As Seen by Their Employers

Employers Resist Concession to Strikers' Demands

"We cannot understand why so many people can be swayed to join in a strike that has no merit."

--"one of the largest manufacurers" to the New York Times, November 25, 1909.

This New York sweatshop was lucky enough to have many windows bringing in sunlight

Not nearly as much has been documented from the perspective of shirtwaist factory employers as of their employees, but factory heads did flex their muscles during the massive strike by refusing to cave in to demands quickly. The manufacturers attempted to shift business to other cites but the union members fought back, inciting a strike in Philadelphia. Mary Dreier alleged that the factory leaders were favorably aligned with the police department against strikers, as officers often treated the demonstrators with unreasonable fervor. The Police Commissioner denied her charges in the New York Times. Officers patrolling the areas surrounding factories such as the Triangle Waist and Leiserson shops arrested strikers for the slightest offenses, and picketers alleged that often the offenses were imagined.

Many strikers were arrested while protesting on the picket line, often claiming that the charges were erroneous.Reports in the newspapers carried some employer perspective. The New York Times informed readers on November 25, 1909, that a secret meeting had been held by factory heads the previous day and that those who attended the meeting refused comment. The Times quoted an unnamed manufacturer as saying “We cannot understand why so many people can be swayed to join in a strike that has no merit. Our employès were perfectly satisfied, and they made no demands. It is a foolish, hysterical strike, and not 5 per cent of the strikers know what they are striking for.”

I.B. Hyman, chairman of the Association of Waist and Dress Manufacturers, declared in an article in the Times on November 28 that “the strike leaders have been describing conditions which do not exist. They have represented the wages as about one-half, or less than one-half, what they really are, and unfortunately many people will believe these statements.”

Despite these claims, most employers eventually agreed to meet all save one of the strikers’ demands. Large-scale manufacturers, for the most part, refused to officially recognize the union. Louis Levine laid out the terms of the agreement in The Women’s Garment Workers:

  1. Fifty-two hours shall constitute a week of work.
  2. Employers shall not discriminate in hiring or discharging employès or otherwise because of membership in a labor organization.
  3. Employers shall furnish free of charge needles, thread, and all other appliances, provided the supplies so furnished are to be accounted for, or broken parts returned so far as reasonably possible.
  4. During slack time or dull season work shall be divided equally among employès so far as is reasonably practicable.
  5. At least four legal holidays in each year shall be allowed all workers, with daily or fixed wages, with full pay.
  6. Wages and prices for work shall be arranged in each shop between the employer and his employès.
  7. The striking employès are to return to work and are to be reinstated in their former places, so far as practicable, and at the earliest practicable moment; and if not practicable, are to be given places in the shops of other members of the association, equally attractive and remunerative; and until the strikers are given employment the members of the Associated Waist and Dress Manufacturers are not to give employment to others.
  8. The Associated Waist and Dress Manufacturers will welcome communications at any time, from any source, as to alleged violations by any of its members of any of the foregoing provisions…and will welcome conference as to any differences…which may not be settled between the individual shop and its employès.

Because the agreement provided for no official acknowledgement of the union – that is, since the manufacturers failed to convert their factories to closed union-only shops – the employers maintained a small victory over the strikers.