All Together Different
Yiddish Socialists, Garment Workers, and the Labor Roots of Multiculturalism
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
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Some time after the 1991 Crown Heights riots, while riding across the Brooklyn Bridge, my wife and I began a conversation that led me back to graduate school in the mid-1990s. We lived on the border of Crown Heights and both knew Hasidic Jews and Caribbean Blacks from the...
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One April morning in 1999, I sat in Maida Springer-Kemp’s Pittsburgh kitchen to talk about her early days as a union activist in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). She served me tea, sat down erect, and began to speak with a highly formal diction. At eighty-nine, her memory was sharp, and she had a warm sense of humor...
1 “Harmoniously Functioning Nationalities”: Yiddish Socialism in Russia and the United States, 1892–1918
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During the Sixth Zionist conference in Basle, Switzerland, in late August 1903, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionist movement, asked to speak with Chaim Zhitlowsky, perhaps the most famous philosopher of Yiddish socialism. Though an obscure historical figure...
2 The Revolutionary and Gendered Origins of Garment Workers’ Education, 1909–1918
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Many of the Jewish women who immigrated to New York during the volatile years surrounding the 1905 Russian Revolution immediately joined the fight for justice in their communities. Mass movements involving thousands of Jewish women on the Lower East Side included...
3 Political Factionalism and Multicultural Education, 1917–1927
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In 1917, Jewish socialists in America cheered the news that the Russian people had overthrown the czar. At the ILGWU convention in 1918, President Benjamin Schlesinger sang the praises of the Revolution, hailing the victory by the proletariat not only over absolutist rule but also in taking control of the state from “representatives of the liberal middle...
4 Reconstructing a Multicultural Union, 1927–1933
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All the warring factions on the Left came to recognize the mutually destructive consequences of continuing belligerence. In 1927, a committee of fifty ILGWU cloak- and dressmakers, loyal to the Communist Party faction, formed for the purpose of bringing an end to the hostilities. They published an appeal to “workers and their organizations,...
5 All Together Different: Social Unionism and the Multicultural Front, 1933–1937
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On August 16, 1933, the dressmakers in New York’s garment industry went out on strike despite, or perhaps because of, the dire condition of the ILGWU. Beyond the most optimistic expectations of union leaders, sixty thousand mostly female dressmakers walked off their jobs and flooded union halls throughout the city. Two months earlier, the U.S. Congress...
6 Politics and the Precarious Place of Multiculturalism, 1933–1937
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The extraordinary revival of the dressmakers’ local unions and the ILGWU resulted in two-year contracts signed in late 1933 and early 1934 that established minimum wages and a limit of thirty-five hours per week with no overtime.1 Employers in New York City and the union’s “Eastern Out-of- Town” district, which included Staten Island, New Jersey,...
7 From Yiddish Socialism to Jewish Liberalism: The Politics and Social Vision of Pins and Needles, 1937–1941
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Two months after the ILGWU opened its Broadway review in the refurbished Princess Theater on 39th Street, Brooks Atkinson raved, “Pins and Needles, performed by workers in the garment trades is witty, fresh, and box office.” Noting the “sparkling” music and lyrics of the score, the...
Epilogue: Cosmopolitan Unionism and Mutual Culturalism in the World War II Era
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Ideas of mutual culturalism that were derived from Yiddish socialism and integral to the practice of social unionism appealed to people on the margins of society: sweatshop workers, unskilled and semiskilled factory workers, immigrant Jews and Italians, Hispanics, African...
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About the Author
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Daniel Katz is Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Master of Arts in Policy Studies program at the School for Graduate Studies, Empire State College (SUNY). A former union organizer, he sits on the boards of directors of Jews for Economic and Racial Justice and The...
Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011