The Uprising of the 20,000: On This Day, November 23

In 1909 a young immigrant woman made a speech in Yiddish that galvanzied a meeting of garment workers into what became a massive, and ultimately successful, strike. Twenty thousand workers followed Clara Lemlich into the streets of New York. Strikers, mostly women, were supported by professional organizers and women of other classes through the National Women’s Trade Union League (NWTUL) and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). The strike lasted two months and won many concessions on wages and working conditions. Lemlich’s own factory, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, did not sign on to the reforms. Two years later the devastating fire there forced the passage of industrial reform legislation.

The Uprising of the Twenty ThousandStrikers on picket line during the Uprising of the 20,000, 1909 (Library of Congress)

Dedicated to the Waistmakers of 1909

In the black of the winter of nineteen nine,
When we froze and bled on the picket line,
We showed the world that women could fight
And we rose and won with women’s might.

Hail the waistmakers of nineteen nine,
Making their stand on the picket line,
Breaking the power of those who reign,
Pointing the way, smashing the chain.

And we gave new courage to the men
Who carried on in nineteen ten
And shoulder to shoulder we’ll win through,
Led by the I.L.G.W.U.

From Let’s Sing! (Educational Department, International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, New York City)