Dorri Partain

Look for the union label, it says we’re able to make it in the USA.
The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) was founded in New York City on June 3, 1900, as seven local unions combined to promote union-made garments. A ILGWU label was adopted, but even as the union grew, the label’s usage faltered.

While the union was formed as international, only workers from factories in the United States and Canada were involved. Membership and promotion of the ILGWU grew exponentially following the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire on Mach 25, 1911, when 146 garments workers died because the factory’s owners had locked exit doors to prevent workers from taking restroom breaks.

In 1955, the ILGWU joined the larger AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) union organization and the push began once again to label products as union made. The black and white label was designed to include AFL-CIO in the center, with the ILGWU name spelled out and encircled by a sewing thread and needle. The industry-wide label was officially introduced on January 9, 1959, as Mrs. Nelson A. Rockefeller hand sewed the first label during the ceremony to introduce its usage.

The ILGWU’s 1959 Report to the General Executive Board explained the label’s control system “hinges on the code letters and serial numbers on each label for the purpose of record keeping and easy identification of the employees involved.”

Sewn into the garment’s side seam between the waist and armhole, 377,750,700 garments bore union labels in 1959, with the number more than doubling in 1961 to 883,763,100 labels. The label became red, white and blue and included “Made in the USA” in 1974.

A media campaign introduced in 1975 included the ILGWU Chorus singing the “Union Label” song. Written by Paula Green and Malcolm Dodds, the lyrics explained the reason to purchase union made, American products.
“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 I.L.G. we’re paying our way. So always look for the union label, it says we’re able to make it in the USA.”

Despite the campaign’s popularity, garment production continued to be moved overseas. In 1995, ILGWU merged with the American Clothing and Textiles Workers Union and together they became UNITE: Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.

Another merger in 2004 with Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) created UNITE HERE, a workforce union with approximately 300,000 members today.