A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from June 22, 2006
“Look for the Union Label” (1975)
"Look for the Union Label" is a well-remembered song, by a labor union that began in New York City. The song encouraged people to "look for the union label" and buy garments "made in the U.S.A."

The song was popular, but most garments are made overseas today, from countries such as China.

The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union was once one of the largest labor unions in the United States, one of the first U.S. unions to have a primarily female membership, and a key player in the labor history of the 1920s and 1930s. The union, generally referred to as the "ILGWU" or the "ILG," merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in 1995 to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). UNITE merged in 2004 with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) in 2004 to create a new union known as UNITE HERE. The two unions that formed UNITE in 1995 represented only 250,000 workers between them, down from the ILGWU's peak membership of 450,000 in 1969.
Early history
The ILGWU was founded in 1900 in New York City with a few thousand members between them.

Paula Green is an American advertising executive, best known for writing the lyrics to the Look for the Union Label song for ILGWU and the Avis motto, "We Try Harder".

International Ladies Garment Workers Union anthem
Words by Paula Green
Music by Malcolm Dodds

Look for the union label
When you are buying a coat, dress or blouse.
Remember somewhere our union's sewing
our wages going to feed the kids and run the house,
We work hard but who's complaining.
Thanks to the I.L.G. we're paying our way.
So, always look for the union label,
it says we're able
to make it in the U.S.A.

International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union
In 1975, Paula Green drew upon the union's history created a memorable campaign for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. The ads by the ILGWU were meant to educate consumers about the export of American jobs. Capitalizing on the union's tradition of singing, she wrote the song "Look for the Union Label". The commercial featuring the singing union workers became inexorably tied to American labor. Even after more than twenty years, the tune remains familiar.

This is a photo of Paula Green with the union workers who sing in the ILGWU commercial. Click on the photo to see an excerpt from that famous spot.

The movie requires a Quicktime plug-in and can take a long time to download. To hear just the audio version of the "Look for the Union Label" song click on the audio control below.

Great Moments - ILGWU: Say It With a Song
From ADWEEK, February 1985

Client: The International Ladies' Garment Workers Union
Agency: Paula Green Inc.
Copy: Paula Green
Associate Creative Dir/Copy: Peggy Courtney
Associate Creative Dir/Art: Bennie Eckstein

The song, "Look for the Union Label," is a classic of advertising feel-good on behalf of a client that many TV watchers hardly ever think about: the International Ladies' Garment Worker Union. The song has won for some low-paid garment worker public awareness scores of 86 percent -- plus a positive image akin to that of airline pilots. Ironically, though, the client wasn't wild about the song when Paula Green first proposed it as the centerpiece of a new ILGWU campaign.

"I was startled," recalls client executive vice president Wilbur Daniels, who asked Green several years ago to devise a campaign that would combat anti-union sentiment in Congress and add to the pride of union members. Adds Daniels: "I didn't expect a song." Assistant vice president Gus Tyler was even more emphatic: "My initial reaction was that I didn't like it. I didn't like the idea of music. I thought the words were difficult to understand and I didn't like talking heads singing it. Basically, I took a dim view of it."

Fortunately, Green persisted. Recalls Green: "I was aware that this union had a history of songs -- the old revue 'Pins and Needles'. And I felt you can say things better in song than in speech. When I got that idea, I said 'Oh God, this is it.' I wanted it to have a square, old-fashioned, straightforward sound. It was so simple. That's how a lot of things happen. Besides, the deadline was coming close." So strong is the song's aura of authenticity that many people believe it to be a traditional union ballad like "Joe Hill".

Observes Green: "Maybe some of the union people were hoping they'd get whoopee, knock-out advertising. But this campaign was not meant to look as if we are advertising any kind of product. It is persuading people about an idea. We used union people from all over the country, and the campaign helps viewers to understand what the union is all about. It says that these people are neighbors like themselves."

An added benefit: the song has proven a very efficient buy. It has only aired on network television about 60 times in seven years, with total expenditures of a mere $8 million. Says Green: "When you pit that against a Coke, P&G, or Polaroid, the kind of impression we get is remarkable."

Of course, the ILGWU was quick to change its mind and now views the song as a creative triumph. Says Tyler: "As it turns out, everywhere I go people greet me with that song. It's like the story of the stuffed owl. A man was given an owl that he didn't like. He said, 'Whoever stuffed that owl didn't know his business.' Then the owl turned around and said, 'Hoo, hoo.'"

Posted by Barry Popik
Music/Dance/Theatre/Film/Circus • Thursday, June 22, 2006 • Permalink

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