New Demands? is a public, durational performance that connects the current crisis in timed labor to the historical struggle for workers’ rights. New Demands? commemorates the 1937 Dressmakers Strikes / La grève des midinettes, a pivotal event in the struggle for workers’ rights in Montreal. In April 1937, over 5,000 mostly Jewish and immigrant women garment workers went on strike for the right to have their union (the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union) recognized, better pay, and a 44-hour work week. The striking workers won the right to all of these demands, yet it took several years before factory owners fully honored their agreements. Nonetheless the Dressmakers’ Strikes marked an important victory in the local struggle for workers’ rights.
New Demands? takes the form of a walking performance between two key historical sites: 160 St-Viateur east, one of the sites of the 1937 Strikes, and the former headquarters of the Montreal chapter of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union at 3575 boulevard St Laurent. I will walk back and forth between these two sites, along St-Viateur and boulevard St Laurent, for eight hours a day, for one work week, carrying placards inscribed with slogans adapted from those used in the 1937 Dressmakers’ Strikes. New Demands? commemorates the strikes while also calling attention to the fact that many of the same demands for fair pay, better working conditions, and the right to collective bargaining are still being made today. Since the 1980s — and in the past decade in particular — many of the gains that workers fought for and won during the first half of the 20th century have been eroded, as evidenced by the shift in local manufacturing to free trade zones; the erosion of collective bargaining rights and the elimination of unionized positions; and the proliferation of part-time, unstable, and poorly remunerated jobs with few or no benefits. New Demands? calls attention to the impact on the worker’s rights of economic globalization, shifting modes of production, and unprecedented corporate profits and greed. New Demands? is part of an ongoing series of site-specific performances that commemorate histories of labor activism and highlight alarming cutbacks to workers’ rights.
Credits: Image: Stop the Attacks on Workers’ Rights Performance, Montreal, 2011 Credit: Moe Murphy