March 22nd: Clara Lemlich

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Clara Lemlich was born into a poor, Jewish family in Ukraine during a time when anti-semitic violence was on the rise.  In 1903, when Lemlich was 17, her family left Ukraine and immigrated to America where Lemlich started working in a sweatshop producing clothing.  She earned only $3 a week (about $80 today), for sixty-six hours of work.  The horrible pay and grueling working conditions led Lemlich to join a relatively new association called The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union where she led and organized strikes and wrote for newspapers.  She would often butt heads with male union organizers who did not believe that women would help the cause or achieve anything worthwhile.  Lemlich proved them unequivocally wrong.  She is credited with starting a strike in 1909 called the Uprising of 20,000.  This movement lasted about eleven weeks and is the largest recorded strike of women to this day.  The strike led to the workers winning the right to shorter hours, better wages, and improved working conditions.  More importantly, it led to a change in factory culture and what has been called a worker’s revolution.  Lemlich spent the rest of her life organizing unions and protests, and giving a voice to those who needed one.  She led a food strike after World War One to protest increased prices.  Even in her final years, before passing away in 1982 at the age of 96, she helped the orderlies taking care of her in her old age home form their own union and participate in boycotts to get better pay.

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