History,  Music,  Trade Unions

Pins and Needles

On this date in 1937 the pro-labor musical revue “Pins and Needles,” featuring working members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, opened in New York.

The union sponsored an inexpensive revue with ILGWU workers as the cast and two pianos. Because of their factory jobs, participants could rehearse only at night and on weekends, and initial performances were presented only on Friday and Saturday nights. The original cast was made up of cutters, basters, and sewing machine operators.

Pins and Needles looked at current events from a pro-union standpoint. It was a “lighthearted look at young workers in a changing society in the middle of America’s most politically engaged city.” Skits spoofed everything from Fascist European dictators to bigots in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Word-of-mouth was so enthusiastically positive that the cast abandoned their day jobs and the production expanded to a full performance schedule of eight shows per week. New songs and skits were introduced every few months to keep the show topical.

Here are some of the songs from “Pins and Needles”:

Cab Calloway singing “Doing the Reactionary” and “One Big Union for Two.”

Rose Marie Jun doing “Sing Me a Song with Social Significance.”

A young Barbra Streisand takes a sly dig at the promises of consumer capitalism in “Nobody Makes a Pass at Me.”

And perhaps most remarkable of all, Dean Martin, Ann-Margaret and Bob Newhart, on Martin’s 1960s TV show, performing “It’s Better with a Union Man.”

The Sixties really were another era, weren’t they?