of Jewish Canadians and French Canadians in improving workers' rights. To learn more about Canadian Labour History, please see Winnipeg On Strike, Springhill Strikes! and "To Each His Own" in the This Week in History archives.
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