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Asian Women Unite After Events at P&L

By Noreen Mallory

When the Boston garment factory P & L Sportswear laid off many non-English speaking Asian women in 1985, it provoked a unified campaign demanding fair treatment for women workers.

Last night, a video depicting the women's struggle was shown in Lamont Library as part of Women's Expo week. The video was produced by the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA). The group helped organize the women, who had sought job retraining and assistance in speaking English following the layoffs.

"Garment work is the primary work for many Chinese, especially women," said Lydia Lowe, administrative director of the CPA. Lowe said the events at P & L were instrumental in helping many Asian women become more politically active.

During the campaign, the women picketed in front of the State House and locations in Chinatown. The unemployed workers also spent many hours in planning meetings, discussing strategy.

Lowe said that many people have stereotyped Asian women as being extremely quiet and complacent. The events following the P & L closing showed this to be a misconception, she said.

"Older women in Chinatown have a history of being active," she said, responding to an audience member's question. A small crowd attended the program which was geared toward exposing the often overlooked strengths of Asian women.

"P & L was a liberating experience. When given the avenues and opportunities, Asian women have a lot to say," she said.

After the video, the group, comprised all of women, discussed their impressions of the worker's struggle for fair treatment. Most said they were surprised at the strength displayed by the women.

Eventually, city organizations and Roxbury Community College established training programs for the women. Now, a year and a half later, many women have jobs in clerical and food service positions. Lowe said the P & L experience "raised the consciousness and awareness for Asian women" and that she hopes it serves as an impetus for future political involvement.

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