The AMALGAMATED CLOTHING AND TEXTILE WORKERS UNION was organized nationally in 1914 as the independent Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA). An early supporter of industrial unionism, the ACWA scored some initial success when it came to Cleveland in the 1910s, but organizing was hindered by a recession in the industry in the 1920s. Under the guidance of BERYL PEPPERCORN, the ACWA began organizing the JOSEPH & FEISS CO. in 1924, and ten years later the company recognized the ACWA after 1,600 of its workers went on strike. This victory encouraged organizing activities in other Cleveland shops and, by the mid-1930s, almost 95% of the men's clothing industry in Cleveland was unionized. Not only was the ACWA able to negotiate substantial improvements in wages and working conditions, but it also pioneered in the area of fringe benefits. During its organizing activities, the ACWA developed a close relationship with the manufacturers and they eventually became one of its strongest supporters.
Although the ACWA joined the AFL in 1934, it split from the federation the following year and assisted in forming the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), including its local central body, the CLEVELAND INDUSTRIAL UNION COUNCIL. As a well-organized and powerful union, the ACWA expanded its activities to the textile workers, and by 1939 they had formed their own union, the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA). Active in political affairs, the ACWA helped to fund political campaigns and organized the workers' voting power. It also moved beyond its emphasis on economics and developed a variety of cultural, recreational, and educational activities for its members. In 1949, the union opened the Sidney Hillman Building at 2227 Payne Avenue for use by its members as well as a variety of community groups.
Despite a recession in the clothing industry in the 1950s, the ACWA held its own on wages and benefits, and conducted a major union label campaign. To increase its strength, the TWUA merged with the ACWA in 1976 to form the ACTWU. By 1979, almost all of the industries in men's attire were represented in one union as the shoemakers' union also joined the ACTWU. The ACTWU merged with the INTERNATIONAL LADIES GARMENT WORKERS UNION in July 1995 to form the Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Technical Employees (UNITE). The new union was one of the biggest in the country, with 350,000 members nationwide, and 8,000 in Ohio. In 1995, UNITE had 16 local affiliates in the Cleveland area.
Beryl Peppercorn Papers, WRHS.