Photo courtesy of Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, St. Louis

International Ladies Garment Workers Union Strike

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.