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Trade journals show a slow but obvious slowing of business in late 1928 and 1929. The September 1928 issue of Trunks and Leather Goods, page 112 reads " The International Pocketbook Workers Union has been successful in its efforts to obtain injunctions against firms with which they have contracts, restraining them from manufacturing in other places and abandoning their New York locations."

Within months of the Stock Market Crash, labor relations began to deteriorate along with the business climate. The contract of July 21, 1926 the forty-one members of the manufacturers association 1926NewYorkHandbagManufacturersAssociation with the International Ladies Handbag, Pocketbook and Novelty Workers had been extended to May 1, 1931 before the crash. Factories and workshops closed, along with some banks. Credit dried up. Deflation overtook the United States. To fight the unions, many manufacturers packed up their factories and moved them in search of cheaper labor, rents, and utilities outside on New York City. When the contract expired, the manufacturers association believed the union was powerless and dared them to strike. "The association let it be known that it would counsel its members to remove their factories from the city in the event of a strike." (Moving Days of Factories by Ossip Wasinsky).

Contracts were renewed in 1931 and 1932. The work week was reduced from 44 to 40 hours, in an effort to employ more worker. But conditions grew progressively worse.

This situation was cataclysmic for manufacturers and many did not survive. By the beginning of the 1932 Presidential Campaign, it was obvious President Herbert Hoover was not contending with the challenges presented by the Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election and the rapid adoption of the National Industrial Recovery Act in the first 100 days of the New Deal resulted in the establishment of NRA standards and practices for the industry that began to resolve some of these problems. This was no simple task.

"The manufacturers and union alike worked for a decent N.R.A. code, under which cutthroat competition among manufacturers in town and out of town would be curbed and decent labor standards and conditions established, but the proposed codes of the manufacturers and the Union were miles apart. The manufacturers shouted from the roof tops for a decent N.R.A. code for the industry. But the code the manufacturers termed decent, the union called legalized slavery." (Moving Days of Factories by Ossip Wasinsky)

For example, the association proposed skilled workers in New York City receive $14 for a 40 hour week, out of town $12. They proposed 15% of the employees be "learners", paid at 80% and a minimum wage of $11.20 in city and $9.60 outside....per week. (At an inflation adjusted 1184%, that's $132.61 and $113.66 a week.)

The union countered with a 30 hour week, no Saturdays or Sundays, but would be willing to give a 35 hour week a trial. Skilled cutter, framers and pocketbook makers would earn $45, less skilled workers between $31.50 and $17.50 with minimum wage at $15 a week or $.50 an hour. The union lost the battle and its membership was in open rebellion. Ossip Walinsky came back from retirement to save the situation. "One thing the union leadership and membership did not realize, however, was that times and conditions were against them..." (Moving Days of Factories by Ossip Wasinsky) The union called a general strike over the 35-hour work week. In response, the largest and most viable manufacturers moved their shops out of New York City. Of the 4000 workers employed in 1934, 1500 lost their jobs and the remaining workers accepted lower standards and conditions and lower pay.

The union received unexpected support for their efforts from an organization of shoppers in 1935. (July 1935 Luggage & Leather Goods, page 58). The League organized actions including nationwide consumer boycotts of employers that refused to bargain or allow union organization.


Categories: Unions

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