The garment industry: working at night
It was known as the rag trade: a vibrant "patchwork" of textile shops in downtown Montreal and Toronto in the 1930s. But as the Depression wore on, clothing manufacturers began to exploit workers in what were already deplorable conditions. Female immigrants sweated in dimly lit factories, working up to 70 hours a week. A large group of textile workers decided to speak out. Their courage helped improve conditions in post-Second World War garment shops, until the introduction of free trade and a recession decades later.
As heard in this CBC Television report, Montreal's union shops have buckled under the foreign trend and are being replaced by downtown sweatshops.
• The term was used in France and other French-speaking countries, such as Algeria and Switzerland, to describe illegal working conditions in the 1930s. The notion, which is akin to "working under the table," refers to illegal work of any kind, especially by immigrant workers without papers.
• A severe recession in the 1980s weakened the ability of unions to bargain with employers.
• Companies also had the option of contracting out cheaper Mexican labour in an era when free trade was becoming more common.
• In the first half of 1983, clothing imports rose 25 per cent.
• In 1983, Gilles Gauthier, International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) president, said 100 garment shops had shut down in Quebec in the past year and a half due to Asian imports.
• Dominion Textile, the company referred to in this clip, had sold 13 of its 26 factories by 1986 due to the 1980s recession.
• Most of the closures were in Quebec and were exacerbated by repeated and unresolved disputes between management and unions in that province.
• A 2004 Globe and Mail article reported that women working in Lesotho made as little as $4.47 a day. One of the garments they were working on was being sold at Old Navy for $111.
• It also said workers were "row upon row" in a "smelly, congested industrial export zone."
• For more on the free trade deal, see the CBC Archives topic Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Oct. 20, 1983
Guest(s): Sid Abrahams, Paul Blondin, Norman Moyer, Irwin Steinberg, Marée Trottier, Saul Victor
Reporter: Trish Wood
Last updated: May 6, 2013
Page consulted on May 6, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
Conditions have improved for workers in Canada's garment districts, th...
Grace Hartman, Canada's first female union leader, addresses women's w...
Union leader talks to Barbara Frum about implications of knitting fact...
Managers refuse to remove surveillance cameras at a Toronto knitting f...
Union victorious as arbitrator rules cameras to be taken down from wor...
Women of the schmatte recall appalling pre-union conditions.
Madeleine Parent organizes a 6,000-strong walkout.
Management says 9,000-person strike will paralyze an already-weakened ...
The garment industry goes underground.
Cheap Mexican labour means layoffs for workers at Bovie Manufacturing.
Union pioneer Léa Roback praises textile workers for walking out durin...
An underground garment worker has her contract cut off.
It was known as the rag trade: a vibrant "patchwork" of textile shops ...