A stitcher in various New Bedford shops, Dora Bastarache (1915-1988) was a true rank-and-file leader in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in southeastern Massachusetts, where she served as president of that union’s Local 361. As a single mother who struggled to make end’s meet, Dora fought for quality child care, low cost health care, and accessible higher education. The Dora Bastarache On-the-Line Award is presented annually by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Arnold M. Dubin Labor Education Center in her honor.
Dora Bastarache (1915-1988) was a true rank-and-file leader in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in southeastern Massachusetts, where she served as president of that union’s local. Dora believed that the labor movement inspired people to organize and fight for a better world. She was convinced that working united together was the only way to change things. Dora fought for quality child care, low cost health care, and accessible higher education, all denied to her as a young working mother.
Born in New Bedford in 1915, Dora attended Catholic schools there until the 6th grade, when the Great Depression forced her to leave school to work in various factories for low wages. Dora worked as a stitcher in various garment shops in New Bedford, including Kay Windsor and Varsity Sportswear on Sawyer Street, where she remained for 27 years. In 1951, Dora attended a union meeting and found a way for workers to unite and help themselves. As a single mother, Dora found it difficult to establish credit and rent an apartment on her own. “That’s why I fought for equal rights,” Dora stated, in a 1986 Boston Globe article that discussed New Bedford’s textile workers. At Varsity Sportswear, she was elected to the Shop Committee, became Chairlady, and then President of Local 361 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). Through the ILGWU, Dora fought for and won better conditions for women workers, including a minimum wage and clean restrooms. Dan Georgianna stated, “Her message was simple: do your work the best that you can, but fight like hell against low pay and lousy working conditions; you have rights.”
Dora’s work extended beyond her local union. She was active in New Bedford’s ONBOARD (Organized New Bedford Opportunity And Resource Development), an anti-poverty community action project agency. She was instrumental in organizing ONBOARD’s original day care center, named in her honor as the Dora Bastarache Day Care Center. Dora was also a founder of the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, for which she co-signed a loan from the ILGWU Credit Union to get it started. As a member of the Massachusetts Council of Senior Citizens, she fought for affordable health care for the elderly. She was a leader in the local Democratic Party, and she insisted that “Nothing happens unless it happens politically.”
Involved in the Arnold M. Dubin Labor Education Center of Southeastern Massachusetts University (now the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth), Dora later became a member of the Advisory Board of that center. In the early 1980s, Dora interviewed several workers associated with the New Bedford Textile Workers Strike of 1928 as part of an oral history project now held in the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. These oral histories are a key part of the book The Strike of ’28 by Daniel Georgianna and Roberta Aaronson. Dora also inspired a union education series called the Dora Bastarache Leadership Course which has been offered through the University of Massachusetts Labor Education Center to the Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Labor Council and others. Through this course, participants learn about labor history as well as the skills needed to organize and communicate to build union. The Dora Bastarache On-the-Line Award is presented annually by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Labor Education Center in her honor.
The daughter of Simon and Alma (Legere) Bastarache, Dora kept close ties to the French Canadian community in New Bedford’s North End. She died unexpectedly on March 13, 1988 at the age of 73 and was survived by a daughter Dolores.
Ann O’Leary and Kim Wilson
- “Dora I. Bastarache.” The Standard-Times, 14 Mar. 1988, p. 20.
- Georgianna, Daniel. “Dora Bastarache, Union Leader.” The Standard-Times, 9 June 1988.
- Loth, Renee. “A Deeper Shade of Blue Collar: Having Captured the Hum of Life on the Streets of New York and Lawrence, Ralph Fasanella Embraces New Bedford.” Boston Globe (pre-1997 Fulltext), Boston Globe, 9 Mar. 1986, https://search.proquest.com/docview/294350000?accountid=34780.