GONZÁLES, SOPHIE (1920–1995). Sophie Gonzáles, labor union organizer, daughter of Feliciano and Maximiana (Reyes) Gonzales, was born at San Antonio, Texas, on January 30, 1920. Gonzales grew up on a ranch near Von Ormy, Texas, with one sister and two brothers, both of whom later belonged to the Amalgamated Butchers of America Union. She attended local schools in Somerset, Texas, up to the tenth grade and enjoyed being part of the volleyball, baseball, and track teams. At the age of eighteen, she decided to go to San Antonio to look for a job while living with a brother. After working in the shipping department of a sweater factory between 1946 and 1949, she began working for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) as an organizer in San Antonio.
The 1959–63 garment strike against Tex-Son Company in San Antonio was a significant event for Gonzales. She became the first ILGWU Mexican-American female organizer, who had no ties to management, in the history of Texas, and the strike also marked the first time that Tejana and Anglo women marched together in a picket line in the state. During the strike, the Mexican-American women strikers instituted an effective statewide boycott of Tex-Son and Tex-Sis products. Under Gonzales’s leadership, the women implemented various creative campaigns against Tex-Son, including an advertisement that portrayed the owner of Tex-Son as taking the workers back to the “horse and buggy days.”
Gonzales maintained her composure in the face of extensive opposition from the owner and on-strikers at Tex-Son. In one case, frustrated employees threw dolls, resembling the strikers and with pins stuck in them, down to pickets guarding the plant. Gonzales’s response was, “Voodoo is for the birds!” The strikers were eventually forced to give up in the face of anti-union sentiment in the country and an oversupply of unskilled labor in San Antonio. Gonzales left the strike in the fall of 1962, and the picket line was totally abandoned in early 1963.
After the Tex-Son strike, Gonzales worked with labor unions in El Paso as an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) and as a member of the Federation of Union Representatives, the union for union officials. She was the organizer during the garment strike at Hortex Manufacturing Company in 1965 and at Levi-Strauss in 1971. She was also present behind the scenes in the two-year long strike at Farah Manufacturing Company in El Paso (see FARAH STRIKE). Her work for labor unionism earned her a plaque from the El Paso Joint Board of the ACWA upon her retirement.
In 1941 Gonzales married George Edward Gray by whom she had two sons and whom she divorced in 1946. Her second marriage, to Tony Moreno, lasted from 1955 to 1970. Her two sons, George, Jr., and Daniel Gray, both had life-long careers in the United States Air Force. Sophie Gonzales retired in 1983 after a thirty-five-year career as labor union organizer in Texas and lived in El Paso. She died in San Antonio on January 1, 1995.
AFL-CIO Weekly Dispatch (San Antonio), October 2, 1959; October 28, 1960. Lori A. Flores, “An Unladylike Strike Fashionably Clothed: Mexicana and Anglo Women Garment Workers Against Tex-Son, 1959–1963,” Pacific Historical Review 78 (2009). Sophie Gonzales, Interview by author, April 13, 1990, El Paso, Texas. George N. Green, “ILGWU in Texas, 1930–1970,” Journal of Mexican American History 1 (Spring 1971). Irene Ledesma, Unlikely Strikers: Mexican American Women in Strike Activity in Texas, 1919–1974 (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1992). San Antonio Express, February 26, 27, 1959; July 18, 1959. San Antonio Light, July 19, 1959.
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