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Greeners and sweaters: Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914

Leonard D. Smith

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 39, 2004 Greeners and sweaters: Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914 LEONARD D. SMITH In the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twenti? eth the East End of London was in a state of acute and chronic social crisis, graphically portrayed by contemporary writers such as Jack London.1 The district was beset by problems of unemployment and under-employment, low wages, appalling and inadequate housing, over-crowding and all the conse? quences of endemic severe poverty. Into this 'abyss', as Jack London charac? terized it, came from the early 1880s onwards an influx of impoverished foreign Jewish immigrants. Most were fleeing state-sponsored persecution and violence to seek a safer and freer environment. Many, however, were also what might now be classified as 'economic migrants', hoping for a better life and a share in the perceived prosperity of the leading industrial nation.2 The immigrants found their way into several established London trades. However, it was the three classic 'sweated trades' of tailoring, boot-and shoe making, and furniture-making that drew in most of them.3 The largest group went into tailoring and related textile trades, which were the most widely observed and written about by contemporaries and have conse? quently received the greatest historical attention.4 Historians of Jewish immigration have given rather less attention to the other two trades. By 1 Jack London, The People of the Abyss (London 1903); G. Stedman-Jones, Outcast London: A Study in the Relationships between Classes in Victorian Society (London 1984 ed.). 2 D. Feldman, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture 1840?1914 (New Haven and London 1994) chs 6 and 7; L. P. Gartner, The Jewish Immigrant in England, 1870-1914 (London 1973 ed.) ch. 7; G. Alderman, Modern British Jewry (Oxford 1992 ed.) ch. 3. 3 G. Stedman-Jones (see n. 1) 107-11, 145, 152-4; D. Feldman (see n. 2) ch. 8; L. P. Gartner (see n. 2) ch. 3; G. Alderman (see n. 2) 114; H. Pollins, Economic History of the Jews in England (London 1982) chs 7 and 9. 4 British Parliamentary Papers (hereafter BPP) 1888, XX, Select Committee on the Sweating System, Minutes of Evidence', BPP 1889, XIV, Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Sweating System, Minutes of Evidence', B. Potter, 'East London Labour', The Nineteenth Century XXIV (August 1888) 161-83; D. Bythell, The Sweated Trades: Outwork in Nineteenth-Century Britain (London 1978); A. J. Kershen, Uniting the Tailors: Trade Unionism among the Tailors of London and Leeds, 1870-1939 (Ilford 1995). 103</page><page sequence="2">Leonard D. Smith 1900 furniture-making, known more generally as cabinet-making, had become the most significant trade for the immigrants after tailoring. It had been, for several decades before their arrival, a trade in transition. Its tech? nology remained largely traditional, but market forces had been undermin? ing the established patterns of organization within the trade. The rapid entry of a group of foreign immigrants had the potential to be an additional and powerful de-stabilizing factor. Contemporary commentators were prone to associate the immigrants, or 'aliens' as they were most commonly described, with all the evils of the sweated trades. They were often blamed for being sweaters, while also being stigmatized as the hapless victims of sweaters. Newspapers and journals were filled over a period of at least twenty years with the rhetoric of xeno? phobic outrage, both reflecting and stirring up feeling on the streets.5 In reality, the truth about sweating, how it originated and how it developed, was complex. Jewish immigration was undoubtedly a factor, but it was far from being the whole story. A changing trade The London cabinet-making trade had originated during the seventeenth century. It developed significantly during the eighteenth century, in response to the growing demand for good-quality furniture. Originally located mainly around the St Paul's area of the City, furniture-making spread to the east around Shoreditch, but mainly to the West End, where by the early nineteenth century it was centred around Tottenham Court Road.6 The trade had operated on similar lines to other London craft trades. Small and medium-sized firms produced a range of high-quality furniture. A cabinet-maker was a skilled man, capable of producing any type of article to order. He was paid by the piece according to a detailed book of prices. Entry to the trade was regulated by a strict apprenticeship system with high premium payments, which ensured both the careful transmission of craft skill and the protection of wage levels by restriction of numbers.7 5 Arnold White, The Problems of a Great City (London 1886); C. Russell and H. S. Lewis, The Jew in London: A Study of Racial Character and Present Day Conditions (London 1901); Earl of Dunraven, 'The Invasion of Destitute Aliens', The Nineteenth Century LXXIII (January 1898) 35-50; J. A. Dyche, 'The Jewish Immigrant', Contemporary Review LXXV (March 1899), 379?99; J. Smith, 'The Jewish Immigrant', Contemporary Review, LXXV (September 1899) 425-36; A. Lee, 'Aspects of the Working-Class Response to the Jews in Britain, 1880-1914', in K. Lunn (ed.) Hosts, Immigrants and Minorities: Historical Responses to Newcomers in British Society 18/0-1914 (Folkestone 1980) 107-33. 