Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) locals 1938-1954

by Cameron Molyneux

Amalgamated poster from 1949 (Smithsonian 1991.0792.19)

The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America was founded in 1914 by immigrant Socialist garment workers who split from the United Garment Workers (UGW), a conservative and cautious craft union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Overtly radical, the new union organized along industrial lines, welcoming clothing workers of all jobs and skills, reaching out to immigrant Jewish and Italian women whom the UGW often ignored. Under the leadership of President Sidney Hillman, the Amalgamated grew quickly while staving off the UGW and the AFL throughout its early years.

The Great Depression decimated most unions, including the ACWA, and as it began to rebuild in 1933 the Amalgamated agreed for the first time to affiliate with the AFL. The alliance did not last. The same progressive politics that had kept the ACWA out of the AFL led to renewed tensions. Hillman and the Amalgamated advocated a program of “social unionism,” arguing that unions should fight for universal welfare programs like unemployment insurance in addition to seeking better wages for members. ACWA’s commitment to industrial unionism posed a bigger challenge. The Amalgamated claimed jurisdiction to organize all workers in the men’s clothing industry, while the AFL supported UGW jurisdictional claims. It was no surprise that the Amalgamated became one of the seven founding unions when the Committee for Industrial Organization was launched in 1935. And in 1937 when the industrial unions were expelled from the AFL, the Amalgamated became part of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) with Sidney Hillman serving as Vice-President of the newly chartered Congress.

The Amalgamated had about 100,000 members when it helped launch the CIO in 1935. Aggressive organizing campaigns helped the union expand rapidly. By 1940, it claimed 239,000 members in 265 locals. Growth slowed in the World War II years, mostly because government planners moved capital and workers away from the clothing industry into defense production. Consumer demand recovered in 1946 and the union enjoyed a second growth spurt, reaching nearly 300,000 members in 1951. Moreover the geography of the union had changed. Based initially in CNew York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Rochester, and a handful of other big cities, by 1948 the Amalgamated had organized manufacturers' "runaway shops" and claimed locals in 251 cities and towns including many outside the industrial Northeast and Midwest.

These maps show the geographic expansion of the ACWA from 1938 to 1954. Here are additional CIO union maps. These maps are hosted on Tableau Public and may take a few seconds to respond. If slow, refresh the page.

Move between six maps and charts using the tabs below

Sources: The data for these maps and lists are compiled from roll call documents in the ACWA’s convention proceedings for 1938, 1940, 1944, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1952, and 1954 found in the Labor Union Constitutions & Convention Proceedings Collection (Ann Arbor: University Microfilm International, 1986). Data for the total membership chart are taken from Leo Troy’s Trade Union Membership, 1897-1962 (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1965).

Clarification: All membership numbers on these maps were compiled based on the number of delegates on the roll call documents of the ACWA’s convention proceedings. The union’s constitution dictated that delegates to the national convention were to be awarded to locals based on their number of dues paying members, with each number of delegates corresponding to a range of dues paying members. These maps display the full membership range where possible, but use median figures to create a scale for point size. Discrepancies in membership charted on these maps could result from differing definitions of what constitutes dues-paying membership and locals delinquent on dues which may not have been counted by researchers.

Research and maps: Cameron Molyneux

Additional CIO maps and charts

CIO Unions History and Geography - Introduction

The CIO transformed American labor and American politics. Defying the American Federation of Labor's commitment to craft unionism, the Committee for Industrial Organization was launched in 1935 by leaders of the United Mine Workers and other AFL unions that had previously embraced industrial union organizing strategies. The goal was to build unions in core industries like steel, auto, aircraft, electrical appliances, meat packing, tires, and textiles that had blocked organizing efforts at every turn. Here we explore the history and geography of the CIO unions from 1935 through the end of the 1940s with maps and membership data showing the growth and in some cases decline of what will be a growing list of the major unions starting with United Auto Workers (UAW), United Electrical Workers (UE), International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU), International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

United Auto Workers (UAW) locals 1937-1949

Founded in 1935 as one of the first initiatives of the industrial union organizing committee led by John L. Lewis, the United Autoworkers won a breakthrough victory against General Motors in the dramatic Flint Michigan sit down strike in the winter of 1936-1937. After General Motors agreed to bargain, Chrysler and several smaller auto companies followed suit and by mid-1937 new union claimed 150,000 members and was spreading through the auto and parts manufacturing towns of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. These maps chart the spread of the UAW from April 1939 when it counted 172 locals and about 170,000 members to 1944 with 634 locals and more than one million members then though the late 1940s when conversion to civilian production and a post-war recession caused a dip in membership even as the number of locals increased. Watch the UAW spread across the map in the 1940s, anchored in Michigan and the Great Lakes states but claiming dozens of locals in the Northeast and California, and a sprinkling in Alabama, Geogia, and Texas.

United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) locals 1939-1949

Founded in 1936 by workers from General Electric, Westinghouse, Philco, RCA and other companies that made electrical appliances and machinery, UE soon became one of the largest and most controversial unions in the CIO, claiming a peak membership of 686,000 in 1944. UE was known as a left-wing union, many of its top leaders closely associated with the Communist Party. This had various implications in the early years. The union took strong positions on racial and gender equality. Women were important part of the work force and by the end of the war comprised about 40% of the membership. At the same time, the leftwing reputation left the union vulnerable to red-baiting, which nearly destroyed the union in the early 1950s. Here are five interactive maps and charts showing the year by year geography of the UE.

International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU) locals 1934-1947

Founded in 1900 in four East Coast cities by a workforce largely comprised of immigrants who had prior trade union experience in Europe, the ILGWU was one of the first female majority unions in the American Federation of Labor. As one of the AFL’s few industrial unions, the ILGWU joined the Committee for Industrial Organizing in 1935 as a founding member. But opposed to what they saw as rising communist influence in the CIO, ILGWU leaders left and reaffiliated with the AFL in 1940. Already well-established before joining the CIO, the ILGWU did not experience the same explosion in membership that new unions like the UAW and UE experienced in the later 1930s and 1940s. Despite this, the union maintained steady growth after 1935 and peaked at around 380,000 members in 1947.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) locals 1934-1949

The ILWU broke away from the International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) in 1937 in order to join the CIO. The West Coast locals of the ILA had waged a three-month long strike in 1934, closing all the ports up and down the Pacific Coast and winning employer recognition for locals that had been without bargaining rights since the 1920s. Led by militants who defied orders from ILA headquarters, the 1934 victory had set the stage for the 1937 split. Over the next 12 years, the newly independent ILWU would solidify longshore locals along the entirety of the West Coast while starting successful organizing drives in farming in Hawaii and warehouse locals both on the West coast and states further east. During this period, the union’s membership more than doubled, from 25,000 to 65,000 dues paying members.

International Woodworkers of America (IWA) locals 1937-1955

The union's history began in the Pacific Northwest timber strike of 1935. The failure of the AFL-affiliated United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners to respond to its members’ demands led to lumber and sawmill unionists splintering from the craft union to form the Federation of Woodworkers. A year later, the new union affiliated with the CIO as the International Woodworkers of America. Initially based mostly in Washington and Oregon, the IWA expanded rapidly in numbers and geography. With 35,000 members in 1941, the IWA claimed 94,000 a decade later. Although locals were established in the forests of the Midwest and South, much of the growth was in British Columbia, where Chinese-Canadian organizer Roy Mah and South Asian organizer Darshan Singh Sangha led efforts to organize non-white workforces around the Canadian province.