The scale is hard to discern from the close-up range of this photograph but as many as 20,000 garment workers and their supporters marched and gathered in Columbus Park on June 24th and July 15th, 1982 in two of the largest demonstrations of worker unity and collective strength in New York Chinatown history. The accompanying poster, featuring artwork and poetry by ILGWU Local 23-25 member Kong Tung Wong, commemorates the victory that workers and their union won on those dates. One by one, they forced Chinese factory owners to submit to the immense pressure of such a massive collective action and reluctantly sign a new union contract mandating a $1.15 pay increase, one additional paid holiday, and increased employer contributions to workers’ healthcare rather than cut pay and benefits. The strike and victory were quite remarkable given the chilling anti-union climate that President Reagan’s infamous firing of striking air traffic controllers in August 1981 had given government sanction to. By the time of the strike, Chinatown garment workers numbered 25,000-strong, 80 percent of whom were Chinese immigrant women. The rallies, and victory, were the product of everyday conversations, phone banking, and leafleting by thousands of these courageous and resolute women, who put hard work into organizing and mobilizing their friends and fellow workers. A militant spirit was projected not only in their strength in numbers but also in the speeches which galvanized the sea of workers proudly donning union hats and paraphernalia. Voices such as core organizer Shui Mak Ka’s boomed from the podium: “The Chinatown bosses’ attempt to break our union is like a grasshopper trying to stop a car in its tracks. They are daydreaming in broad daylight and acting like a blind bat trying to knock down a tree.” This defiance and show of unity worked. By the end of the second rally, advertised in the featured poster, they got every Chinatown subcontracting firm still holding out to sign the new union contract.

Poster commemorating 1982 ILGWU victory in defending their union contract through collective action. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection. 纪念 1982 年 ILGWU 通过集体行动捍卫工会合同胜利的海报。美国华人博物馆(MOCA)馆藏。
2010.040.027 Poster advertising second Garment Workers Rally at Columbus Park on Thursday, July 15, 1982. Courtesy of Chinese Sportswear Workers Social Association, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection. 1982 年 7 月 15 日星期四在哥伦布公园举行的第二届服装工人集会的海报广告。由中国运动服装工人社会联合会捐赠,美国华人博物馆 (MOCA) 馆藏。