An Annual Seder with a Labor Flavor – and Local 802 was host

Volume CX, No. 5May, 2010

Andy Schwartz

The labor seder attracted more than 50 unionists to share the Passover story at Local 802.
Photo: Walter Karling.

Next year in Jerusalem! On March 23, Local 802’s Club Room was the setting for the 6th annual Passover labor seder, organized by the United Hebrew Trades, which is the New York Division of the Jewish Labor Committee.

The seder was attended by more than 50 representatives from across the labor movement, and provided an opportunity for members of the Jewish community and trade unions to share the Passover story and examine its relationship to contemporary struggles for freedom and dignity.

Local 802 has long been affiliated with the United Hebrew Trades/Jewish Labor Committee, and it is my honor to have been recently elected to maintain this special relationship, following in the footsteps of our past delegate, Erwin Price, and those who came before him.

The JLC is an independent secular organization, serving to bring together the Jewish community and the larger labor movement, with the goal of working together to advance important causes, both social and economic. Headquartered in New York City, it has offices and or affiliates in major cities across the nation.

The United Hebrew Trades has a history stretching back to 1888, when it was founded by members of the Yiddish and Russian branches of the Socialist Labor Party and other Jewish unions. It included the early Jewish Musicians’ Union of New York.

In 1934 the UHT took part in the formation of the Jewish Labor Committee, along with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and other organizations. The JLC’s initial efforts focused on responding to the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism in pre-war Germany and at home in the United States.

The JLC was active during World War II in supporting the underground resistance movement against Germany. It smuggled financial aid to oppressed Jewish communities in Europe, and assisted émigrés to the United States. By 1944, the JLC was spending upwards of $1 million a year to aid Holocaust survivors.

After the war, the JLC organized a campaign to support the Stratton Bill, which would have permitted some 400,000 refugees into the U.S. This bill failed to pass, but the JLC soldiered on. It continued and expanded its assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people still living in displaced persons camps in Europe. It also served as a clearinghouse to help locate missing relatives, and created the Child Adoption Program to send financial support to orphans of the war.

In post-war America, the JLC formed committees to address issues of human rights and to combat intolerance. The preservation of these rights, the support of labor, and the fostering of a liberal and humane Jewish ethos remain the focus of the United Hebrew Trades and the Jewish Labor Committee.

In the 1990’s, the United Hebrew Trades upgraded its status with the Jewish Labor Committee. No longer an affilate, the United Hebrew Trades is now the New York Division of the Jewish Labor Committee.

Current JLC activities include its continued support of Israel and opposition to calls for anti-Israel divestment and boycotts, support for workers’ rights and democratic reform in Iran, and support for the U.S. Employee Free Choice Act.

In the NYC area, the JLC has come out to support the preservation of mechanical lever voting machines and reached out to the City Council to oppose the development of Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx as a mega mall unless there were guarantees of a $10 per hour living wage for the mall’s employees.

Trade unions from all across the world of labor are members of the UHT-JLC. These include CWA, AFSCME, UFT, IATSE, ILU, PEF, RWDSU, SEIU, TWU, UAW, UFCW, UniteHere!, Workers United, and our own AFM.

Local 802 looks forward to many more years of collaboration with the United Hebrew Trades and Jewish Labor Committee in our efforts to support labor here at home and around the world.