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Gateway to EqualityBlack Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis$
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Keona K. Ervin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780813168838

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813168838.001.0001

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“Beneath Our Dignity”

“Beneath Our Dignity”

Garment Workers and the Politics of Interracial Unionism

(p.121) 5 “Beneath Our Dignity”
Gateway to Equality

Keona K. Ervin

University Press of Kentucky

Chapter 5 analyzes the initial rocky years of black working-class women’s entry into the needle trades, boot and shoe, and laundry factories and their unions during the early to mid-1940s. Black working-class women exposed the fault lines of the American racial liberalism espoused by civil rights and union progressives who worked to establish “interracial good-will” in unionism and the industrial workforce. Women’s resistance on the shop floor and in the union hall, demanding respect and fairness, challenged and altered community leaders’ programs. Black working-class women were less interested in breaking the color barrier than in earning fair wages, establishing fair standards, organizing work hours around other commitments, and working and organizing in a hospitable climate. Focusing on black women’s work with the ILGWU, this chapter examines their work and union experiences in the union’s worker theater program to consider why conflicts over historical memory; black women workers’ long demands for dignity, autonomy, and respect; and social reformers’ interracial experiments produced intense battles.

Keywords:   Garment workers, International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, Labor education, Worker theater, Black working-class women

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