WORK > ART WORK

New Demands?
New Demands?
Performance, Montreal
Photo: Vincent Lafrance
2012

This iteration of New Demands? was a 40-hour performance that took place over five days. It commemorated the April 1937 Dressmakers Strikes [La grève des midinettes], when over 5,000 mostly Jewish and immigrant women garment went on strike for the right to unionize, better pay, and a 40-hour work week — rights the workers subsequently won.

In commemoration of the 40 hour work week, I walked from 9am - 5pm, Monday through Friday, between two key sites: a factory building where the 1937 Strikes took place, and the former headquarters of the Montreal chapter of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) that represented the strikers. These two sites are 1.5 miles apart, and the performance involved walking approximately 12 miles each day.

The placards used in the performance are derived from slogans used by the striking workers. This Yiddish-language placard translates as "Dressmakers On Strike".

The dressmakers demanded — and won — fair pay as a result of the 1937 Strikes, and working conditions in the industry continued to improve through the first half of the 20th century. Along with New York City, Montréal was one of the centers of garment production in North America until the 1980s, when production began to shift overseas under international free trade agreements and economic deregulation. Today only a fraction of Montreal's manufacturing industry remains, and most jobs in the garment industry are held by immigrant workers earning low wages. Conditions for garment workers world wide are among the most precarious in the world, and many of the rights fought for in 1937 — for a regulated work week, paid vacation, health benefits, and the right to unionize — have yet to be achieved.

Performed in collaboration with Articule Gallery