Jewish Labor Committee

Full name Jewish Labor Committee
Founded 1934
Affiliation AFL-CIO (allied group)
Change to Win (working relationship)
Canadian Labour Congress (until the 1970s)
Office location 140 West 31st Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10001
Country United States (current),
Canada (1936-1970s)

The Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) is an American secular Jewish organization dedicated to promoting labor union interests in Jewish communities, and Jewish interests within unions.[1] The organization is headquartered in New York City, with local/regional offices in Boston, New York City, 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 also active in Canada from 1936 until the 1970s.


The Jewish Labor Committee was formed in February 1934, in response to the rise of Nazism in Germany, by Yiddish-speaking immigrant trade union leaders, including leaders of established groups such as the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, the Jewish Labor Bund, and the United Hebrew Trades. Representatives assembled at a conference on New York's Lower East Side, electing its first president, Baruch Charney Vladeck, and charging it with the following tasks:

At the urging of B.C. Vladeck and Jewish union leaders, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) came out in favor of a boycott of Nazi goods at its 1933 convention. At the 1934 convention of the AFL, Vladeck argued that the Nazi persecution of Jews was part of a general assault on labor rights and political liberty. The AFL agreed and in response it created the "Labor Chest" to aid victims of fascism; in the following 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.

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 (renamed 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 communal interests in the labor movement, and labor interests in the organized 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, and their affiliated trade unions, the JLC works with and has the support of a wide range of unions and their associated organizations, locally, nationally and internationally.

With diverse organizations as affiliates representing a variety of ideological groups, the Committee has been guided in its work by pragmatic policies rather than by a specific philosophy. While Bundist influence was significant in the organization, particularly in the early period, JLC been critically supportive of the State of Israel since 1948. Both Ameinu and Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly known as Meretz USA) are affiliates of the JLC, as is the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring. The JLC can broadly speaking be considered part of what is sometimes called 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 often held in conjunction with local Central Labor Councils and local Jewish Community Relations Councils, and serve as a way for local Jewish and labor leaders to come together and share an engaging experience, and relate the traditional Passover exodus from Egypt story to more recent examples of the struggle for basic worker's rights. Emulating these "Labor Seders," a similar "Union Seder" was organized in Sydney, Australia in 2006.

In addition to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the JLC is a founding member of a number of other 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 Coalition Supporting Soviet Jewry.

The New England Region of the JLC is a partner organization of the Boston-based JOIN for Justice (formerly known as the Jewish Organizing Initiative), which was formed in 1994 as a mechanism for young adults to enter the field of community organizing through an explicitly Jewish channel. Through it, the JLC's field office in Boston secured a number of regional directors and interns.

The JLC's 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.)

Civil rights

The JLC founded an Anti-Discrimination Division immediately after World War II which agitated and lobbied in favor of Fair Employment Practices legislation, equal opportunities in education and integrated housing.[2]

In Canada, in the 1940s and 1950s, the Jewish Labour Committee played a leading role in opposing racial discrimination legislation and supporting human rights. Executive Director Kalmen Kaplansky believed that it was necessary to extend the JLC's mandate beyond fighting anti-Semitism to combat discrimination against all minorities and involve non-Jews, and the broader labor movement, in the JLC's civil rights work.[3][4] Under his leadership, the JLC spearheaded the formation of Joint Labour Committees to Combat Racial Discrimination in Toronto, Windsor, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg,[5] which advocated the adoption of human rights codes by provincial governments and which launched challenges against segregation and discriminatory employment and business practices.[6]

The JLC also formed approximately two dozen local committees in the United States to combat racial intolerance. These committees were the genesis of the American Federation of Labor's Civil Rights Department as well as the civil rights departments of several unions in the 1940s and 1950s. The JLC distributed literature and educational material combatting racism and played a role in state and national campaigns for civil rights legislation. The JLC played a role in the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights and participated in and helped organize civil rights marches and protests in the 1950s and 1960s co-ordinating many local campaigns. The JLC helped found the United Farm Workers, campaigned for the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Act in California and provided staffing and support for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Martin Luther King.[7]

Allegations of defending discriminatory practices of unions

NAACP labor director Herbert Hill alleged that, during the 1940s through the 1960s, the JLC had defended anti-black and anti-Hispanic discriminatory practices of unions in the garment industry and building industry.[8][9][10][11] Hill claimed that the JLC changed "a black white conflict into a Black-Jewish conflict".[8]

See also


  1. Glazer, N (1957) American Judaism, UCP.
  2. (page 254)
  3. Kalmen Kaplansky Scholarship in Economic and Social Rights, Douglas-Coldwell Foundation
  4. Kalmen Kaplansky, Canada's Rights Movement: A History, accessed February 2, 2008
  5. 70 Years Strong: The Jewish Labor Committee Story, Jewish Labor Committee, 2004
  6. 1 2 Hill, Herbert, "Black-Jewish Conflict in the Labor Context", in African Americans and Jews in the twentieth century: studies in convergence and conflict, Franklin, Vincent P. (Ed.), 1998., p. 10, 265-279
  7. Tyler, Gus, "The Truth About the ILGWU, in New Politics, September 1962, pp. 6-17
  8. Hill, Herbert (1998), "Black-Jewish conflict in the Labor Context", in Strangers & neighbors: relations between Blacks & Jews in the United States, Adams, Maurianne (Ed.), 2000, pp. 597-599
  9. Greenberg, Cheryl, Troubling the waters: Black-Jewish relations in the American century, 2006, p. 216


  • Jewish Labor Committee in Action. Jewish Labor Committee. 1948. 
  • The Time is Now: Report on Activities, Anti-Discrimination Department. Jewish Labor Committee. 1951. 
  • (1960) Finf un Tsvantsik Yor...
  • The Jewish Labor Committee Story. Jewish Labor Committee. 2004. 
  • Herberg, Will (1952). "The Jewish Labor Movement in the United States". American Jewish Year Book. 53. 
  • Knox, Israel; Irving Howe; J.T. Zukerman (1958). The Jewish Labor Movement in America. Two views. Jewish Labor Committee. 
  • Malmgreen, Gail; Jewish Labor Committee (1991). Labor and the Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle. 

External links

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