Before the strike, owners flaunted the fact that production had risen each of the last ten years. The city’s 35 factories employed roughly 20,000 workers, many sewing six days a week, 12-hours a day in conditions widely regarded as sweatshops.
Worse were the starvation wages made possible by the fierce competition for sewing jobs as immigrants flooded the cores of American cities.
Work was bad enough, but 60 percent of the garment workers were sole breadwinners, and another 50,000 Clevelanders either supplied or serviced the local garment industry. The only safety net was charity.