History Book Club
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
History of Labor Movements
David Dubinsky and the ILGWU
Robert D. Parmet, The Master of Seventh Avenue: David Dubinsky and the American Labor Movement; New York: New York University Press, July, 2005. 436 pages, 19 illustrations
David Dubinsky (L) and President Roosevelt at performance of
ILGWU Musical “Pins and Needles” at the White House, 1938
David Dubinsky (born David Isaac Dobnievski; February 22, 1892 in Brest-Litovsk, Russian Empire ---now Brest, Belarus) was only five feet, four inches tall, but became a giant in the American labor movement.
He started life in the family of a devout Jewish father who preferred to have the rest of his family do the hard work of running a bakery.
David mixed school with work at the bakery. He studied Polish, Russian and Yiddish. During the Russian Revolution of 1905 he attended a mass meeting which led to his joining the Jewish Bund, a socialist organization. By age 15, David was a committed socialist. In 1907 he was arrested for planning a bakers’ strike. He was jailed, and released. Then he was arrested again and at age 16, sent to Chelyabinsk, Siberia. He walked out of the camp, hid in the city for a time, and then used a ticket his brother, already in America sent him, to sail to New York.
He arrived in New York in 1911, and soon got a job as a garment worker. It was there that he was introduced to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. He joined Local 10 as a cutter of large bolts of cloth.
Dubinsky married Emma Goldberg in 1915. She died in 1974.
With his wits and fluency in several languages, he found himself on the Local 10 Executive Board in 1918. He became an ardent supporter of America’s entry into World War I, and urged opposition to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. He became the local’s vice-president in 1919 and chairman in 1920, then present and general manager in 1921. Soon he was elected a vice president of the ILGWU and a member of the international’s general executive board in 1922. He was elected President of the ILGWU in 1932, and served there until 1966.
Dubinsky began as a Socialist until 1928, but always fought communism, and communist efforts to capture leadership of his union all his life.
Dubinsky became president of ILGWU at just the right time, less than a year before Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President of the United States. After Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, not to mention a roaring Depression, the nation was ready for FDR, and he began a massive conversion to liberalism. When Dubinsky became president the union was riven with factionalism, communists fighting socialists. The treasury was empty and the union deeply in debt. There were 45,000 members. Dubinsky later said he thought he had been elected to look after the burial of the union.
With FDR came a deluge of social programs. The National Industrial Recovery Act guaranteed the right of workers in interstate commerce to collective bargaining and the union ranks swelled, and money came pouring in. By the end of the Depression there were 300,000 members. Dubinsky was a great supporter of Roosevelt, and tremendously grateful for “the blue eagle” of the NRA. At about that time Dubinsky attended a labor congress in Vienna, Austria, and saw the efforts of an Austrian socialist union in providing for its members. That launched Dubinsky on a program that created all kinds of social benefits for ILGWU members, including schools, health clinics, affordable housing, a vacation hotel in the Catskills, and even a school in the New York theatre district that allowed workers to learn music and dance. The union developed a musical, “Pins and Needles” which became enormously popular, ran on Broadway with the longest run of any musical up to that time (1938). Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, great supporters of the union, had the cast perform the musical at the White House. All of the cast were regular workers in the clothing industry, but some left that to become full-time dancers and singers.
Dubinsky was labor advisor to the NIRA, and became a key leader in the American Federation of Labor. In 1935 he joined with John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers to form the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The AFL and CIO battled each other for years, one of the points of contention being membership of blacks.
Today, it is hard for us to appreciate the force that communism had in the 1930s, with Stalin running the USSR, and the Comintern sending out operatives all over the world. The slogan “Workers of the World—Unite!” was a communist war cry that many labor unions in America had heeded. Author Parmet lists the unions that had become communist. John L. Lewis had been an ardent opponent of communism, and now he was going soft on it. Were it not for Dubinsky and others, much of our labor force could have fallen under the sway of Moscow.
All during World War II Dubinsky was involved in many national and international projects and after the war he was instrumental in sending financial aid ($3 million in cash and relief supplies) to the new state of Israel and to Italy. They built an orphanage in China and a trade union school in France. He was a tireless fighter to keep racketeers and organized crime out of the unions, as well as communism.
By 1957 the ILGWU had grown to 450,000 members.
In 1966, after 34 years as president of ILGWU, Dubinsky resigned. He continued to be active politically, supporting the election of Mayor John Lindsay and others.
Dubinsky died in New York City in 1982. He and Emma are survived by their daughter, Jean Appleton, and granddaughter, Ryna Segal, both of Manhattan.
Dubinsky and JFK
The North American trade union formed in 1995 by the of the and the . The union represents apparel workers in the United States, , and Puerto Rico. Headquarters are in .
Future History Book Club Topics
Here is a list of topics for 2016. Feel free to comment on these topics, and to suggest additional or substitute topics.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016: History of Money and Banking in America. Wampum, potlatch, Jefferson and Jackson and the quasi-central banks, Civil War and the monetary system, the Federal Reserve, The Crash of 1929, The New Deal and Banking, Bretton Woods, The Gold Standard, more.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016: “The End of the World” –History of Doomsday Forecasts. Arrival of the Antichrist, Swedenborg and the Last Judgment, the Millerites of 1844, the End Times, Marshall Applewhite and the Heaven’s Gate Cult, Armageddon, more.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016: History of Journalism and the Media. Benjamin Franklin, Horace Greeley, Yellow Press, “Acta Diurna” in Ancient Rome; “Notizie Scritta in Venice; The Manchester Guardian; Jonathan Swift; more.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016: Modern Life in the Middle East and the Islamic State. Iraq from its formation after WWI, Syria, the Caliphate, Origins of conflict, Sunni vs. Shii vs. Kurds vs. Alewhites Vs. Wahabi vs. ? Modern technology with Seventh-century ideas, Impact of USSR and U.S. in Afghanistan, U.S. combat in Iraq; Arab Spring; Turkey and Islam, Jordan, The Gulf States, Egypt, much more.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016: Africa since 1900. Colonization by Belgium, France, Britain, Germany and Portugal; End of Colonialism; Democracy and Dictatorship; Rwanda; Jomo Kenyatta; Apartheid and South Africa; Congo; Angola; more….
Wednesday, July 27, 2016: American Foreign Policy from the Barbara Pirates to today. Civil War alliances by both Union and Confederacy; Gunboat Diplomacy; Spanish-American War; “He Kept Us out of War!”; Britain and the U.S. in WWII; The Cold War; more.
Wednesday, August, 31, 2016: Germs and Plagues: A history of epidemics in the world. Plague of Athens (429 BC), Plague of Justinian (541 AD), “Black Death” in 1346, Cocoliztli Epidemic in Mexico (1528), Wampanoag Smallpox in 1616, 1918 Flu Pandemic, more.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016: Scaremongering and Witch Hunts in America. Salem Witch Trials, House Un-American Activities Committee; McCarthy Investigations; more.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016: Political Parties in America. Whigs, Know-Nothings, Federalists, Copperheads; Communists, Socialists, Republicans, Democrats, more.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016: Colonization in America. Jamestown, Plymouth, Gloucester, St. Augustine, Junipero Serra, Roger Williams, Quebec, Nieuw Amsterdam, more.
December: No Meeting