6 J. L. Oliver, The Development and Structure of the Furniture Industry (Oxford 1966) 3-5, 25-31; R Kirkham, 'The London Furniture Trade, 1700-1870', Furniture History XXIV (1988) 7-8, 12. 7 R Kirkham (see n. 6) 12-14, 40-52, 150; L. D. Schwarz, London in the Age of Industrialisation: Entrepreneurs, Labour Force and Living Conditions, ij00-1850 (Cambridge 1992) 201. 104</page><page sequence="3">Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914 By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, cabinet-making was experiencing the transitions which characterized a number of the skilled and semi-skilled London trades. A growing working-class market for cheap furniture stimulated the large-scale production of low-quality goods. To meet the demand new workshops opened, not in the West End but mainly in the East End. A new breed of what Henry Mayhew styled 'garret masters' emerged, either producing to order for middlemen who sold the goods on to retailers, or hawking their finished products around to seek the best price. These garret masters overlooked or ignored the accepted arrangements of trade organization. Entry restrictions, and particularly formal apprenticeship, were steadily eroded as large numbers of young men entered the trade. As the trade spread from the Shoreditch district to Stepney and particularly Bethnal Green, there was a mushrooming of small workshops employing three or four people, situated either within tenanted houses or in sheds at the rear. Unlike the traditional West End high-quality cabinet-makers who produced a complete range of furniture to order, the East End trade became increasingly subdivided and specialized. The element of craft skill had been considerably diluted.8 Individual masters' workshops would concentrate on a particular article, whether tables, sideboards, bedroom furniture or wardrobes. Their goods would be sold to middlemen known as warehousemen, or 'slaughter-house men', mainly located in Curtain Road and its environs, which became the hub of the trade. With a multitude of small producers having to compete with one another to produce furniture at the cheapest prices, and with men constantly turning over identical pieces, the conditions tended towards sweating. Prices were pushed steadily downwards and wage levels followed. Men would be forced to work ever harder and quicker to produce more in order to maintain their earnings. Over-production was the consequence, further accentuating the downward pressure on prices and wages, leading to a spiral effect. These were the prevalent conditions in cabinet-making in 1880, before the entry of the new Jewish immigrants. The alien influx In 1850 there were probably only eighteen to twenty thousand Jews in London. The native-born Jewish community was being gradually augmented by immigration from Holland, Germany and central Europe. 8 L. D. Schwarz (see n. 7) 6, 158, 179-83, 199-201, 206-7; G Stedman-Jones (see n. 1) 22-3, 107-9; J. L. Oliver (see n. 6) ch. 2; P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter, Furnishing the World: The East London Furniture Trade i8jo-ig8o (London 1987) 3-4,11; P. Kirkham (see n. 6) 1, 7-8,14, 40, 50, 68, 168; Morning Chronicle 1,8, 15, 22 August 1850, Letters LXIII-LXVI, repr. in H. Mayhew, The Morning Chronicle Survey of Labour and the Poor (Horsham 1982) 135-203. 105</page><page sequence="4">Leonard D. Smith The pace of immigration grew steadily after 1850 and by 1880 London's Jewish population had more than doubled. Jewish immigration to Britain from Russia and Poland rose to its highest levels in 1881-6 and again in the first years of the twentieth century, before the restrictive conditions of the Aliens Act were imposed. The bulk of the new arrivals settled in the teem? ing and impoverished East End of London, to join relatives and to avail themselves of the already established religious and communal infrastruc? tures.9 Apart from the coincidental geographical proximity of London's three main sweated trades of tailoring, boot-and-shoe making and cabinet making to the city's 'ghetto', there were a number of factors which attracted or drove the immigrants into these or to other workshop-based trades. First, probably as many as forty per cent had worked at those trades before they migrated, and many were skilled or semi-skilled men. For those who came without a skill, the routine and repetitive tasks associated writh the sub-division of production in the sweated trades could be