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All Together Different

All Together Different: Yiddish Socialists, Garment Workers, and the Labor Roots of Multiculturalism

Daniel Katz
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    All Together Different
    Book Description:

    In the early 1930's, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) organized large numbers of Black and Hispanic workers through a broadly conceived program of education, culture, and community involvement. The ILGWU admitted these new members, the overwhelming majority of whom were women, into racially integrated local unions and created structures to celebrate ethnic differences. All Together Different revolves around this phenomenon of interracial union building and worker education during the Great Depression.Investigating why immigrant Jewish unionists in the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) appealed to an international force of coworkers, Katz traces their ideology of a working-class based cultural pluralism, which Daniel Katz newly terms mutual culturalism, back to the revolutionary experiences of Russian Jewish women. These militant women and their male allies constructed an ethnic identity derived from Yiddish socialist tenets based on the principle of autonomous national cultures in the late nineteenth century Russian Empire. Built on original scholarship and bolstered by exhaustive research, All Together Different offers a fresh perspective on the nature of ethnic identity and working-class consciousness and contributes to current debates about the origins of multiculturalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6367-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    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. She delighted in reminiscing about her comrades in the ILGWU and the labor movement she helped to build.¹ But nothing seemed to give her as much pleasure as her realization that I had no idea what she was saying when...

  6. PART I

    • 1 “Harmoniously Functioning Nationalities”: Yiddish Socialism in Russia and the United States, 1892–1918
      (pp. 19-45)

      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 today, during the 1890s and 1900s Zhitlowsky commanded the attention of Russian Jewish intellectuals, while Herzl was better known among European heads of state than in the Jewish Diaspora. As a small movement of western European Jews, Zionism was overshadowed by revolutionary movements in the Russian Empire, such as the General Union of Jewish Workers, known as the Bund.


    • 2 The Revolutionary and Gendered Origins of Garment Workers’ Education, 1909–1918
      (pp. 46-71)

      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 a koshermeat boycott in 1902, a rent strike in 1904, and food riots in 1907. As they had done in Russia, Jewish women engaged as economic actors in what Paula Hyman calls “the public secular sphere.”¹ They organized committees, made demands on powerful men, appointed leaders, spoke publicly, negotiated, went on strike, picketed, built alliances, provided mutual support, and...

    • 3 Political Factionalism and Multicultural Education, 1917–1927
      (pp. 72-97)

      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 classes.” He declared, “Russia, heretofore a country of unmitigated political absolutism and economic oppression, the fort and stronghold of European reaction, suddenly blossomed out as the first truly democratic Socialist republic.”¹ The union newspaper echoed this sentiment by publishing inspiring stories of heroism...

    • 4 Reconstructing a Multicultural Union, 1927–1933
      (pp. 98-120)

      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, to all communal institutions, to all literary and cultural associations, to all fraternal orders and particularly to all the influential communal workers of our city” that deplored the depths into which the union had plunged and urged the wider Jewish socialist movement to help resolve the conflict. The...

    • PART II

      • 5 All Together Different: Social Unionism and the Multicultural Front, 1933–1937
        (pp. 123-163)

        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 passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), a foundation of President Roosevelt’s first New Deal, promising for the first time “that employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing and shall be free from the interference,...

      • 6 Politics and the Precarious Place of Multiculturalism, 1933–1937
        (pp. 164-198)

        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, Long Island, and Westchester County, organized themselves into five employer associations to negotiate and administer the contracts. To institute uniform standards across the shops, ILGWU leaders welcomed this level of employer consolidation. However, the structure of the dressmaking industry in the region remained chaotic, with more...

    • PART III

      • 7 From Yiddish Socialism to Jewish Liberalism: The Politics and Social Vision of Pins and Needles, 1937–1941
        (pp. 201-231)

        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, theNew York Timestheater critic called chief songwriter Harold Rome the “discovery” of the show. For many people in theater and labor,Pins and Needlesaccomplished what its creators hoped: a triumphant and exuberant expression of workers’ and unions’ place in American politics and culture. Atkinson concluded, “Most of the wit, humor, and sentiment...

      • Epilogue: Cosmopolitan Unionism and Mutual Culturalism in the World War II Era
        (pp. 232-240)

        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 Americans, and women. But leaders of the ILGWU felt themselves moving from the margins of society to its center after their success in rebuilding the union and participating in Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition, most importantly with the 1937 Supreme Court decision upholding the National Labor Relations Act. The context within which social unionism had meaning for leaders such as Sasha Zimmerman...

    • Notes
      (pp. 241-276)
    • Bibliography
      (pp. 277-288)
    • Index
      (pp. 289-297)
    • About the Author
      (pp. 298-298)