Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Here's something interesting for those of you who are interested in labor history. We talk a lot about the garment industry and unions on the Piecing it Together tour.

This is pulled from the NY Times City Room blog, where historian Joshua Freeman (author of Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II) is answering questions.

Q: In your opinion, what were the primary causes and repercussions of the early 20th-century conflicts between the various leftist unions in the New York City’s garment center?

For example, in his landmark book “World of Our Fathers,” Irving Howe wrote: “If anything, the Jewish Communists were more ferocious than their gentile comrades, for when Joseph Boruchowitz, the Communist leader of the cloak union started debating a Forvetsnik (a Forward supporter), what erupted was not just a difference of opinion but a seething hatred between men who only yesterday had known one another intimately.” (Page 333) — Posted by Miles T. Wood

A. The battles among leftists in the New York garment unions were part of a worldwide fight between communists and socialists, which broke out in the wake of the Russian Revolution. New York leftists had disagreements about union strategy and national politics, but the heart of their conflict lay in loyalties to contending international movements. As Irving Howe suggested, the social and political proximity of the factionalists added to the bitterness between them. In few places in America besides the world of radical New York labor were socialists called “the right wing.” During the mid-1920s, leftist factionalism crippled several unions, including the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. The inability of communists and socialists to work together, except during brief periods, diminished their influence on the larger labor movement, (though it nonetheless was considerable, especially in New York).

Anyone have a different perspective?

- Posted by Kate

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