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Sweatshop Strife

Sweatshop Strife: Class, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Jewish Labour Movement of Toronto, 1900-1939

Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    Sweatshop Strife
    Book Description:

    Frager has been able to gain access to original records that shed new light on an important chapter in Canadian ethnic, labour, and women's history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8031-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Abbreviations Used in the Text
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. A Note on the Use of Yiddish
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    Toronto cloakmakers and dressmakers applauded wildly and flung their hats into the air as the strains of ‘The Internationale’ filled their meeting hall. It was late June 1919 and these union men and women had just endorsed a comprehensive set of demands in a bold action that was to lead two thousand of them out on strike a week later. The majority were East European Jewish immigrants, and as they girded themselves for the sacrifices ahead the Yiddish version of ‘The Internationale’ rang in their ears, inspiring them with its prophecy that ‘the working man will create a Garden of...

  7. 1 A Mound of Ashes in the Golden Land: The Setting
    (pp. 10-34)

    Like many other Jewish immigrants who flooded into Toronto’s needle trades in the early twentieth century, Jim Blugerman had experienced severe hardships before leaving Eastern Europe. Born in the town of Kherson in Ukraine in 1887, Blugerman was the son of a poor, religious shoemaker. While he was still a youth, his family moved to nearby Odessa, where he became a furniture-maker. He was among those who survived the 1905 Odessa pogrom, during which rampaging anti-Semites murdered several hundred Jews, wounded thousands, and reduced many others to beggary by extensively destroying Jewish property. In fact, Blugerman was one of the...

  8. 2 Pulling in One Direction: The Development of Jewish Working-Class Activism
    (pp. 35-54)

    A strong pro-labour current evolved within Toronto’s immigrant Jewish community. As the Jewish labour activists struggled to build a militant movement to advance their class interests, their experience of oppression as Jews heightened their political awareness and often sharpened their commitment to activism. For the Jewish socialists in particular, class consciousness and ethnic identity reinforced each other, deepening their commitment to radical social change. Led by the socialists and forged out of a vibrant Jewish working-class culture, the Jewish labour movement was a dramatic departure from the more conservative unionism that characterized many sections of the Canadian labour movement in...

  9. 3 Uncle Moses and the Slaves: Relations between Jewish Manufacturers and Jewish Workers
    (pp. 55-76)

    ‘What’s the matter with the Jew?’ asked union activist Ike Gilberg in 1913. Writing in the newspaper of the Journeymen Tailors’ Union of America, Gilberg argued that North America’s Jewish workers needed to realize the complete irrelevance of the ethnic bond between themselves and the Jewish manufacturers in the clothing industry. ‘The mind of the Jewish working people has been for generations subverted and confused by religious and racial superstitions and persecutions, perhaps more so than the minds of any other race,’ he maintained. As a result, Jews belonging to ‘the master class’ were able to ‘appeal to the Jewish...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 4 ‘Mixing with People on Spadina’: The Tense Relations between Non-Jewish Workers and Jewish Workers
    (pp. 77-97)

    Armed with knuckledusters, two unemployed Toronto ILGWU members assaulted two of the union’s leaders in October 1936, beating them badly. The victims were both Jews, the assailants were not. ‘The attackers, in a statement to the police, which the press featured, attempted to create anti-semitic feeling, by the contention that they were being discriminated against, because of being Gentiles,’ reported another local Jewish union leader. ‘This is without foundation, of course,’ the official declared, explaining that ‘we countered with a statement in the press by the Gentile Local repudiating this, stating that discrimination does not exist in our Union.’ He...

  12. 5 ‘Better Material to Exploit’: The Barriers to Women’s Participation in the Labour Movement
    (pp. 98-118)

    When the strike-breaker set out to cross the picket line, Bessie Kramer sprang into action. Kramer, an ILGWU activist, tried at first to convert her opponent, explaining that the strike at this Toronto cloak shop was a fight for better working conditions. The indignant strike-breaker, a woman in her forties, demanded to know what right Kramer had to tell her what to do. Kramer, a younger cloakmaker, replied that her own working conditions would be affected by the outcome of this strike, but the other woman was not impressed. Tempers flared. Suddenly, Kramer felt that her adversary was about to...

  13. 6 ‘Just as a Worker’: The Dearth of Female-Oriented Strategies
    (pp. 119-148)

    ‘The regular machinery of our organization was not sufficient to arouse the interest of the women in the work of our organization and attract them to join it,’ announced the ACW’s general executive board to the union’s Canadian and American locals in 1916. To attract the women workers, ‘some sort of special machinery, which would apply not to all workers in the industry, but to the women particularly and exclusively, must be created,’ the board concluded. Hence the head office advised the locals to organize ‘women’s clubs and other auxiliary organizations in order to promote the organization of women in...

  14. 7 Doing Things That Men Do: Women Activists in the Needle Trades
    (pp. 149-179)

    Despite all these difficulties, there were a significant number of women whose militancy helped make the growth of Toronto’s needle trades unions possible. Together with the male unionists, they joined strikes and took their turns on the picket lines. In addition, some Jewish women were especially dedicated to the Jewish labour movement, playing more active roles within the movement despite the self-sacrifices involved. The activism of these Jewish women drew on the legacy of East European Jewish culture, which did not define women as passive, fragile, house-bound beings. Detailed profiles of several female Jewish activists reveal not only their pride...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. 8 Pulling Apart: Divisions over Political Ideology
    (pp. 180-210)

    ‘Let us once and for all liberate ourselves from the parasites [in the clothing factories],’ proclaimed a fiery letter to the editor of one of the Yiddish newspapers in 1931.² Other articles in this paper echoed this theme, calling on Toronto’s Jewish garment workers to free themselves’ ‘from the paws of ... the principleless creatures who suck the blood from the workers daily.’³ Denunciations were heaped upon die enemy who used ‘terror’ and ‘the whip of discrimination’ to ‘suppress any discontent and any protest from the workers.’⁴ But who exactly was the enemy? Although the Communists certainly saw capitalists as...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 211-218)

    The Toronto cloakmakers and dressmakers who applauded eagerly and pitched their hats into the air as the bars of the ‘The Internationale' filled their meeting hall in the heady days of 1919 were building one of the most advanced labour movements working people have ever created in North America. In addition to collective bargaining, the Jewish needle trades unions encompassed important social, cultural, and political dimensions. They formed a dynamic movement, born out of the vigorous reactions of a displaced people who had fled from the persecutions of the Old World to find themselves thrust out of necessity into the...

  18. PART A: Statistical Information on the Jewish Population of Toronto
    (pp. 219-219)
  19. PART B: Statistical Information on the Garment Workers of Toronto
    (pp. 220-222)
  20. PART C: The Garment Unions in Toronto
    (pp. 223-224)
  21. PART D: Key Strikes in Toronto’s Needle Trades
    (pp. 225-228)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 229-272)
  23. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 273-286)
  24. Index
    (pp. 287-298)
  25. Picture Credits
    (pp. 299-300)