learnt reasonably easily. The flexible working hours of the workshop were very important to religious people who could not contemplate work on the Sabbath. With the growing number of Jewish small masters, new immigrants who spoke little or no English could find work in a place where they could be understood while being able to maintain religious and social customs. The flexible hours also meant that a man, by choosing to work very long hours, could gradually earn sufficient to better himself, despite the poor wages which the immi? grants were obliged to accept. There was also the possibility of aspiring to become a small master himself, by making great personal sacrifices to accu? mulate sufficient capital to rent a workshop, buy tools and equipment and employ other men.10 A small master might easily, of course, be a 'sweater' by another name. A small number of indigenous and immigrant Jews had already entered the furniture-making trade well before 1880, and there were some estab? lished Jewish firms, notably Lebus and B. Cohen and Sons.11 By 1887, according to the Charles Booth survey, there were more than seven hundred Jews in the trade. In 1901 the numbers of foreign-born people in the East London furniture trade were variously estimated at between three and six thousand.12 Cabinet-making had overtaken boot-and-shoe making as the 9 V. D. Lipman, Social History of the Jews in England, 1850-1950 (London 1954) 5-13; L. P. Gartner (see n. 2) ch. 2; G. Alderman (see n. 2) ch. 2. 10 D. Feldman (see n. 2) 142-4, 150-1, 161-2, 212-13; H. Pollins (see n. 3) 144; G. Stedman Jones (see n. 1) 22, 29, 42-3, 109-10, 145; P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 15, 17; L. P. Gartner (see n. 2) 57-8, 64-7; G. Alderman (see n. 2) 114,184. 11 W. J. Massil, Immigrant Furniture Workers in London (London 1997) 23-4. 12 C. Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London (London 1902 ed.), First Series, Poverty, IV, io6</page><page sequence="5">Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914 second Jewish trade in London after tailoring, and its relative importance was increasing. A significant factor in this was the encouragement given by the Jewish Board of Guardians for poor youths to enter the trade. The Board of Guardians had a well-established system of apprenticeship whereby it vetted prospective masters (Jewish and non-Jewish), paid them a premium and provided regular supervision during placements. The Board had concluded by the 1890s that cabinet-making offered much better prospects for a young man than tailoring, and it granted its apprenticeships accordingly.13 Consolidation of the Jewish sector The way in which cabinet-making was organized in the East End in 1880, and the prevailing conditions in the trade, made it ideally suited to the absorption of the hundreds of Jewish immigrants who entered the trade over the ensuing decade. Any barriers to entry associated with formal apprenticeship arrangements had long since been superseded, with the unregulated growth of manufacture in the East End. The trade itself was apparently expanding, both as regards numbers employed and the geographical area it covered. Small masters were continuing to establish themselves, employing three or four other men. Many of them were setting up their workshops in or behind the streets of Bethnal Green, adjoining the main Jewish districts of Spitalfields and Whitechapel. Brick Lane, already established as one of the economic and social arteries of the 'ghetto', ran from Whitechapel Road through Spitalfields, under the Great Eastern Railway, across Bethnal Green Road and on towards Shoreditch. The northern end of Brick Lane and the adjoining streets was becoming the focal area for the setting up of more cabinet-making workshops - in 1888 there were 25 in Brick Lane, 33 in Gossett Street, 22 in Virginia Road and 23 in Columbia Road.14 Ernest Aves, 'The Furniture Trade', 210; Sir H. Llewellyn Smith, The New Survey of London Life and London Labour (London 1931), II, London Industries, part 1, 218; BPP 1889, X, Report from the Select Committee on Immigration (Foreigners) viii: this gave the number of'foreigners' in the London cabinet-making trade as 4000 out of a total of 23,000. However, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (BPP 1903, IX 29-30) put the number of foreign-born males in the trade at just over 3000, but this excluded British-born Jews. 13 BPP 1903, IX, Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, 446 (evidence of Arthur Vaughan); University of Southampton, Parkes Library, Jewish Board of Guardians MSS, MS 173/1/7/4, Boys Industrial Committee, 'Report of Sub-Committee, Appointed 8 April 1884', 1-8, MS 173/1/6/1, Minutes of the Industrial Committee, 1894-1905, MS 173/1/12/5-7, Annual Reports 1887-1908. 