September 2 ‘Protocol of Peace’ Brings Labor Peace

September 2, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1910. 

That was the day the ‘Protocol of Peace’ brought an end to the cloak makers strike in New York City. 

The garment industry had been rocked by the ‘Uprising of the 20,000’ months earlier. 

Young women had struck hundreds of small shops over pay, recognition and working conditions. 

They won ILGWU recognition in all but a handful of shops. 

60,000 cloak makers in the city were inspired to walkout of the sweatshops that July. 

The mostly male strike force demanded shorter hours and increased pay, the closed shop and more. 

Union membership soared and most of the smaller shops caved. 

The larger manufacturers would not however, and by the end of summer, the Protocol of Peace was negotiated. 

Future Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis figured prominently in the negotiations. 

The Protocol established higher wages, shorter hours and overtime pay. 

It also guaranteed the union shop, elimination of contracting and monitoring of piecework rates. 

Even more significant, workers won a Union Health Center, a Board of Sanitary Control, a Board of Grievances and a Board of Arbitration. 

For the first time, garment workers had access to health care, a way to eliminate sweatshop conditions and a way to mediate and resolve shop floor complaints.

The price to be paid however was that workers would give up their most powerful leveraging tool, the right to strike. 

The agreement was lauded as a step forward for industrial democracy. 

But soon many workers complained that the Protocol failed to answer a number of shop floor issues. 

Grievances piled up and workers were penalized when they attempted to strike to resolve their problems.

The Protocol would be scrapped for a return to militant strikes during the 1920s.

 

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