When 15,000 workers walk out of a factory in one day and start a picket line, it’s bound to catch the interest of the press. But when the strike lasts for 14 weeks and shuts down a shirtwaist plant, they mean business. Especially when the strike, lead by all women in the early 1900s, something completely unheard of. In the 1910s women had about as many rights as blacks did, and though they had “freedom” they were discriminated by color all the same. At the start of an industrial revolution immigration to the cities was colossal, many people lived in ghettos and learned that good, well paying jobs were often hard to find. Low income meant that large families had a hard time paying their bills. No money to pay the bills lead to women and children dropping out of school and going to work in large overcrowded factories. When the heat and the pressure of large amounts of work and not enough pay became too much for them they decided to revolt. While women were arrested and sent to workhouses slowing progression, the Uprising of the 20,000 improved working conditions for sweatshop workers and proved women could make a difference in a man’s world.
Women young, and old, colored and white, walked out of the triangle shirtwaist factory with a purpose. They wanted a better life, and better pay for what they were working:”Young women predominated in the more than 6,000 small sweatshops and growing number of larger factories. In this cut throat competitive industry, workers endured low wages, long hours, unhealthy conditions, and speed-ups.” Women, teenagers and new immigrants worked to the bone every day, most providing their own materials, continuing with a normal work week ranging from 65 to 75 hours. In the case of the triangle shirtwaist factory: “…steel doors were used to lock in workers so as to prevent workers from taking breaks, and as a result women had to ask permission from supervisors to use the restroom” with the poor conditions the women were in made it difficult to work and complete the projects they were given, one right after the other. If the women made a small mistake or took too long their already miniscule pay would be docked by the end of the week.
These women were turning the tables in their favor, and wanted to keep it that way, which is why they created the ILGWU- the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the WSPU- Women’s Social and Political Union to make sure any unfairness in the workforce was settled fairly. These two labor unions would become big supporters and leaders in the future of women’s suffrage, but at the time they had bigger issues.
Clara Lemlich and the National Women’s Trade Union League of America decided that times had changed with the turn of the century; they did not want to have things handed to them, but rather take it for themselves. In the case of the Uprising of the 20,000 they wanted better wages, and working conditions in the pitiless profession in which they slaved. The...