Asian/American Labor Leaders for May Day: Wing Fong Chin (1928- )
Wing Fong Chin immigrated to the U.S. in 1950 with her husband, and when their two children became old enough for her to leave them under her father’s supervision, found a job as a seamstress in a Chinatown garment factory in 1955. Chin worked long hours in sweatshop conditions: workers were paid piece rates, given no benefits, and often worked in uncomfortable or unsafe environments.
By 1982, the garment industry in New York City had reached a critical density, and most shops were organized. However, when it came time to renew a major contract that year, the factory owners were unwilling to sign, thinking their mostly Chinese, mostly female employees too subservient to strike.
Chin and her colleagues proved them wrong: 20,000 garment workers went on strike in July 1982, and the ILGWU swiftly won the contract they had hoped for. Wing Fong Chin was subsequently elected chair of the executive board, the first Asian American woman to lead a major American labor union.
Read more about Wing Fong Chin and the garmet workers’ strike at this great little site from the NYU APA Institute.