Forty years later, Katie Quan still vividly remembers the pivotal garment workers strike in New York City’s Chinatown. Quan, who was 29 at the time, was one of the key organizers of the strike, in which more than 20,000 workers — most of them Chinese-born women — marched to Columbus Park on June 24, 1982, refusing to work and demanding higher wages and benefits.
Quan, now a senior fellow at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, said it was the most significant collective action that immigrant Asian women in the U.S. have ever engaged in. It made labor unions pay more attention to Asian American worker power and sparked a class consciousness within the community.
The 40th anniversary of the strike comes amid another wave of worker empowerment across the country, with hundreds of thousands of employees striking and voting to unionize in recent months.
A lot of people just assumed that the women would not want to strike,” Quan, now 69, told NBC Asian America. “They had never attended meetings, and they had certainly never struck before. They were pretty adamant in my factory. In fact, they put change in my hands and they sent me to the payphone. They said, ‘Call the union and tell them we want to strike.’”