The Beginnings of the Jewish Trade Union Movement in England

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The history of the London Jewish community during the last four decades of the nineteenth century occupies a prominent part in the growth of the modern Jewish working class movement generally in the western world. London was the scene of the foundation of the first modern Jewish socialist society, the first modern Jewish trade union and the first Jewish workers' club. Here also appeared some of the earliest of modern Jewish socialist pamphlet literature. Although, despite such pioneering efforts, the first chapter of the London Jewish working class movement left few if any lasting traces, it is nevertheless proper to record the chronology of those early eventful days, to enquire into the circumstances which made London so pre-eminent and to examine the reasons for their transitory nature. These subjects have a very wide range and I can deal only with the very first stages, hoping that another opportunity will later present itself to continue the story.2

The Annual Report for 1864 of the Jewish Board of Guardians states that "Holland continues to supply most of the foreign poor." The Annual Report for 1872 observes that "the poor Jews in England are now almost exclusively recruited from Poland."3 This change in the character of Jewish immigration imposed a new feature upon the Anglo-Jewish community, some indication of which may be gleaned by contrasting the Dickensian account of the Jewish street hawkers and pedlars given by Henry Mayhew in his "London Labour and London Poor," published in 1861,4 with the matter of fact picture of the Jewish working class population in Charles Booth's "London Labour and Life," published some thirty years later. An appreciation of this change is basic to any understanding of the growth of socialism and trade unionism in Anglo-Jewry.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the records of the London tailoring trade5 reveal no clear and unmistakeable Jewish associations. The trade was in the throes of a development general to all branches of industry, the gradual disappearance of the domestic industrial system and the rise of modern industrial organisation. It may be significant in this connection that in 1860 there appeared in London under the name of E. Moses and Son, a pamphlet entitled "The Growth of an Important Branch of British Industry?the Ready-made Clothing System."6 but, this apart, it is fairly clear that among the organised London tailoring workers the Jews were inconspicuous, although by 1861 "the (Jewish) trading class in the capacity of shopkeepers, warehouse? men and manufacturers are the thickest in Houndsditch, Aldgate and the Minories, more especially as regards the 'swagshops' and the manufacture and sale of wearing apparel."7

1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 5th July, 1948.

2 I have drawn to a very great extent upon two basic articles by E. Tcherikower, one in Yivo, Historische Schriften, Vol. I, Warsaw, 1929, on "The Beginnings of the Jewish Socialist Movement" and one in "The History of the Jewish Labor Movement in the United States," Vol. II, New York, 1943, on "London

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