14 E. Aves (see n. 12) 158?61; British Library of Political and Economic Science, Charles Booth Collection (hereafter Booth Coll.), 'Life and Labour of the People in London' (1885-1905), 107</page><page sequence="6">Leonard D. Smith By the mid-i88os there was a clear Jewish sector in the London cabinet making trade. It was developing in very similar manner to the native trade, and indeed functioned alongside it from the outset. There were a few medium-sized Jewish firms emerging, like Sandground's and Glickstein's (both of whom were employing between twenty and thirty men in 1888), to add to the established firms of Lebus and B. Cohen and Sons. Mostly, though, the Jewish cabinet-makers worked in small firms which employed from three to six men.15 The majority chose to w ork with other Jews, even if non-Jewish firms would have employed them, for reasons similar to those that applied in other workshop trades. Not least, few of the immigrants could speak English and consequently most communication in the work? shop was in Yiddish. Jewish small masters would actively recruit from among newly arriving immigrants, or 'greeners'. In doing so, some were accepting the social responsibility of offering opportunity to a needy 'lands? man' ('A Jewish employer will engage Jews immediately on landing or even send for them from abroad and board and lodge them and give them 2s a week'), while others less scrupulous were seeking to take advantage of the cheapest of unskilled labour.16 The evident ease with which a cabinet-maker could progress to become a small master was an undoubted attraction to the immigrants. With technol? ogy having advanced little since mid-century, it still only required a modest investment in tools and the renting of a workshop (or the use of a room in the house where he lived) for a man to set up on his own. Many of the immi? grants were prepared to work extremely long hours in Spartan conditions in order to establish themselves. A successful enterprise was likely to depend on offering its goods for sale at competitive prices. The minimiza? tion of production costs would inevitably be based on employing other men at the lowest rates, even if this opened the master to accusations of being a 'sweater' of his compatriots.17 Industry Notebooks, Group B, LXXXI, Notes on Furniture Trades, 'List of Streets, which contain the Largest proportion of people engaged in the Furniture Trades'. 15 E. Aves (see n. 12) 209-n; Booth Coll., Group A, VII, information re Glickstein and Sandground; P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 17. 16 E. Aves (see n. 12 ) 210-11; Booth Coll., Group A, VI, 33, 43, 83-4 (H.Knowles); BPP 1888, XX, Select Committee on the Sweating System, 213 (evidence of Arnold White); BPP 1903, IX, Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, 493 (evidence of James O'Grady); P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 15-19; W. Fishman, East End 1888: A Year in a London Borough among the Labouring Poor {London 1988)61-93, 133-4, 164-6. 17 BPP 1888, Select Committee on the Sweated Trades, 223 (evidence of Arnold White); BPP 1892, XXXVI (Part 2), Minutes of Evidence, Taken Before Group C (Textile, Clothing, Building, and Miscellaneous Trades) of the Royal Commission on Labour, II 359 (evidence of Harry Ham); E. Aves (see n. 12) 171; G. Stedman-Jones (see n.i) 29-30, 42-3; P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 3, 15; B. Gainer, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of /905 (London 1972) 26-8. io8</page><page sequence="7">Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914 The subdivision of production and specialism that was characteristic of the East End trade was embraced by the immigrants. By the end of the 1880s Jewish firms were already seen to be specializing in certain articles, notably bedroom suites, pedestal tables for libraries and 'duchesse' tables. According to one disparaging witness to the parliamentary Select Committee on the Sweating System of 1888, 'now they make more bedroom suites than Englishmen, for such a class as they are'. In fact, Booth's colleague Ernest Aves had concluded that Jewish cabinet-makers were by this time manufacturing furniture of medium quality, rather than the shoddy, poor-quality goods claimed by their critics.18 The concentra? tion on a single product, with subdivided production, suited some immi? grants well, as it enabled men who had not previously learnt the trade at least to make a start on routine tasks, before they could acquire some semblance of skill. These 'greeners' probably constituted up to half the immigrant entrants to cabinet-making. There are no clear figures as to the proportion of immigrant cabinet-makers who had worked at the trade in Russia or Poland. However, J. L. Oliver concluded that many of the immi? grants were 'already trained cabinet makers' before they fled pogroms or conscription into the Russian army. Anecdotal evidence from autobiogra? phies and oral testimonies also suggests that a significant number had worked in the trade before migrating to England.19 The immigrant firms fully entered the existing sub-contracting and distribution arrangements. Like the English firms they manufactured to order for the