International Ladies Garment Workers Union’s Song
International Ladies Garment Workers Union
In the 1981 commercial in the video, the workers sing one of today’s most recognizable union songs. The union used this commercial to rally Americans to buy American-made clothes. In the last stanza of the song, the workers advise Americans to always look for the union label whenever they are buying clothes because the label tells the buyers that the garment workers can make it in the USA. The song brought the values of solidarity, industry, and power to the union workers at that time. However, today, the song does not bring any of these values to the union workers.
The first value that the song brought to an ILGWU (International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union) worker at that time was solidarity. In the video, one can see workers of mixed gender, races, and ethnicity. They all came together and sang in unison for the benefit of all. In the song, the workers use words such as ‘our union’ and ‘we’ to show that they were lobbying for the interests of all, not an individual or a section of them. The song shows a workers’ union where members defend the interests of each in solidarity.
Another value the song brings to the workers is that of industry and hard work. In the song, the workers say that they work hard, and no one was complaining. They also say that the work they do is to fend for their kids and to run their homes. What these sentiments sire in the workers is the virtue of hard work. The workers abhor laziness, and they want to work for a livelihood. It is the work they do that enables them to pay their way; they are not given anything for free.
Additionally, this song brings the value of power to the union workers. The fundamental objective of forming workers’ unions is to enable workers to have the power to bargain for their wages and rights. In capitalist markets, employers pay workers for the labor they are willing and able to supply. Often, employers dictate the demand and supply regimes and end up dominating the labor supply market to the extent that they do not pay the workers a justified wage. Labor unions primarily thwart employer monopoly so that workers can get the power to fairly bargain with employers for fair wages, proper working conditions, and other employee benefits. A union worker has more power against an employer compared to a worker who is not in a union.
Today, this song does not bring the mentioned values to a union worker. Before the election of Ronald Reagan as the United States president, the private sector and state corporations feared workers’ unions. However, in his first year in office, Reagan fired PATCO – the union of federal air traffic controllers – striking workers, and opted not to bargain with them. President Reagan’s move dented labor unions’ power and proved to firms and corporations that labor unions were not as powerful for the firms and corporations to fear. Hitherto, workers’ unions continue to lose their power against employers.
Some firms and the public sector have the power to bar their employees from unionizing. On a different note, the proliferation of free trade amidst globalization trends has flooded the US market with garments from other countries, more so China. It is challenging to get a garment with the union label, as most have ‘made in China tags. The fact that people no longer US-made clothes as they used to before has pushed many workers out of employment. The workers no longer feel motivated to work hard because US garment-making businesses are not doing as well as they did at the time of this ad. There is no solidarity anymore given that workers have no morale, and their union is no longer as powerful as it was in the 1970s.