by Jason Lever
Posted on Sun, 01 Dec 2013 17:13:02 GMT
Tougher market conditions from the 1920s
Household consumption of bread had fallen steadily as families became smaller and alternative foods cheaper. The “New Survey of London Life and Labour” (1933) by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) concluded that the ‘small Jewish section of the industry’ had particular difficulties. The Jewish baker had longer hours, including unpopular night work, which contributed to labour shortages.
Slipping from their dry economic analysis, these LSE researchers described how the characteristic cholla was a ‘peculiarly good quality bread baked in special patterns…[which] demands a higher degree of skill than the ordinary English loaf’ and a longer baking time.
At the same time, assimilation and population spread across London added to the decline of the Jewish baking industry. In 1933 there were just 50 Jewish master bakers (members of the Jewish Master Bakers Protection Society) and about 90 skilled operatives (organised in the London Jewish Bakers Union). The Union is described as ‘a union small but powerful in the sense that nearly every Jewish baker belongs to it’ (ref: LSE).
Forty years earlier, in the 1890s, the London Jewish Master Bakers Protection Society acted to defend themselves in the courts against the terms of the 17th century Bread Act. This legislation prohibited baking on Sundays. The Society won the case on the grounds that later Factory and Workshop Acts allowed Jews who did not work on a Saturday some limited Sunday working rights (ref: Black E).
The socialist credentials of the London Jewish Bakers Union was illustrated by the unique system of “jobbing” (or called the “credential system”). As a response to the economic depression, instead of paying unemployment benefit like other unions, it required each member to stay away from work at regular intervals (such as a day a month) with his place taken by an unemployed member at the same, regular rates (ref: LSE).
In an American parallel, part of the resolution of the 1909 bakers’ strike in New York on the Lower East Side was that bosses allowed their workers to give one night’s work to unemployed bakers (ref: Balinska).
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