International Ladies Garment

Americans tend to be fascinated by what’s new and to be indifferent to the past, except when they can use “tradition” to reinforce current prejudices and power arrangements. This has had an unfortunate effect on how we govern ourselves. We forget important lessons, and repeat old mistakes. A century ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant girls in their teens and twenties, perished after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

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When Franklin Roosevelt decided at the end of his third term to dump Henry Wallace as vice president, he of course had to choose someone else to run with him in 1944. He had more or less decided on Harry Truman but felt he needed his choice to be okayed by someone else. He told his aides, “Clear it with Sidney.” And clear it they did. That Sidney was Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, who was a confidante of FDR.

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