Jewish Labor Committee

The Jewish Labor Committee is an American secular Jewish organization dedicated to promoting labour union interests in Jewish communities, and Jewish interests within unions.

The organization is headquartered in New York City, with local/regional offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, and volunteer-led affiliated groups in a number of other U.S. communities. It was founded in 1934 in response to the rise of Nazism in Europe. Today, it works to maintain and strengthen the historically strong relationship between the American Jewish community and the trade union movement, and to promote what they see as the shared social justice agenda of both communities.


The JLC was formed in February 1934, by Yiddish-speaking immigrant trade union leaders, and leaders of such groups as the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, the Jewish Labor Bund, and the United Hebrew Trades, in response to the rise of Nazism in Germany. Representatives assembled at a conference on New York's Lower East Side, charging it with the following tasks:
* support of Jewish labor institutions in European countries;
* assistance to the anti-Hitler underground movement;
* aid to the victims of Nazism;
* cooperation with American organized labor in fighting anti-democratic forces; and
* combating anti-Semitism and other evil effects of Fascism and Nazism upon American life.

The first president was Baruch Charney (BC) Vladeck. Vladeck addressed the 1934 convention of the American Federation of Labor, by arguing that the Nazi persecution of Jews was part of a general assault on labor rights and political liberty. In response the AFL created a Labor Chest to aid the victims of fascism; in coming years, the Chest funded a host of JLC-inspired educational and aid projects.

During the first five years of its existence, the Jewish Labor Committee concentrated mainly on supporting anti-Nazi labor forces in Europe and sending relief to Jewish labor institutions there, especially those maintained by the Jewish Labor and the "left" Labor Zionist movement (the "right" Labor Zionists organized their own relief and rehabilitation committee), and encouraging and strengthening U.S. and Canadian opposition to the Nazis, in the labor and democratic left, as well as in the community-at-large. At the same time it organized mass anti-Nazi demonstrations; in 1936, with the American Jewish Congress, through the Joint Boycott Council, it conducted a boycott on German goods and services. At the urging of BC Vladeck and Jewish union leaders, the AFL came out in favor of a boycott of Nazi goods at its 1933 convention.

After the outbreak of World War II, the emphasis focused on efforts to save Jewish cultural and political figures, as well as Jewish and non-Jewish labor and socialist leaders facing certain death at the hands of the Nazis. With powerful help from the American Federation of Labor, the Committee succeeded in bringing over a thousand of such individuals to the United States, or to temporary shelter elsewhere.

The JLC's main focus was unified action, but also took independent action for their anti-Nazi campaign. When the American Olympics Committee declined to boycott the Berlin Olympics of 1936, the JLC held a World Labor Athletic Carnival (also known as the Counter-Olympics) at Randall's Island in New York City. Dozens of teams representing New York union locals competed, and featured amateur athletes from across the country. NY Governor Herbert Lehman presented the awards. The Carnival received extensive nationwide press coverage, and the JLC repeated the event in the summer of 1937.

After the war, the JLC organized a Child Adoption Program. The program was not meant to provide adoption in the usual sense, but rather to provide a mechanism by which Americans could contribute to the care of children living in Europe or Israel. At a cost of $300 per year, a union shop or local, fraternal society, Workmen's Circle branch, women's club, or any other group or individual could "adopt" a child. Thousands of children were supported through this program into the 1950s.

Beginning in the late 1930s, the Committee became increasingly concerned with Jewish defense work and community relations in the United States. It was one of the four founders of the short-lived General Jewish Council and helped organize the National Community Relations Advisory Council [re-named the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) in the 1990s] , of which it is still an active member.


Unlike other community relations agencies, the JLC has its sphere of action clearly delineated: it strives to represent Jewish interests in the American labor movement, and labor interests in the Jewish community. Working with the American Federation of Labor—Congress of Industrial Organizations since the AFL-CIO's formation in 1956, and the Change to Win federation since the CtW's formation in 2005, the JLC works with and has the support of a wide range of unions and their associated organizations, locally as well as nationally.

Comprising diverse organizations and a variety of ideological groups, the Committee has been guided in its work by pragmatic policies rather than by a clear Jewish philosophy. While Bundist influence was significant in the organization, particularly in the early period, and the Jewish Labor Bund is still an affiliated organization, JLC been supportive of the State of Israel since 1948. Both Ameinu (formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance) and Meretz USA (merged from Americans for Progressive Israel and the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace, API being a member of the JLC pre-merger) are affiliated with the JLC. Consequently, the JLC can broadly speaking be considered part of what is sometines called in the Jewish left in America.

In 2000, the JLC began an annual tradition of holding local "Labor Seders" in communities throughout the U.S.. These "Labor Seders" are held in conjunction with local central labor Central Labor Councils serve as a way for local Jewish and Labor leaders to come together and relate to the story of basic worker's rights. Emulating these events, a similar "Labor Seder" was held in Sydney, Australia in 2006.

In addition to the JCPA, the JLC is a founding member of a number of U.S. and international Jewish communal agencies, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

The JLC is also a partner organization of the Jewish Organizing Initiative which was born in 1994 as a mechanism for young people to come into the field of community organizing through a Jewish channel. Through it, the JLC's field office in Boston secured a number of regional directors in the 1990s.

Its funding comes from independent campaigns, contributions from trade unions, allocations from Jewish community federations, grants from foundations, individual members and organizational affiliates. (Originally a body of organizations and unions, the Committee has also had individual members since the mid-1960s.)


*anon, Jewish Labor Committee in Action (1948); idem, The Time is Now... (1951);
*idem, "Finf un Tsvantsik Yor..." (1960);
*idem, The Jewish Labor Committee Story (2004);
*Herberg, Will, “The Jewish Labor Movement in the United States,” in "American Jewish Year Book", vol. 53 (1952);
*Knox, Israel, “Jewish Labor - The Reality and the Ideal,” in THE JEWISH LABOR MOVEMENT IN AMERICA: TWO VIEWS (New York: Jewish Labor Committee 1958)
*Malmgreen, Gail, “Labor and the Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle,” in: "Labor’s Heritage" (October 1991).

ee also

"They Were Not Silent"-- a documentary about the Jewish Labor Committee's response to Hitler and World War II

External links

* [ Website of the Jewish Labor Committee]
* [ Jewish Labor and the Holocaust]
* [ Finding aid of the archives of the Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) Records, Part I, Holocaust Era Files]
* [ Finding aid of the archives of the Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) Records, Part II, Holocaust Era Files]
* [ Finding aid of the archives of the Jewish Labour Committee of Canada]
* [ Narrative description of the finding aid of the archives of the Jewish Labour Committee of Canada]
* [ Finding aid of the archives of the Joint Boycott Council]


*Charles Bezalel Sherman [Field Director of the JLC from 1938-1944] ,
*Arieh Lebowitz [Program Associate, and also, later, Communications Director of the JLC, from 1987-]

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