by Jason Lever
Posted on Sun, 01 Dec 2013 17:16:55 GMT
A socialist path
In his shift from cabinet maker to trades union leader in baking (and later political leadership), he epitomised Henry Mayhew’s characterisation that ‘the artisans are almost to a man red-hot politicians’ (‘London Labour and the London Poor', vol III, 1861) (ref: Mayhew).
Solomon’s shift from cabinet making to union officialdom may also have been related to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The relative youthfulness of the Jewish population meant that some 14 per cent of British Jews served in the armed forces compared with 11.5 per cent of the British population generally.
Solomon was not conscripted into active service though. In common with many East End furniture makers, his skills were used in aircraft manufacture – as wood was the basic material for aircraft of the time – serving in the Royal Flying Corps (ref: Black G; Kirkham).
We have already seen in earlier sections on the origins of the London Jewish Bakers Union some of the challenges to the development of trades unionism among predominantly Jewish trades, particularly tailoring and baking.
Solomon Lever’s path in unionism – and later as a prominent Labour Party councillor and Mayor of Hackney – was likely influenced by socialists providing the early leadership of Jewish trade unionism. The 19th century Jewish immigrants brought with them the socialism of the Pale of Settlement and can be said to have more or less introduced trades unionism – and Zionism – to British Jewry (ref: Alderman, 1983).
A Hebrew Socialist Union was formed in 1876, which ‘acted first as an educative force to train future political leaders, and secondly as an economic force to bring about Trade Union consciousness’. Eight years later came a Society of Jewish Socialists, which spawned an International Workers’ Educational Club (Fishman, 1981; Alderman, 1983).
Yet, by the onset of the First World War there could be little point in ‘speaking of a Jewish socialist movement in England independent of Jewish trade unionism’ (Gartner). For Jewish immigrants, socialism was largely taken up in Britain ‘through an industrial [ie trade union] rather than an ideological [ie revolutionary] medium’ (Alderman, 1983).
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