In honour of International Women’s Day on Thursday, I have to tell you about the coolest discovery I made last week. It’s a total nightmare working just off Brick Lane, because I tend to suffer from these weird black outs where I SOMEHOW end up in a vintage clothing store. Anyway, last week, I ended up purchasing this very beautiful black dress. You can’t really tell what it’s like here, but it fits like a glove, is made of the softest linen, and has that really nipped-in fifties shape that I lurve. It was only after I bought it that I looked at the label:
It says Int’l Ladies Garment Workers Union. OMG I WAS SO EXCITED. I suspected that my dress had been made by totally badass women in the fifties. And I was right.
Here is some info about the International Ladies Garment Workers Union from Wikipedia:
The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union was once one of the largest labor unions in the United States, one of the first U.S. unions to have a primarily female membership, and a key player in the labor history of the 1920s and 1930s. The union, generally referred to as the “ILGWU” or the “ILG,” merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in 1995 to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). UNITE merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) in 2004 to create a new union known as UNITE HERE. The two unions that formed UNITE in 1995 represented only 250,000 workers between them, down from the ILGWU’s peak membership of 450,000 in 1969.
Having done some research on the kind of label my dress has, I know that it was made sometime between 1955 – 1963. This is what ILGWU workers looked like then.
i.e. BLOODY AWESOME.
I love thinking that maybe one of these women made the dress that I own now, in the time she had spare when she wasn’t standing up for her rights. I love thinking that in a small, small way, I might be continuing their tradition by campaigning for green and decent jobs.
There is much, much more brilliant and inspiring history around the ILGWU, especially the part they played in the strikes at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York in 1909, where 20,000 workers walked out in protest against working conditions. During that year, Clara Lemlich, a shirtwaist employee and union activist spoke up at a Town Hall meeting and asked that she and her co-workers receive fair wages and safe working conditions. “We’re human, all of us girls, and we’re young. We like new hats as well as any other women. Why shouldn’t we?” (source). This is what 1909 looked like.
And this is what they looked like marching in 1911 after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which burned 146 workers to death, who had been locked inside the factory to prevent them from taking breaks (click on the picture to see the non-negative).
And in 1935 during the Great Depression.
I find it really heartening to see these images, and remind myself that women have been on the front lines of these battles for a long, long time. It is easy for us to think that women were just stuck at home, playing housewife, when in actual fact many women were going out to work every day, participating in public life and fighting for those rights that we have either achieved, or are still fighting for today.
It also reminds me of the millions of women around the world who are still in almost exactly the same situation (or worse) that these women were, making clothes under extremely poor working conditions, for very little pay. 76% of the global sweatshop workforce are women.
That’s why I’m going to be celebrating International Women’s Day this week, in solidarity with working women past and present, and why I’m pretty happy to have a piece of this amazing, incredible, inspirational history hanging in my closet.
I can’t wait to wear it.
Tags: afl-cio, clara lemlich, dress, fifties, fire, ilgwu, int'l ladies garment workers union, international ladies garment workers union, international women's day, label, new york, strike, sweatshop, triangle shirtwaist factory, women
The blog is sparse, it is it is. And I think it’s because I’ve been lacking inspiration the last few weeks, getting bogged down in the details of trying to organise a community-based project, losing sight of the bigger picture and why I’m choosing to live the life I do. So, you know, I need to rev myself up! Buck up Hanna etc etc! Incidentally, my friend sent me this really good article today about how, especially when we’re freelance or self-directed, or have a weird patchwork of a career, we need to take some time to be our own mentors.
So, I’m going to share with you some things that ARE inspiring me at the moment and reminding me why I do what I do and why I am what I am.
1. First up, this lady, Azealia Banks. I am super late to this party, but woooow. She is fierce. She reminds me why I like being a girl. Lyrics are, like, totally rude though so probs not suitable for work (or my parents…).
2. Finally I’m getting round to reading that organising bible, Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. I don’t know what took me so long. It’s already making me feel ridiculously productive, just nodding my head and turning down the corners of the pages I like. These bits from the prologue are my turned-down-corners:
Remember: once you organize people around something as commonly agreed upon as pollution, then an organized people is on the move. From there it’s a short and natural step to political pollution, to Pentagon pollution.
