Updated: Apr 16, 2020
“I’m not going to stop organizing, because if I stop the gangsters are going to take them over. They’ve already taken over enough.”
Min Matheson and David Dubinsky, President of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, at a 1972 testimonial in her honor. Kheel Center, Cornell University
A fiery champion for women working in Northeast Pennsylvania’s garment industry, Min Matheson was also resolute in her dealings with the region’s powerful mob figures, including Russell Bufalino and Abe Chait. When her brother, the union organizer Will Lurye was murdered in 1949, she reacted with an intense anger and determination to bring his killers to justice. Her family had a radical tradition that began with their father, who had emigrated from Russia and became a Socialist activist in Chicago. A Communist in her youth, Matheson became an organizer in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in the 1930s and spent time working on dress factory floors. By the 1940s, Matheson had organized a group of local unions in a mob-dominated pocket of Northeast Pennsylvania. She brought to the task a characteristic fearlessness and determination, but also a sense of mission, a belief that the union could transform workers’ lives in fundamental ways.
In the spring of 1958, the International Ladies Garment Workers’ staged a walkout that brought the union into direct conflict with the mob element in the dress industry. In Northeast Pennsylvania, Min Matheson led women picketers who defied police and thugs to shut down garment factories owned by notorious gangsters. The strikers expressed a passionate dedication to the union ideal and a practical understanding of the role that racketeers had gained in their industry.