Chapter 7 – From cabinet maker to trade union general secretary

by Jason Lever

Posted on Sun, 01 Dec 2013 17:08:54 GMT

The battle to establish Jewish unions

When Solomon entered the world of work in the late 1910s, overcrowding and chronic poverty were increasing in the East End. Cut-throat competition in cabinet making made it a precarious living, with long hours and low wages.

Jewish immigrants arrived into a system in which “native” tailors and shoe-makers, in particular, had already begun to toil within ‘the full rigours of the sweating system’. Sweatshop conditions of 13-hour working days were fuelled by starvation wages. This also applied ‘to a lesser extent in cabinet-making and baking’ (ref: Jones).

Distinctly Jewish unions began to form in some sectors, for example the short-lived Hebrew Cabinet Makers Union. With the majority of cabinet making workshops run by a master with maybe four to eight men under him, it was not a trade conducive to collectivism (ref: Gartner; White).

In 1892, only about 1,200 of some 30,000 immigrant Jewish workers were members of Jewish trades unions in London (ref: Alderman). Jewish unions ‘rose and fell rapidly, often vanishing without a trace’ in the first decade of the twentieth century (ref: Bermant). With fairly rapid assimilation into the English working-classes, the need for separate Jewish unions was questioned.

According to Rudolf Rocker, the Jewish trade unions took steps to build contacts with the general trades union movement in the country, becoming active in major disputes and strikes. Yet, they tried to ‘provide for the cultural needs of the Jewish workers’ (Ref: Rocker).

There was greater stability in smaller trades such as baking (ref: Gartner). Some time between 1903 and 1909 the London Jewish Bakers Union was formed, evolving from meetings of refugee bakers held in the Jewish pub in Black Lion Yard and other East End pubs. It affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 1920 (ref: Marsh & Smethurst).

Solomon Lever, one time cabinet maker, was to be its general secretary for over half its 60-year history.

Cabinet-Making Jewish-Unions London-Jewish-Bakers-Union

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Chapter 1 - Introducing Solomon Lever and his l...Chapter 2 - The Jewish East EndChapter 3 - A family history of Solomon LeverChapter 4 - A Jewish East End education for Sol...Chapter 5 - Joining East End cultural and commu...Chapter 6 - Solomon as a cabinet makerChapter 7 – From cabinet maker to trade union g...Chapter 8 – Rise of the London Jewish Bakers UnionChapter 9 – Dealing with the challenges of a de...Chapter 10 – Solomon’s journey to Jewish trade ...Chapter 11 – Interlude of anarchism’s appeal to...Chapter 12 – Solomon Lever finds his home in th...Chapter 13 – The Liberal and Conservative partiesChapter 14 – The Labour Party consolidates its ...Chapter 15 – The appeal of East End councils’ s...Chapter 16 – The rise and fall of communist sup...Chapter 17 – Surging Labourism after the warChapter 18 – The Labour Party’s support for Zio...Chapter 19 – Short-lived Labour-Zionist honeymoonChapter 20 – Solomon Lever’s 1947 broadcast spe...Chapter 21 – Solomon Lever’s 1948 speech from t...Chapter 22 – Solomon Lever’s 1954 speech from t...Chapter 23 – Solomon Lever’s final TUC speech i...Chapter 24 – His Worshipful The Mayor and Mayor...Chapter 25 – Family connections in the Mayor’s ...Chapter 26 – Important social issues raised wit...Chapter 27 – The adbuction of Solomon LeverChapter 28 – Discovery of Solomon’s bodyChapter 29 – InquestChapter 30 – The death of Solomon LeverChapter 31 – Solomon’s funeral and obituaryChapter 32 – The death knell of the London Jewi...Chapter 33 – An appraisalChapter 34 – Bibliography