American Jews are returning to the labor movement, although this time more as professional leaders rather than rankand-file members and activists, reports Forward.com (April 23).
The recent growth of the labor movement due to the economic downturn and the raised expectation of new economic models under the presidency of Barack Obama also reveals a new generation of Jewish labor leaders who are different from the Jewish labor movement of the 1930s. Before World War II, the Jewish labor movement, as represented in such unions as the Ladies Garment Workers Union, fueled wide social changes in American society, such as welfare and labor protection laws.
Today, there are few Jewish workers in the unions, but without much concerted effort, the new college-educated leadership of unions has tended to have a high Jewish representation. Often, these young leaders were inspired by their grandparents’ involvement in labor. The reality of Jewish leaders of largely nonJewish unions has fueled conspiratorial views of Jewish influence in American society in some cases. Today, there is not a direct connection between the Jewish community and the labor movement, but as the leaders have become aware of one another’s Jewish backgrounds, there is a new interest in exploring their roots.
Stuart Applebaum of the Jewish Labor Committee says he sees a greater willingness among labor leaders to identify with the Jewish community. For instance, a Yom Kippur Break Fast event held by an AFL-CIO official is part of a conscious effort to try to make the link between work in the labor movement and being Jewish, suggesting that it is no accident that these leaders chose this line of work and that it is tied to Jewish roots and values.