IAM Recognizes Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month

The IAM is grateful to generations of Italian Americans who have contributed to the vast tapestry of American culture.

Italian Americans, like many immigrant groups, also have a rich history of fighting for workers’ rights and organizing for a better life.

As Italian immigration to America surged by the turn of the 20th century, some found successful entrepreneurial opportunities in a variety of industries. But many of the more than 4 million immigrants, three-fourths of whom were peasants from southern Italy or Sicily, toiled for low pay in unhealthy working conditions.

Many found themselves in the padrone, or patron, system of labor. “A padrone often controlled the wages, contracts, and food supply of the immigrants under his authority, and could keep workers on the job for weeks or months beyond their contracts,” according to the Library of Congress.

Italian American immigrations fought against these injustices, and widespread prejudice, in part by organizing. Due to many major U.S. unions barring foreign-born members, Italian Americans formed their own unions, such as the Italian Workers union in Houston.

“Italian union organizers fanned out across the nation, often risking arrest or death for their efforts,” according to the Library of Congress. “Italian workers were active in most of the great labor struggles of the 20th century’s early decades, leading strikes in the Tampa cigar factories, the granite quarries of Vermont, and the textile mills of New England.”

Italian Americans are now a vital and large portion of the modern U.S. labor movement.
In addition, this year marked the first time that a U.S. presidential administration has ever hosted an event celebrating Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month.

First Lady Jill Biden, the first Italian American first lady in U.S. history, hosted the event.

“[Italian American] history is of those who led movements, who wrote our laws and penned our poetry,” said the First Lady, whose ancestors hail from Sicily. “Of men and women who were courageous, even when they were most afraid. Of people who worked hard and fought to give their children the best future they could – who helped build the middle class here in the United States.”

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