Clara Lemlich - Early Years

Early Years

Lemlich was born March 28, 1886 in the Ukrainian village of Gorodok to a Jewish family. Raised in a predominantly Yiddish-speaking village, young Lemlich learned to read Russian over her parents' objections, sewing buttonholes and writing letters for illiterate neighbors to raise money for her books. After a neighbor introduced her to revolutionary literature, Lemlich became a committed socialist. She immigrated to the United States with her family in 1903, following a pogrom in Kishinev.

Lemlich was able to find a job in the garment industry upon her arrival in New York. Conditions there had become even worse since the turn of the century, as the new industrial sewing machine allowed employers to demand twice as much production from their employees, who often had to supply their own machines and carry them to and from work. Lemlich, along with many of her co-workers, rebelled against the long hours, low pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, and humiliating treatment from supervisors. Lemlich became involved in the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and was elected to the executive board of Local 25 of the ILGWU.

Lemlich quickly made a name for herself among her fellow workers, leading several strikes of shirtwaist makers and challenging the mostly male leadership of the union to organize women garment workers. She combined boldness with a good deal of charm (she was known for her fine singing voice) and personal bravery (she returned to the picket line in 1909 after having several ribs broken when gangsters hired by the employers attacked the picketers).

Lemlich came to the attention of the outside world at the mass meeting held at Cooper Union on November 22, 1909 to rally support for the striking shirtwaist workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company and Leiserson Company. After the leading figures of the American labor movement and socialist leaders of the Lower East Side spoke in general terms about the need for solidarity and preparedness, Lemlich demanded the opportunity to speak. Lifted onto the platform she demanded action:

"I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike."

The crowd responded enthusiastically and, after taking a traditional Yiddish oath — "If I turn traitor to the cause I now pledge, may this hand wither from the arm I now raise" — voted for a general strike. Approximately 20,000 out of the 32,000 workers in the shirtwaist trade walked out in the next two days; this would become known as the Uprising of the 20,000. Lemlich took a leading role in bringing workers out, speaking at rallies until she lost her voice. The strike lasted until February 10, 1910, producing union contracts at almost every shop, but not at Triangle Shirtwaist.

Triangle Shirtwaist became a synonym for "sweatshop" during the following year. On March 25th, 1911, nearly 150 garment workers died as a result of a fire that consumed the factory. Workers were either burned to death or died jumping to escape the flames. Lemlich searched through the armory where the dead had been taken to search for a missing cousin; a newspaper reporter described her as convulsed by hysterical laughter and tears when she did not find her.

Read more about this topic:  Clara Lemlich

Other articles related to "early, years, early years":

List Of Historical Drama Films - High and Late Middle Ages (1000-1453)
... from the death of Richard the Lionheart until the early reign of King John Robin and Marian 1976 1199-c ... England from the death of Richard the Lionheart until the early reign of King John The Life and Death of King John 1951 1199–1216 England The reign of King John The Life. 1429 ... France Joan of Arc, the French heroine of the Hundred Years' War Saint Joan 1429 ... France Joan of Arc, the French heroine of the Hundred Years' War Joan of Arc 1429 ... France Joan of ...
Triple J - Station History - Foundation and Early Years: Double Jay
... Winter, and produced by Ron Moss, who both contributed to the early days of Double Jay ... In the more conservative media climate that emerged in the Fraser years, Double Jay and some of its presenters and commentators were frequently accused ... In its early years Double Jay's on-air staff were mainly recruited from either commercial radio or other ABC stations but in another first the roster ...
Jacqueline Susann - Early Years
... By the time Susann entered high school, she was dabbling in drugs and had earned the reputation of being a party girl ... Although her parents hoped she would enter college, Susann left for New York City after graduating from West Philadelphia High School in 1936 to pursue an acting career ...
Mercer County, Missouri - History - Early Years
... the county was in dispute for the first six years of its existence due to the Honey War, a bloodless territorial dispute between Missouri and Iowa ...

Famous quotes containing the words years and/or early:

    These young women have had four years of very special space.... This has been special space. This has been safe space. But when they graduate, they will begin to deal on a daily basis, all day long, month after month, year after year, with the realities that still haunt our nation.
    Johnnetta Betsch Cole (b. 1936)

    Very early in our children’s lives we will be forced to realize that the “perfect” untroubled life we’d like for them is just a fantasy. In daily living, tears and fights and doing things we don’t want to do are all part of our human ways of developing into adults.
    Fred Rogers (20th century)