If there’s one thing we have union strikes and dwindling numbers to thank for, it’s the dating of vintage garments. In my travels as a collector of all things fabulous and vintage, I’ve come across quite a few “Union Made” ILGWU (International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union) labels sewn in garments. Formed in 1900 in New York City, this conglomerate of seven smaller unions was a manufacturing powerhouse even through the Great Depression. Lucky for all of us era-obsessed, the ILGWU merged and split with a few different unions throughout the twentieth century, consequently changing their labels and taglines. Here’s a timeline (from ‘dating label review’ on eBay):
1900 – 1936 ILGWU AFL
1936 – 1940 ILGWU CIO
1940 – 1955 ILGWU AFL
1955 – 1995 ILGWU AFL-CIO
1975-1992 – Look for the Union Label campaign
1995 – 2004 UNITE!
2004 – UNITE HERE
And accompanying pictures of the labels:
In 1995, the ILGWU, bogged down by declining numbers and an inability to organize smaller garment manufacturers sprouting up all over cities, merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union to form UNITE. UNITE then merged with the Hotel Employees’ and Restaurant Employees’ Union to form UNITE HERE, currently still in existence.
So, in a sad way, the constant fluctuations in the U.S. economy and the trickle down effect on unions, has made our job easier. I’ll leave you with a jingle the ILGWU released in the 1970s to encourage buying of union-made garments:
“Look for the Union Label”
‘Look for the union label
When you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse,
Remember somewhere our union’s sewing,
Our wages going to feed the kids and run the house,
We work hard, but who’s complaining?
Thanks to the ILG, we’re paying our way,
So always look for the union label,
It says we’re able to make it in the USA!’