Resource

Mexican Women Unionize

A pair of newspaper articles that follow the story of laundry workers in El Paso, Texas, who formed a union and fought against unfair labor practices.

Newspaper clipping from the “El Paso Herald” covering the story of two laundry workers fired at Acme Laundry and the strikes by other Mexican workers that followed. The newspaper is from October 27, 1919.
Two Girls Let Out; Others of Force Strike

H. D. Slater, “Two Girls Let Out; Others of Force Strike,” El Paso Herald (El Paso, Tex.), ed. 1, Monday, October 27, 1919. University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History.

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Summary

Two Girls Let Out; Others of Force Strike
Acme Laundry Workers Refuse to Stay When 2 Girls Released.
Two Acme Laundry workers were fired. Other workers went on strike in response.
The Mexican girls working in the Acme laundry on East Missouri street went out on strike Monday morning to the number of nearly 40, the girls say, because F. B. Fletcher, president and manager, discharged two of their number, Isabel Hernandez and Manuela Hernandez, Saturday night.  Almost 40 Mexican laundry workers went on strike after two of their co-workers were fired.
Mr. Fletcher stated Monday morning that only about half of them refused to work Monday unless the two girls he discharged Saturday night were reinstated and that 90 per cent of them were back at work at 11 oclock. The owner of the laundry claimed almost all of the strikers went back to work the same day.
The girls in the various laundries in the city organized a local of the International Laundry Workers’ union last Thursday night and they claim fully 200 members, all Mexicans. Francisca Saenz, who acted as chairman of the meeting of the striking Acme workers at their meeting in Labor Temple Sunday morning, said: “We ask for the reinstatement of the two girls, Isabel and Manuela Hernandez. The former is a marker, sorter, and inspector getting $11 a week with four years’ experience and Manuela is getting the same wages as a marker and sorter and started in six years ago.” The Thursday before the strike, 200 laundry workers organized a union. Their leader spoke about the strike and said they demand the laundry rehire the two workers they fired.
The two girls said Mr. Fletcher did not give them any reason for their discharge. The two workers say they were not told why they were fired.
J. Plunkett, deputy state labor commissioner; W. J. Morgan of the Labor Advocate, and J. L. Hauswald, secretary-treasurer of the Central Labor union, called upon Mr. Fletcher Monday morning in regard to the issue between him and the laundry girls. Mr. Plunkett showed a written statement from Mr. Fletcher in which he said he could not give an answer regarding the reinstatement of the two girls until Tuesday. Male officials from the state and labor movement met with the laundry owner to discuss the strike.
Mr. Fletcher made the following statement: “Our laundry has about 30 Mexican girls employed. The case as far as I know is that we discharged two girls last Saturday night for what we thought sufficient reasons. Monday morning about half of the girls refused to work unless there two girls were reinstated. We told them we would talk the matter over with them if they would go back to work. We have about 90 per cent of our number at work now.” The laundry released a statement saying that only fifteen workers went on strike and that most of them are back at work.

H. D. Slater, “Two Girls Let Out; Others of Force Strike,” El Paso Herald (El Paso, Tex.), ed. 1, Monday, October 27, 1919. University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History.

A newspaper clipping from the “El Paso Herald” covering the continued laundry workers strike. The newspaper is from October 28, 1919.
More Laundry Workers Quit

H. D. Slater, “More Laundry Workers Quit,” El Paso Herald (El Paso, Tex.), ed. 1, Tuesday, October 28, 1919. University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History.

Background

Between 1910 and 1930, over one million Mexicans immigrated to the United States, many of them settling in border cities like El Paso, Texas. As in America and other immigrant cultures, the traditional role of Mexican women was to take care of the home. But necessity forced many to seek paid work. By 1920, more than 50 percent of the city’s female workers were either Mexican American (people of Mexican descent who lived in the United States) or Mexican nationals (people who lived in Mexico and crossed the border to work).

Excluded from the most desirable jobs, these women had two options: domestic work and laundry work. Laundry work meant long hours of standing in steam