© 2011 Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
ACTWU. Presidential Papers (Murray Finley). Correspondence. Microfiche, 1973-1983
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union
1.8 linear ft.
Forms of Material:
Correspondence, reports, publications.
Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
This collection consists of correspondence from the Office of the President, Murray Finley, of the
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Also included are Joint
correspondence files, Art Gundersheim's general correspondence, and Art Gundersheim's Trade Adjustment Assistance
correspondence. This is part of the larger President's Office Files, 5619/036.
Collection material in English
ACWA/ACTWU ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY
The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the most significant union representing workers in the men's clothing industry,
was founded in New York City in 1914 as a breakaway movement from the United Garment Workers. Radical and immigrant workers
in the tailors’ and cutters’ locals were the core of the seceding group, which advocated industrial unionism and economic
strikes in opposition to the UGW’s craft organization, which they saw as conservative and timid. Their diverging views
come to the fore during the historic 1910 dispute at the Chicago firm Hart, Schaffner, and Marx. The opposition called
strike against the UGW leadership’s advice, and reached a path-breaking agreement with management that established an
arbitration system to settle disputes.
Members flocked to the new union. Around 50,000 strong at its founding, by 1920 the ACWA counted about 170,000 members. Initially
composed mostly of immigrants of Jewish European descent with Socialist leanings, the ACWA quickly welcomed members of
great number of nationalities and diverse backgrounds. Like in other garment unions, most workers and many members were
women, but the leadership was predominantly male, a situation that did not change for many decades. Early on the union
adopted a centralized administrative structure combined with industrial unionism, with the joint boards’ by-laws having
precedence over those of locals.
Espousing a philosophy perhaps brought over by its early immigrant socialist members, the Amalgamated went beyond bread and
issues and adopted a distinctive form of social unionism that was largely absent in the American labor movement. Starting
in the 1920s, it provided educational opportunities and recreational facilities for its members, as well as services such
as an insurance plan, banks offering personal loans at low interest rates, low-cost housing cooperatives, medical clinics,
and even union-owned restaurants.
Sidney Hillman was the first president of the new union and the most important officer in its history. He applied his experience
as bargaining representative in Chicago to the whole industry. Under his leadership the union made significant strides
securing better wages and working conditions for its members, and at the same time it consolidated gains and provided
stability to the industry through the widespread adoption of the arbitration system tested at Hart, Schaffner, and Marx.
Hillman paid close attention to industry issues, such as production, pricing, and marketing. In order to help management
meet the competition of non-union firms, the union conducted studies of efficiency, work methods, and factory costs. Letters
to the official publication of the union, Advance, document the controversy that ensued within the union over what was
perceived to be collaboration with management.
Hillman also understood the importance of labor’s involvement in national affairs and political action. In the 1920s the ACWA
delegates to the Conference for Progressive Political Action and to the Farmer-labor party conventions. Although many
and officers were Socialists, the union stopped short of officially endorsing the party. Communist attempts at gaining
influence within the union were firmly curbed. Hillman’s participation in national affairs and politics became prominent
during the New Deal, when he became a close advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt on labor and economic issues. He also served
the board of the National Recovery Administration. Later, during World War II, he helped establish the Labor’s Non Partisan
League. He was also named associate director of the Office of Production Management, which assisted in mobilizing the
resources for the war effort. Hillman’s prestige perhaps reflected the healthy condition of his union, which by the
end of the conflict was strong and stable.
During the post World War II period the union faced a number of significant challenges. Membership continued to grow (peaking
395,000 in 1968), but the union’s political influence and visibility in national affairs declined. In their never ending
pursuit of lower production costs, many firms relocated to the South, forcing the union to engage in large organizing
Simultaneously, signs began to appear of changes that would lead to the almost complete demise of the domestic apparel
and, ultimately, to the erosion of union membership. Foreign imports of cheap clothing goods steadily grew in the 1950s
1960s, and mushroomed in the following two decades, plunging employment in the apparel sector into a steady decline. Union
efforts to stem the tide included Buy American campaigns and extensive lobbying in Congress, but they were to no avail.
In 1976, the ACWA merged with the Textile Workers of America to become the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers
Union. Despite successful and much publicized nationwide actions such as the Farah boycott and the J.P. Stevens corporate
campaign, the woes threatening the union’s existence continued unabated. The fate of the domestic industry was sealed in the
late 1970s and the 1980s by the flight of firms chasing tax breaks and cheap labor abroad. By 1995, when ACTWU voted to merge
with the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, their combined membership was 350,000. The new Union of Needletrades,
Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE!) seemed poised to infuse new life in a troubled union.
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union
Finley, Murray, 1922-1995 --Correspondence
African-American Labor Center
Amalgamated Bank of New York
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union --Archives
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Buffalo Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Cleveland Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Eastern Pennsylvania Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. El Paso Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Glove Cities Area Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Leigh High Valley Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Local 4
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Montreal Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. New England Regional Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Southern California Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. West Coast Regional Joint Board
Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America --Archives
Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. General Executive Board
Amalgamated Insurance Fund
Cluett, Peabody & Co.
Coalition to Save New York
Cotton Garment Insurance
Democratic Left (Organization : Great Britain)
Federation of Union Representatives
Harold Mayer Productions
International Labour Organization
International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union --Archives
International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation
J.P. Stevens & Co.
Joint Job Training, Inc.
Londontown Manufacturing Co.
Louis Harris and Associates
McGregor and Company
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers
Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) --Archives
UNITE HERE (Organization) --Archives
United Garment Workers of America
United States. Dept. of Commerce
Zensen Dōmei (Japan)
Labor movement--New York (State)--History--20th century.
Labor unions--New York (State)--History--20th century.
Textile workers--Labor unions--New York (State)
Textile industry--New York (State)
Clothing workers--Labor unions--New York (State)
Clothing trade--New York (State)
Form and Genre Terms: