Saturday, March 16, 2013

Memories of a Veteran - Conclusion

Here is the rest of my grandfather's look-back at the evolution of his Union Local 209 and the working conditions in the Montreal garment industry.

While we were picketing the hotel, I heard my name being called. I looked up on the balcony and saw that it was my wife’s brother, Morris Lapidus, who was a vice-president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. I then learned that the “scabs” were really union people. It seems that when the I.L.G. found out that the agent hired by the Association was in Toronto, they called him and offered to supply the “scabs.” A deal was made whereby the agent paid each man ten dollars. The Association agreed to pay transportation and lodging. 
The “scabs” never went to the shops; instead they joined a meeting of the strikers at Coronation Hall. When the bosses discovered what had happened, they gave up and the strike was settled. The important benefit we won was the reduction of hours from 60 to 55. 
In 1914, we joined the Amalgamated and our local maintained the same number “209.” I became the recording secretary of the Executive Committee and held that position for 38 years. Local 209 was the largest local, but it was always in financial trouble because it was constantly helping out our poor members, especially when they were sick, and donating to many charitable institutions. 
The Amalgamated has gone a long way since those years. We now have benefits we never dreamed of in those early days of our struggle. The members of Local 209 were always in the front lines of every fight to improve conditions. There were leaders like Benny Cotler, Peretz Tonchin, Issie Lighter, Jack Potashner, Issie Stolovitch and so many others to whom we owe much for the good things we have today. 
I am still a member of the Amalgamated and am employed at the Freedman Company. I am very proud of my local and our Union. We have come a long way from the sweat shop conditions of 1904. After spending a lifetime, 65 years, in the Montreal clothing industry, I should know how tremendous our progress has been. And progress we will continue to make in the years to come as long as we faithfully support our Union. I hope I will be around to see it and share it with all Amalgamated members.

A Note of Explanation: Jack Quint was 81 years old at the time this article appeared, and still at work in the Montreal garment industry. The book Angels of the Workplace: Women and the Construction of Gender Relations in the Canadian Clothing Industry, 1890 - (by Mercedes Steedman; published by Oxford University Press, 1997), confirms my grandfather's recollection of the 'scabs' from Toronto that turned out to be union members in disguise.


  1. Very cool to read this, Phyl. Thank you so much for sharing his words. :)

    1. Thanks, Cuzzie. I wish I had more of them to share.

  2. Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories and descriptions. I like to hope that my grandfather's clothing store in Montreal sold clothes made by union workers! Your writing group buddy, Linda.