The 1930's was a turbulent decade in the ladies garment factories,
centered on Washington Ave. in downtown St. Louis. Before the passage
of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, the garment factory
workers endured low wages, and harsh working conditions. Around the
time the N.I.R.A. passed, the International Ladies Garment Workers
Union arrived in town and began the process of unionizing the workers.
In August of 1933, strikes were held along Washington Ave. in order
to get the garment companies to accept the unions which many did by
early September of that year.
Evidently, the Forest City Manufacturing Company did not uphold its
promise. On January 21st, 1935, the I.L.G.W.U. ordered a strike at
the Forest City factory because the company did not reemploy 150 workers
who had walked the picket lines in 1933. They also set up a spy system
to track potential union troublemakers, and failed to comply with
the N.I.R.A. codes. The walkout occurred on the morning of February
6th, when 446 of the 500 workers left their post and marched out on
to the street. Organizing the strike, Edith Phillips stated: “Yes,
the Forest City Manufacturing Company will spend thousands of dollars
for blackjacks, pistols, private detectives, injunctions, graft and
scandal sheets, etc., all in order to defeat the strikers.”
Throughout the spring, the picketers endured attempts by police and
the company to break up the strike.
The strike lasted for almost a year, without any real success for
the workers. On February 2nd, 1936, the I.L.G.W.U. signed a new pact
with forty seven companies in the city, including Forest City Mfg.
Co. It retained the conditions originally agreed upon from the 1933
strikes. However, there was still labor strife between the I.L.G.W.U.
and Forest City which lasted until November 1st, 1941, when the two
signed a contract for a wage increase.