Here we are desperately concerned with the vast mass of our people who, thwarted through lack of interest or opportunity, or both, do not participate in the endless responsibilities of citizenship and are resigned to lives determined by others. To lose your ‘identity’ as a citizen of democracy is but a step from losing your identity as a person. People react to this frustration by not acting at all. The separation of the people from the routine daily functions of citizenship is heartbreak in a democracy.
3. I bought a rahlly nice ukelele. And I’m enjoying it SO much it’s ridiculous. Obviously, I’m no maestro, but it is fun seeing myself improve little by little, day by day.
4. This might be the only time I quote a banker, so hold on to your hats. This is a response to the question ‘What is your favourite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?’, posed to a number of important-sounding people over at Edge. I liked this one because it reminded me to sleep, and that life is a loan.
God, it’s all getting a bit deep round here isn’t it? Where are all the posts about lipstick I came here for?
5. Lastly, when I’m feeling in need of a inspirational boost, all I have to do is take a look around. My sister is writing a feminist play (am I allowed to have a girl crush on my own sister, or is that weird? Yeah okay), my friend Emma is taking a Harvard course in community organising in the little spare time she has, Char has a new food blog, Jo’s taking a leap of faith in a new job, as is Dan. Guppi is off to a foreign land for 3 months, and I am surrounded by so many people who are doing their own thing, committed to what they do, and it is crazy inspiring. It’s also comforting, that if you need a time out or a break, that there are all these other people out there, carrying on regardless, doing cool stuff, who will welcome you back when you’re ready.
1. We’ve had a crazy couple of weeks at Otesha moving office to Toynbee Hall and getting settled in. Say hello to our new meeting room table and chairs. This is what happens when you put me in charge of furniture. Mwahaha.
2. Sending solidarity over to my friend Vi in San Francisco, who was out and about standing up against anti-abortionists this weekend. Standard.
3. Made an awesome discovery this week with my friend Cress – the Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch. We watched Shame, which was great, but bleak. However, our moods could not be tempered, because we were in the massive-ist, comfiest seats imaginable.
“We all know the classic scene from cartoons: The cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. What the protesters are doing is reminding those in power to look down.”
4. Read this article – The Violent Silence of a New Beginning – by Zizek on the Occupy movement. It’s brilliant.
6. I had a really nice time volunteering at The Ministry of Stories yesterday, mentoring a group of East London kids in creative writing. One of the kids on my table (age 8) wrote a story about a dog-monster called HOUNDOOM who was the devil’s pet. Houndoom ate fried dinosaur’s eggs for breakfast and travelled through a cloud of lightning bolts, which allowed him to pass through time (he also sucked out people’s souls by digging through their brains – eek). It was quietly hilarious. Also – want to know my 8 year old’s top tip for creative writing? “Let your mind go wild.”
7. Look at my smug new jumper face. £15 from UO Renewal. It’s GOLD. Yay.
This post originally featured on The Occupied Times last week. Let me know what you think!
A major criticism that has been levelled at Occupy LSX is that the movement has become an umbrella for too many issues. “What do they want?” our mainstream media asks, as a stroll through the camp makes it clear that democracy and corporate greed are not the only issues being debated. Linger around St. Pauls, or peek your head into the Tent City University, and you will soon find yourself debating and discussing issues of mental wellbeing, gender equality, class, the environment, parenting, and the role of religion, amongst many, many others. However, rather than betray a lack of focus, to me the diversity of topics being discussed means something quite different – that our movements for social and environmental justice are growing up, that we are seeing connections and joining the dots between issues, and that we recognise that we are most powerful when allied.
There is much that we can learn from each other, and the global Occupy / Indignados movement has provided us with the perfect opportunity to compare notes. What’s working, what isn’t? Are our demands aligned, and does that even matter? However, there is one area of discussion that certainly needs to be addressed by the environmental and Occupy movements together, and that is ‘what does transition look like’? We say that another way is possible, but what journey do we have to take to get there? How can we work together towards building a new low carbon economy, one that incorporates values of social justice, equity, and democracy? Of course this conversation is already well under way in many countries across the world, but different elements of our movement are in danger of pulling in very different directions. You might not think it, but transitioning away from a pollution-based economy and transitioning away from our current capitalist model do not necessarily have to have much in common.
