Industrial Sewing Machine

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Description
This Juki industrial sewing machine was used in a suburban El Monte, California sweatshop. Law enforcement officers seized the sewing machine during a well-publicized 1995 sweatshop raid and is part of a larger Smithsonian collection of artifacts documenting apparel industry sweatshops, focusing on the El Monte operation. The El Monte sweatshop, like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911 earlier, took on an iconic role as government and activists used media coverage to galvanize the American public into action.
On August 2, 1995, police arrested eight operators of the clandestine El Monte garment shop and freed seventy-two Thai nationals who had been working in a form of modern slavery. Workers, recruited in Thailand, were promised good pay and good working conditions. After signing an indenture agreement for $5,000 they were smuggled into the United States with fraudulent documents. The workers were paid about $1.60 an hour with sixteen-hour workdays in horrifying conditions. They were held against their will in a razor wire enclosed complex with an armed guard and were jammed into close living quarters. By 1999, eleven companies Mervyn's, Montgomery Ward, Tomato, Bum International, L.F. Sportswear, Millers Outpost, Balmara, Beniko, F-40 California, Ms. Tops, and Topson Downs, agreed to pay more than $3.7 million dollars to the 150 workers who labored in the El Monte sweatshop. As in most cases of sweatshop production, these companies contend that they did not knowingly contract with operators who were violating the law.
ID Number
1996.0292.29a
accession number
1996.0292
catalog number
1996.0292.29a
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering
Cultures & Communities
Work
Government, Politics, and Reform
Sweatshops
El Monte
Many Voices, One Nation
Exhibition
Artifact Walls
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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