In December 1977, a tiny group of U.S. glove makers—most of whom were African American and Latina women—launched a petition before the U.S. International Trade Commission calling for protection from rising imports. Their target was China. Represented by the Work Glove Manufacturers Association, their petition called for quotas on a particular kind of glove entering the United States from China: cotton work gloves. This was a watershed moment. For the first time since the Communist Party came to power in 1949, U.S. workers singled out Chinese goods in pursuit of import relief. Because they were such a small group taking on a country as large as China, their supporters championed the cause as one of David versus Goliath. Yet the case has been forgotten, partly because the glove workers lost. Here I uncover their story, bringing the history of 1970s deindustrialization in the United States into conversation with U.S.-China rapprochement, one of the most significant political transformations of the Cold War. The case, and indeed the loss itself, reveals the tensions between the interests of U.S. workers, corporations, and diplomats. Yet the case does not provide a simple narrative of U.S. workers’ interests being suppressed by diplomats and policymakers nurturing globalized trade ties. Instead, it also underscored the conflicting interests within the U.S. labor movement at a time when manufacturing companies were moving their production jobs to East Asia.

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