By Andy Battle
“City of Workers, City of Struggle.” Since its founding, New York has been emphatically both. A new exhibit with this name, up at the Museum of the City of New York until January, communicates the ways in which the shape of the present city — physical, economic, social, and cultural — has been given to us by the cumulative struggles of its workers for material well-being, autonomy, and a dignified life. The main goal, according to lead curator Steven H. Jaffe, is to communicate “just how intertwined the rise of modern New York City is with working people and their movements.”
The show fulfills this commitment. Housed in a second-floor gallery, the exhibition marshals text, artifacts, images, sound, video, and interactive games to survey the history of work and workers’ struggles in New York from the industrial revolution through the present day. Four main sections -- “In Union There Is Strength” (1830–1900), “Labor Will Rule” (1900–1965) “Sea Change” (1965–2001), and “New Challenges” — chart the ways in which workers both inside and outside the formal labor movement have sought to wrestle the terms of their relationships with their employers, with the state, and with each other to make the conditions for a fulfilling life available to those born without riches. The exhibition also details the ways in which the struggles of New York workers have served as the spearhead of national movements to realize these goals.
By Ilana Teitel
For about a hundred days this winter, Long Island City was in the spotlight as a neighborhood about to be transformed. Amazon was coming, the national media was running articles about the 7 train, and brokers were selling condos via text messages. The word was out about this patch of western Queens and its waterfront views, central location, cultural diversity, and overtaxed infrastructure.
And then, on Valentine’s Day, it was over. Amazon pulled out and locals began to debate whether that much change would have been good or bad for LIC. But, this wasn’t the first time that Long Island City was the neighborhood that almost, maybe, soon, was about to take off. Here’s a look at three other times that LIC was briefly New York’s Next Big Thing.
John Garvey is a Brooklyn native and lifelong New York City resident. During the 1970s, he was a leading activist in the Taxi Rank & File Coalition, a group of radical cab drivers determined to fight their bosses and a union leadership they perceived as corrupt and ineffective. Later in life, John worked as an educator in New York City jails and headed the Teacher Academy and Collaborative Programs at the City University of New York, where, among other things, he was instrumental in establishing the CUNY Prep program, which offers out-of-school youth a pathway to college. He is an editor of Insurgent Notes, of Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life, and was an editor of Race Traitor, a journal that published between 1993 and 2005 whose motto was “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”
This interview, conducted by Gotham's Andy Battle, has been condensed and edited for clarity.
By Kim Dramer
On March 25, 1911, fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Trapped by locked doors and only a single flimsy fire escape, 146 workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrants, perished in the conflagration itself or jumped from windows to escape the flames and died from the fall. The Triangle Fire was the most fatal workplace tragedy in New York City history until 9/11. Today, New Yorkers walk by three small plaques marking the spot of the tragedy, many unaware of the events that unfolded at the spot more than a century ago. 
This article will examine three current efforts by New York women memorializing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire workers. Significantly, many of these women are the descendants of immigrants who plied the needle trades in search of the American dream. While the dreams of the young immigrant women who perished in the Triangle fire put an end to their quest, their legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of New Yorkers.
By Caroline Propersi-Grossman
In August 1919, following months of stalled negotiations, the New York City section of Actors’ Equity Association (Equity) called a strike against The Producing Managers Association, a trade group composed of theater owners and producers including the Shubert, Ziegfield, and Belasco theater owners. Equity’s demands were modest. The strike called for a standardized eight-show work week with additional compensation for extra matinee performances and higher wages for chorus performers. The Producing Managers Association responded by refusing to recognize Equity, filing injunctions against individual actors, and occasionally attempting to open negotiations with the actors’ union on a theater-by-theater basis. As the strike continued and injunctions were denied members of the Producing Managers Association grew more desperate to end the strike. The Shubert theaters hired non-union actors and replaced striking actors with their understudies in a piecemeal attempt to break the strike and eliminate worker solidarity. Members of the Producing Managers Association also publicly decried the strike claiming that the union was holding the theater hostage.
By Molly Rosner
Molly Rosner works at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College. The piece below, and any opinions expressed within, do not represent the Archives or the College’s point of view.
On November 13, 2018, Amazon announced that Long Island City would become the site for its new headquarters “HQ2” along with a site in Crystal City, Virginia. Since then, New Yorkers have greeted this announcement with both applause and outrage. Throughout the year, Amazon has received bids from cities and towns across the country trying to entice the trillion-dollar company to their area. But after the gimmicks and tax incentives have all been weighed, it feels clear that New York was always high on the list of places the company was considering.
Reactions have been swift and dramatic. LaGuardia Community College, in Long Island City, added a note to its website that reads, “We’re very proud that LaGuardia was a key player in the proposal process to bring Amazon here, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that LaGuardia’s diverse and talented students were a big plus for LIC.” The President of LaGuardia Community College, Gail Mellow, posted an open letter on the college website welcoming the company and saying, “we’re ready for Amazon to make a commitment to education and workforce training in Long Island City, and are ready to support Amazon in Queens as its educational partner.”At the same time others, including professors at the college, have expressed concern about how Amazon’s presence in the area will impact the already burdened infrastructure and transportation system.
By Andy Battle
On an average day at midcentury, New York City’s Garment District was a chaotic welter of sewing, schlepping, and schmoozing. But on May 12, 1949, the streets went silent for William Lurye, an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the 400,000-strong body representing workers in the women’s clothing trade. Three days earlier, Lurye had been shoved into in a telephone booth in the lobby of a building on West Thirty-Fifth Street that housed dozens of loft-style garment factories. There, two assailants had stabbed the thirty-seven year-old father of four in the neck with an icepick.
The attack was public and brazen. ILGWU chief David Dubinsky lost no time in proffering a theory for Lurye’s murder. The organizer, Dubinsky said, had been “struck down in cold blood by murderers in the hire of anti-union sweatshoppers who would rather spill blood than carry on production in the sane and civilized manner to which the majority of garment employers are committed.”
"The New York Curb Market… Which has No Organization Whatever”: The Enclosure of New York’s Last Outdoor Stock Market, 1900-1921
By Ann Daly
Visitors to the New York Curb Market, located on the Broad Street sidewalk, also called “the gorge,” found themselves overwhelmed by the noise and frenzy. Hundreds of men on the street “writhed, leaped, swayed.” In New York’s last outdoor stock market, where orders were communicated by yelling or signaling out a window and anyone with lungs could trade, financial journalist Edwin C. Hill claimed in 1920, “some of those whirling dervishes down the street could borrow a million on their moral credit; for others the jail beckons.”
By Daniela Sheinin
Much has been written on the American “New Woman,” what the historian Einav Rabinovitch-Fox calls “both an image and an appellation referring to a generation of women who came of age between 1890 and 1920 and challenged, through their attitudes and appearances, Victorian values and gender norms.” Her identity varied by race, class, ethnicity, and age. The New Woman breached gender norms, pressed for a public voice, and has been tied by some to feminism, the campaign for women’s suffrage, consumer culture, and female sexuality. New and sometimes radical fashion trends marked an expression of New Woman feminism and a break from a gendered, culturally confining past. These included versions of the Japanese kimono and the “ ‘Village smock,’ a bohemian version of the kimono and the dress item most associated with Greenwich Village feminists.” Moreover, there’s evidence that manufacturers produced low-price knockoffs of the kimono and other New Woman fashion trends, eagerly consumed by some working class women.
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