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Labor Movements

An immigration rights supporter holding a sign during a rally on May 1, 2006, in Salem, Ore. Immigrant rights supporters skipped work as part of nationwide demonstrations by the nation's growing Latino population.

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan.  One hundred forty-six young women workers leapt to their deaths or died in the fire inside.  Fearing workers would steal tools, management had locked the single fire escape. The fire galvanized immigrant workers, and successful strikes, conducted by the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union, eventually  led to legislation ensuring safer working conditions in the garment industry. 

Six decades later, Chicano farm workers fought a similar battle for better wages and work conditions that culminated in the creation of the United Farm Workers (U.F.W.) in the 1960’s.  Arising out of the civil rights movement, the U.F.W. fought not only for labor rights of immigrant farm workers, but also for their political and social rights.  Through boycotts, strikes and political action, the U.F.W. placed the plight of Chicano workers front and center in the American political consciousness. 

Celebrations
Elizabeth Flores, of Caldwell, Idaho, chants and dances on May 1, 2006, during a performance by Danza Azteca de Caldwall, a traditional Aztec dance group, during a candlelight in support of immigrant rights.

 

In 2006, immigrants throughout the nation are again speaking out.  Millions of immigrants, many of them undocumented, have rallied in cities throughout the nation declaring "We are America" and "We are not criminals," asserting their opposition to legislation that would make undocumented immigrants felons and calling for amnesty and opportunity to become citizens.  The debate over who can become an American is one that continues.

Members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union mourn and protest the loss of life in the March 25, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York.