[Marlene Targ Brill is a Chicago based writer with a distinguished list of children’s books to her credit. Her most recent publication celebrates Annie Shapiro, who began that uprising 100 years ago, just 6 months before the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The following interview, conducted by Joan Brunwasser in Op-Ed News, explores Chicago as the center of the men’s clothing industry and how that related to organizing the entire industry. She came to write the book from a suggestion by her sister-in-law. as she reports in the interview,
As an author, I’ve often had people come to me with ideas they think I should write about. I usually tell them to write the story themselves. But when my sister-in-law told me about her aunt and the strike she led when a 17-year-old Russian immigrant to Chicago, I thought I would include her story in lists of topics for editors who I knew. For years, no one was interested. In fact, I was so sure no one would become interested, I threw away the articles my sister-in-law had sent to me about her aunt, Hannah (Annie) Shapiro.
Then, I got the magic email that authors love to read.
Conducted after the recent events in Wisconsin brought workers’ rights to the fore once again, the interview and the book itself have great relevance today. The entire interview may be read by clicking this link.]
Marlene Targ Brill on “Anne Shapiro and the Clothing Workers’ Strike”
My guest today is Chicago-based author, Marlene Targ Brill. Welcome to OpEdNews, Marlene. You have a new book out. Can you tell our readers about it?
photo credit: Richard B. Brill
Thank you for permitting me to talk about my latest book, Annie Shapiro and the Clothing Workers’ Strike. This true picture book story discusses the role Hannah (Annie) Shapiro and other Chicago immigrants played in the 20th-century labor movement. The book tells how 17-year-old Annie rebelled against 10-hour workdays, bullying bosses and cuts in already-low wages. She walked out of a Hart, Schaffner & Marx Chicago sweatshop in 1910 and urged others to join her. Because of her brave stand, 40,000 other workers walked out, closing down the men’s textile industry in Chicago and Milwaukee. The strike triggered formation of a giant national union now called Workers United and resulted in employees nationwide receiving better treatment and wages.
There was so much going against Annie. She was a young person, an immigrant, who spoke broken English and was embarrassed about it. She was not well-educated; she was 12 when she had dropped out of school to go to work because her mother got sick. And her large family depended on her earnings to get by. Yet she risked everything by not accepting terrible work conditions and being willing to do something about it. Success didn’t come easy. Tell our readers what happened when she and the other girls who were her fellow workers approached the United Garment Workers Union for support.
The UGWU was male-only, and after all, this was 1910. At first, the men didn’t take the women seriously. So Annie and the twelve original women who followed her out of Shop 5, where they worked, asked the Women’s League for assistance. The League was a group of wealthy women who helped families who came to Hull House, Chicago’s settlement house founded by Jane Addams, for assistance. League women gladly picketed with the strikers and raised funds to help families in distress from the strike. After a couple thousand workers joined the protest, the UGWU decided the girls not only raised a serious issue but one supported by workers throughout the men’s textile industry in Chicago. [The interview continues here.]
[Brill refers in her interview to Workers United, the union that is descended from the original garment workers unions of the early part of the 20th century. Workers United annually conducts a commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York, as they have this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that tragedy. This past September, Marlene Targ Brill spoke at the Workers United convention. On Thursday, April 7, Noel Beasley will represent Workers United at the Chicago commemoration of the Triangle Fire. For more information about that event click here.