Labor leader Luigi Antonini
Luigi Antonini notable labor leader and other Italian American contributors to the labor movement.

Historians have not always appreciated the role Italian immigrants and their descendants have played in support of the American labor movement, in part because they focused on formal union membership. This precluded study of numerous instances in which groups of Italian immigrant workers spontaneously and informally organized to better their lot. For example, in the early 1900s several dozen Long Island Italians struck a large nursery while hundreds went on a work stoppage against the Long Island Railroad in a bid to improve wages and lessen hours. When it came to organizing large bodies of workers Luigi Antonini (1883-1968), emerged as one of the most outstanding labor leaders of the first half of the 20th Century.

Antonini was born in the Avellino province of Italy in 1883 to a father who was a schoolteacher and a mother who was a poet. Part of the mass Italian immigration, he settled in New York in 1908 and worked in various jobs until he entered the garment industry. With celerity he joined and became active in the newly formed International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) utilizing his stentorian oratory to rally Italian Americans in behalf of the union. In 1916 he became editor of the Italian language labor periodical L'Operaia, constantly promoting unionization and significantly increasing Italian speaking membership in Local 89 of the ILGWU. This Italian local became one of the largest in the organization enabling Antonini to become a ILGWU vice president.

By the 1920s he became increasingly a spokesman for the Italian ethnic group on issues that went beyond labor as, for example, politics. He was a founder of the American Labor Party (ALP) and served for a time as its state chairman. Upon breaking with the ALP he helped found New York's Liberal Party that was resolutely anti-Communist. During the Second World War his local was unflinchingly in support of the United States war effort and vociferous in his condemnation of Fascism. He was also a stalwart protagonist of aid to Italy in the postwar period and was instrumental in founding a vocational school in Sicily named after President Roosevelt.

Italian American involvement in union activity was significant in other industries in the era of mass immigration. Domenico D'Alessandro and Joseph Moreschi, for instance, served as president of the cigar makers union in Tampa, while others were instrumental in organizing bricklayers, granite workers, and textile employees. Italian American women like Margaret DiMaggio, Angela and Maria Bambace, were also in the forefront of promoting the labor movement.

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