Curtain Road wholesalers or, in some cases, for the West End retailers like Maples. They were subjected to the same pressures and expec? tations, which included attempts to force them to sell their goods at discounted rates in order to receive prompt payment. Small masters, in particular, were vulnerable to the wholesalers' deliberate exploitation of the competitive pressures prevalent in the trade. Those without regular orders were obliged, like their Gentile counterparts, to hawk their goods on a barrow along Curtain Road on a Friday or even on a Saturday to seek to recoup sufficient money to pay their men and buy materials for the next week's production.20 These conditions continued to prevail even beyond the First World War. 18 E. Aves (see n. 12) 210; Booth Coll., Group A, VI44 (evidence of no. 91, Isaacs); BPP 1888, XX, Select Committee on the Sweating System, 450 (evidence of John Boswell Richards); P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 15-18. 19 J. L. Oliver (see n. 6) 152. 20 BPP 1888, XX, Select Committee on the Sweating System, 215-19 (evidence of Arnold White), 230-40 (evidence of Henry Miller), 284-9 (evidence of William Parnell), 314-5 (evidence of Thomas Jelliffe), 375-7 (evidence of Harry Ham), 749 (evidence of Harris Lebus); E. Aves (see n. 12) 186-9, 2I4_I7; BPP I%92, XXXVI (Part 2) Minutes of Evidence ...of the Royal Commission on Labour, II 360 (evidence of Harry Ham); BPP 1903, IX, Royal Commission on IOQ</page><page sequence="8">Leonard D. Smith The native response The great disquiet aroused by the influx of foreign immigrants into the East End has been well documented.21 Suspicion, hostility, disinformation and unashamed racial prejudice received extensive expression in the press, both national and local, as well as at public meetings and on the streets of East London. More reasoned debate on the effects of immigration on native trades and native workers took place in a stream of articles in respectable journals.22 Select committees and royal commissions received evidence from varied perspectives about the issues. Ultimately the tenor of public opinion brought about the stringent restrictions on immigration enshrined in the Aliens Act of 1905.23 Much of the argument centred on the role of the immigrants in the gene? sis and perpetuation of sweating. The various parliamentary enquiries received voluminous testimony as to how immigration and sweating were undermining the position of native workers. Conclusions, however, were more circumspect and tended towards the view that sweating had existed before the immigrants came and that they had merely joined an existing system.24 Nevertheless, it was difficult to overcome the perspective that had emerged from the quasi-official reports into sweating produced by what became known as the Lancet Commission. The Lance fs investigators went to several provincial cities as well as to East London. The evidence they selected conveyed to their readers the distinct impression that the presence of Jewish immigrants, sweating, dirt and squalor were closely inter-related phenomena.25 Public opinion, particularly in the East End, continued largely to adhere to the more critical view of alien immigration. The immigration debate was as prominent in the furniture trade as in the other sweated trades. The foreign influx inevitably aroused great disquiet Alien Immigration, 494 (evidence of James O'Grady); Booth Coll., Group A, VI 44-6; D. Feldman (see n. 2) 248; P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 4, 19, 41, 106; P. G. Hall, The Industries of London since 1861 (London 1961) 85-8. 21 B. Gainer (see n. 17); J. A. Garrard, The English and Immigration 1880-1910 (Oxford 1971); Colin Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society, 1876-1939 (London 1979); W. Fishman (see n. 16) 66-77, 144?63; G Alderman (see n. 2) 110-23. 22 B. Potter (see n. 4); David Schloss, 'The Jew as a Workman', The Nineteenth Century XXIX (January 1891) 96-109; Dunraven (see n. 5) (1892); J. A. Dyche, 'The Jewish Workman' (1898), ibid, (see n. 5) (1899); J. Smith (see n. 5) (1899); M. J. Landa, 'The Economic Aspects of Alien Labour', Economic Review XVI (1906) 43-55. 23 B. Gainer (see n. 17) ch. 9. 24 D. Bythell (see n. 4) 239. 25 The Lancet 1884 (I) 3 May, 817-18, 'Report of the Lancet Special Sanitary Commission on the Polish Colony of Jew Tailors', 24 May, 948-9, 7 June, 1039, 14 June, 1104; 1888 (I) 4 February, 236, 14 April, 740-2, 21 April, 792-4, 26 May, 1047-9, 2 June, 1100-2,9 June, 1146-8, 16 June, 1209-10, 23 June, 1261-2, 30 June, 1313-14; 1888 (II) 7 July, 37-9. no</page><page sequence="9">Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914 among indigenous cabinet-makers. Witnesses to the parliamentary select committees spoke disparagingly about the greeners, and blamed them unequivocally for sweating and its evil consequences. Among the more outspoken was Arnold White, a populist right-wing Conservative politician who sought to lead the public attack on alien