Let’s not kid ourselves – the new, low-carbon economy could be one that retains all of the inequities and corporate greed of our current economic system. One where companies profit from the transition, while workers are stuck in green McJobs, doing the essential work of decarbonising our energy systems and retrofitting our homes but in a vicious circle of low pay and few opportunities for progression or training. Nor does the Anarcho-Marxist model of transition away from a capitalist state make any promises to those who are currently most underserved by our society. The end goal may be distribution of wealth and workers’ rights, but the requisite insurrection and ensuing chaos that it takes to get there may only end up harming those that need the most help. Indeed, members of our unions are concerned that significant periods of economic restructuring in the past have often happened in a chaotic fashion that has left ordinary workers, their families and communities, to bear the brunt. Indeed in the UK, many individuals and communities are still paying the price for the rapid shift away from industrial production over the last 30 years.
Perhaps there is a middle way, one that respects workers’ rights, the rights of the poor, and our planetary boundaries. This is where the idea of Just Transition may come in handy. Just Transition is a framework for a fair and sustainable shift to a low carbon economy, proposed by trades unions and supported by environmental NGOs, that seeks to prevent injustice becoming a feature of environmental transition. Just Transition recognises that support for environmental policies are conditional on a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of those policies across the economy, and on the creation of opportunities for active engagement by those affected in determining the future wellbeing of themselves and their families.
The framework is not fool-proof – it does not deal with the capitalism question, nor does it a build a comprehensive vision of a new world. Questions about growth, nuclear, and means of production go unanswered. However, it is the beginning of an essential conversation about how we can create a new system that is both economically and ecologically viable.
What is not questioned is the speed at which we must act. The need to transition away from our current economic and social model in this country and the rest of the developed world is an urgent one. We are experiencing rapidly rising levels of inequality and, according to the IEA, we have only an estimated 5 years before the fight to mitigate dangerous climate change becomes a fruitless one.
Yes, the challenge ahead is immense, but so is our movement. Who would have thought, just one year ago, that the world would be engaged in a global conversation about corporate greed and the terms of democracy? A fair society that respects our earth may seem out of reach, but that is all the more reason to keep striving for it. As David Harvey has said, “Of course this is utopian! But so what! We cannot afford not to be.”
Some beeyootiful posters have gone up on new site OccuPrint, which is showcasing some of the poster art of the Occupy movement. Check it out. Here are some of my faves!
hello! bit late and I don’t know what this means for this coming sunday when I’ll have already used up half the week’s superness…hmmm…
1. This is my friend Debs at the student demo today. It looked amazing, I wish I could have gone! Especially as it was my sister’s first demo as well! She loved it! Read more about what went down here.
2. I read a new blog post over at the East London Green Jobs Alliance on how to get started on your own green jobs programme.
3. Got my results, I am officially a master (mistress?) of science! Under the belt.
4. I love these style pics from Rookie Mag, which were taken at Salvation Mountain in the California desert, a crazy adobe monument built by ONE GUY called Leonard Knight. If you watch Into the Wild (great film) there’s a whole bit in it where he takes Kristen Stewart and Emile Hirsch on a tour around it. I’d love to see it one day.
5. The love affair with Mac lipsticks continues. This time it’s called New Temptation. Saucy.
6. On the 19th November (my birthday! more to come on that later… mwahaha) I’m going on the Fawcett Society march to protest against the dreadful impact the cuts are having on women. It’s a 50s dress-up theme as well, which is amazing. So come along!!! Or if you can’t, how about hosting your own Fawcett tea party instead? Watch the video above for instructions how!
7. And finally, yes, women’s rights, student fees, participatory democracy, the global financial system, and the keystone xl pipeline are all very important issues that have great campaigns surrounding them at the minute. But by far the best campaign out there is the one to get the Muppets hosting the 2012 Oscars. YES PLEASE OSCAR PEOPLE!
Tags: 19th november, demo, east london green jobs alliance, education, fawcett society, into the wild, leonard knight, muppets oscars 2012, nov9, protest, rookie, salvation mountain, student, student fees
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