Luigi Antonini (1883–1968) was a United States labor leader. Antonini was the first VP of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, and organizer of the Italian-American Labor Council (IALC). Antonini emerged as one of the most outstanding labor leaders of the first half of the 20th Century.
Antonini was born in Vallata Irpina in the province of Avellino, Italy in 1883 to a father who was a Milanese school teacher and a mother who was the daughter of the local nobility and a poet. When his father, with the entire family, moved back to native Lombardy, Luigi, his brothers and his sister lost their mother when still at a young age. Luigi had his education at the high school in Tortona, Piedmont. He served in the Italian army, in the 11th Infantry and was an expert fencer.
Antonini settled in New York in 1908 where he worked held various jobs before entering the garment industry. He joined and became active in the newly formed International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) where he became a great orator and one of the most dynamic and active leaders of working class. He emerged as a speaker in the famous waistmakers’ general strike of 1913. In 1916, he became editor of the Italian language labor periodical L'Operaia, which promoted unionization and significantly increasing Italian speaking membership in Local 89 of the ILGWU.
It is mainly to his credit that in 1919 the Italian Dress and Waistmakers’ Union, Local 89 was founded. Local 89, with, its 25,000 members, was the largest Local in the ILGWU, whose membership grew to about 450,000 ladies’ garment workers. This Italian local became one of the largest in the organization enabling Antonini to become an ILGWU vice president, a position that he would hold for the rest of his life.
By the 1920s, he became increasingly a spokesman for Italian Americans on issues that went beyond labor and into politics. In 1935, he represented the American Labor Movement in Brussels, Belgium, and in 1939 he attended the Pan-American Congress for Democracy in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was a founder of the American Labor Party (ALP) in 1936, and was elected State Chairman of the American Labor Party in New York State. He left ALP however in 1944 when in his view it moved too far left under communist control, and with other labor leaders such as David Dubinsky and Alex Rose founded the influential Liberal Party of New York.
Since the 1920s, in the press and on the radio, he was vocal in his opposition to Italian Fascism, which before the War had many supporters, lead by Generoso Pope, also within the Italian American community.
During the Second World War, Antonini's labor union was unflinchingly in support of the United States war effort and vociferous in his condemnation of Fascism. In 1941, a few days after Pearl Harbor, he was the main founder of the Italian-American Labor Council which under his chairmanship performed services to help America win the war and the Italian people to regain their freedom from fascist dictatorship, while defending the rights of Italian American citizens. In January 1942 he organized a huge rally of Italian American workers at New York's Madison Square Garder in support of the war effort. At the same time he was one of the main opponents to the government's designation of Italian alien residents as "enemy aliens."  During this time he served as a member of the Appeal Board of the Selective Service System in Westchester County, New York. He was Presidential Elector of Franklin D. Roosevelt for the third term.
In the postwar period he was key in the rebuilding of Italy. Already in 1944, he was chosen by the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to go to Italy as a member of the Anglo-American Trade Union Committee to advise the Italian workers how to rebuild bona fide labor unions. He was the spokesman for the Italian-American Committee for a Just Peace to Italy when he went to the Paris Peace Conference in 1946, following a tour in Latin-America: to enlist the support of those people for the same purpose. He led the drive to collect among various labor unions hundreds of thousands of dollars for Italian relief as well as thousands and thousands of garments, medicine, food, etc. One of the largest vocational schools in Europe for orphans, the Roosevelt Institute in Mondello, near Palermo, Italy, was conceived and helped made a reality by him. He was a delegate of the American Federation of Labor at the World Congress of Milan, in 1951, of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. In the fall of 1956, he led or successful good will tour in Italy and in Israel. On this occasion the Haifa Stadium was named after him.
During his many visits to Italy he was in contact with the leaders of the Italian Government, such as Presidents De Nicola, Einaudi, Gronchi, and many leaders of the Parliament. He was Chairman of the AFL-CIO Committee of Greater New York. Decorated by the Italian Republic with the Star of Solidarity Second and First Class, “Commendatore” and as “Grand Ufficiale” of that Republic. Decorated with a gold medal by the city of Trieste. Decorated with a gold medal by Sicily. Decorated as “Cavaliere Grand Ufficiale” of the Republic of San Marino. Made honorary citizen of Molinella, a famous city in Italy which best symbolizes resistance to fascism and to communism.
Four Freedoms Award
Antonini implemented The Italian American Labor Council's Four Freedoms Award. This citation was created to honor meritorious services rendered to the cause of liberty among the people throughout the world. Honorees included Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. United States Attorney General Francis Biddle in 1943 became the first recipient of the IALC's Four Freedoms Award.
- Salvatore J. LaGumina, "Luigi Antonini."
- "Guide to the Records of the Italian-American Labor Council". Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Retrieved 2008-12-28.
- Grossman, Ronald P. (1969). The Italians in America.
- Salvatore J. LaGumina, "Luigi Antonini." In The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia, ed. S.J. LaGumina, et al. (New York: Garland, 2000), 19-20.
- Luigi Antonini Papers at the Center for Migration Studies of New York.
- Luigi Antonini Project
- Guide to the ILGWU. Local 89. Luigi Antonini Correspondence, 1919-1968