Women to Celebrate on Labor Day
For many of us, Labor Day signals one last holiday weekend hurrah before the end of summer. And while we are grateful for that extra day off, we want to take a moment to acknowledge the working women that have made and continue to make important contributions and gains in workers rights.
Clara Lemlich inspired the Uprising of the 20,000, a massive strike by New York City’s garment workers, who were mostly immigrant, Jewish women. Lemlich worked at a shirtwaist factory where young women worked six to seven days for wages of just $5 a week. Outraged, she began organizing with the young International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) which, ironically, was dominated by men. Many of ILGWU’s male leaders didn’t think women were tough enough to organize – till Lemlich demanded to speak at a workers’ meeting and gave a fiery speech that inspired as many as40,000 women to walk off their jobs and demand better labor conditions. The strike forced most factories in the city to recognize unions and improve labor conditions.
Delores Huerta, along with César Chávez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 to organize California’s predominantly Hispanic farmworkers. Farmworkers faced horrific abuse from growers: extremely low pay, no breaks, no protections from hazardous pesticides, and widespread sexual assault. In 1965, Huerta organized the groundbreaking Delano Grape Strike and a massive boycott of California grapes, forcing grape growers to accept contracts that unionized 50,000 California farmworkers. Huerta didn’t stop there: she organized to pass the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, and she’s been a leading voice for immigrant, workers’, and women’s rights ever since.
Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, was the principal architect of the New Deal, credited with formulating policies to shore up the national economy following the nation’s most serious economic crisis and helping to create the modern middle class. She was in every respect a self-made woman who rose from humble New England origins to become America’s leading advocate for industrial safety and workers’ rights.
Attorney Saru Jayaraman responded to the 9/11 tragedy by organizing displaced World Trade Center workers and co-founding ROC United. A national labor leader and researcher, she helps restaurant workers mobilize with employers and consumers for better wages and working conditions through policy change, workplace justice campaigns, cooperatively-owned restaurants, and more.
Ai-jen Poo is the Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the Co-Director of Caring Across Generations. She is an award-winning activist, thought leader, and social innovator, and a leading voice in domestic workers’ rights and family care advocacy.
As co-founder of the Domestic Workers United (DWU), a city-wide, multiracial organization of domestic workers, she help lead the way to the passage of the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010, historic legislation that extends basic labor protections to over 200,000 domestic workers in New York state.
In 2011, Ai-jen co-created the national Caring Across Generations campaign to ensure access to affordable care for the nation’s aging population and access to quality jobs for the caregiving workforce.
For more women you should celebrate on Labor Day, check out this piece from Feministing.