immigration.26 He asserted before the 1888 Select Committee that the current depression in the cabi? net-making trade arose 'chiefly from the importation of Polish and German Jews', who were pouring off ships docking in London. The greeners' preparedness to work for a 'miserable pittance' enabled their employers to undercut the established rates paid to native men, he argued. They would receive no more than thirteen shillings a week, under conditions that were to be deplored: 'working from early morning to late at night, and day after day; for food, eating bread and treacle, and keeping on work during the dinner-time ..., dipping their bread into the treacle and eating it while at work'. The overall effect of their increasing presence was, White contended, 'to displace a considerable amount of English labour', who were then forced onto the poor rates. He was articulating the views of men like John Richards, a cabinet-maker for thirty-five years, who had once employed sixty men. Richards claimed that 'respectable men' who had been able to earn 'an honest and respectable living' were being replaced by 'a lot of unskilled, badly paid, underfed foreigners'.27 Some of the witnesses interviewed by Ernest Aves for the Booth survey in 1888 were perturbed at the perceived effects of alien immigration on the trade. According to a cabinet-maker named Knowles of Hart's Lane, Bethnal Green, wages had fallen over the previous three years: 'Reason is increase of competition especially of Polish and Russian Jews, and Jewish cheap labour. They work long hours and take their meals while working, but an Englishman can do a great deal more in the same time.' 28 A man named Jones, of Chambord Street, said that wages had been falling over the previous eight years, directly as a result of the competition of immigrant Jews. Thomas Platt of Sebright Street claimed that he had actually been driven out of the trade due to the 'impossibility of earning a livelihood'. The problems resulted, he said, from 'small master Jews' who had come into the trade about six years ago and were mainly responsible for the 'difficulty of present conditions &amp; keenness of competition, &amp; low prices'. He commented particularly on the greeners' miserable subsistence diet, an issue also highlighted by William Cole of Nelson Street, who had worked for several Jewish firms and claimed that the greeners worked from 7 am until 9 pm, stopping only at 1 pm to eat dry bread and water. Others 26 For White, see B. Gainer (see n. 17) ch. 4. 27 BPP 1888, XX, Select Committee on the Sweating System, 213-25 (main quote 215), 449. 28 Aw/A Co//., Group A, VI 83-4. III</page><page sequence="10">Leonard D. Smith expressed similar concerns. A carver named Johnson from Chilton Street, who worked for 'foreign Jews', contended that the trade had been 'ruined by the competition of foreigners'. His solution would be to 'turn all the Jews out of England, as is being done in Russia'. Another carver named Cooper, of Bateman's Row, though blaming Jewish competition for the fall in his earnings, was careful to point out that he did not complain of Jews individu? ally for 'many of them are quite as good as Christians'.29 Much of the criticism of the Jewish immigrants centred on the greeners' alleged lack of skill and the consequent poor quality of their work. English trade unionists were particularly concerned about the dilution of the cabi? net-maker's skill. Harry Ham, Secretary of the Alliance Cabinet Makers Association, the main union, was far from complimentary about the immi? grants' contribution, describing to the Royal Commission on Labour how most of them 'picked up' the trade: 'They come over here as greeners, pauper aliens, and they go into a shop and they are given a bit of wood to plane up. They learn to do that. Then they are given a bit of wood to saw up; they learn to do that, and they learn to do that by degrees, so that they can make a little job on their own account. In no sense of the word are they competent cabinet makers ... .'30 Others were rather less measured in their attacks. Joseph Eagles, a former cabinet-maker who had become a Poor Law relieving officer in Whitechapel, described the immigrants' work as 'most disgraceful rubbish', 'shocking', 'cheap showy' and 'very inferior indeed'. It was an often repeated complaint that the Jews were producing inferior work that was disguised with a liberal application of polish and veneer, and that this was injuring the trade as a whole.31 There were some who challenged this view of the Jewish immigrants' effects on the furniture trade. One man, named Simpson, told the Booth survey that he had worked in the trade for thirty-five years and believed that competition was the cause of the steady fall in prices over recent years. Men were thrown out of work due to the slackness of trade and then had to set up on their own. He thought that competition from immigrants was 'much exaggerated' and that 'foreigners on the whole are better than Englishmen'. Simpson did acknowledge, though, that he was a socialist who regarded 'every man as his brother'.32 The main Jewish witness to the survey, a Mr Isaacs of Spelman Street, Spitalfields, defended 'the Jewish section of the 29 Ibid. 18,31-3, 102, 171-4. 30 BPP 1892, XXXVI (Part 2), Royal Commission on Labour, II 359-60. 31 BPP 1889, X, Report From Select Committee on Emigration and Immigration (Foreigners) 61, no. 1392; BPP 1888, XX, Select Committee on the Sweating System, 210, 215, 449; BPP 1894, XXXV, Royal Commission on Labour, Fifth and Final Report, Summary of Evidence, Group C, 284, no. 403; BPP 1903, IX, Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, 299, nos 9046-9. 32 Booth Coll., Group A, VI98-102. 112</page><page sequence="11">Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914 trade', claiming it was not they who were 'cutting it up'. He blamed 'the English in the trade' for its current condition, pointing out that the cheap goods hawked in Curtain Road on Saturdays were rarely brought there by Jews. He deplored 'the injustice of the charges brought against the Jews', who were much more 'regular' than the English and did not indulge in the weekly excesses of St Monday. He went on to suggest that the real responsi? bility for the sweating system lay with large retail firms like Maples who had used sub-contracting to promote excessive competition among small masters.33 The published report by Booth and his associates paid close attention to the effects of alien immigration on the sweated trades. Ernest Aves, in his detailed survey of cabinet-making, had concluded that Jewish cabinet? makers were not working in the lowest-quality section of the trade. He acknowledged that they worked particularly long hours, but considered that this was because they were being paid lower wages than the native workers. The foreigner was, he suggested, an easy target for the problems of excess competition that would have been present in the trade without their entry.34 The argument was developed by another social investigator, the Reverend Charles Russell, writing in 1901. He recognized that 'a good deal of inferior work' was being done by foreigners in small workshops, but this had hardly affected the general conditions of the trade. He went further, arguing that cheap furniture had created its own market, which did not interfere with that for the better class of goods. The increase in exports of furniture over recent years had been largely due to the new lines introduced by the foreigners. At the same time, indigenous men working at the higher quality end of the trade had not suffered because, he asserted, they were well organized and both Jew and Gentile could earn good wages.35 Ultimately the debate proved inconclusive, there being ample evidence available to support differing arguments. With the recovery of the trade from the problems of the 1880s, followed by a period of steady expansion and growing prosperity, attitudes gradually became less polarized. Industrial change and industrial conflict By the time of the First World War in 1914, the East End furniture manu? facturing trade had made significant adjustments. The numbers of Jewish cabinet-makers had been swelled by a further wave of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe after 1900.36 Nevertheless, they and their 33 Ibid. 43-5 34 E. Aves (see n. 12) 206-14; see also P. G. Hall (see n. 20) 89. 35 C. Russell and H. S. Lewis (see n. 5) 80. 36 D. Feldman (see n. 2) 148,155-7; G. Stedman-Jones (see n. 1) 325; G. Alderman (see n. 2) 111. ii3</page><page sequence="12">Leonard D. Smith British-born sons had been accommodated into the trade without any apparent lasting injury to the indigenous men. Although probably more tolerated than assimilated, Jewish firms and Jewish workers had become increasingly integrated into the structure and fabric of the trade. Their numbers had grown steadily into the thousands. Their presence on this scale was a major factor in perpetuating the workshop-based production system, by ensuring a large and flexible skilled labour force ? they were described as 'hard-working, pliant and tenacious'. By the end of the 1920s, Jews accounted for virtually half of furniture manufacture in the East End.37 The system of production that Mayhew and Aves had described in the East End cabinet-making trade continued until 1914 and well beyond. Small firms continued to predominate, though there were more medium-sized and large firms emerging, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The largest of all, Lebus, moved from its substantial premises in Tabernacle Street, Shoreditch, where Harris Lebus employed several hundred men, to a large purpose-built factory in Tottenham in 1904, where the firm's employees eventually numbered in the thousands. Lebus's success, followed on a smaller scale by firms like Clozenberg's, Glickstein's and Isaac Griew &amp; Co., symbolized the establishment of an increasingly important Jewish sector within the main? stream of furniture manufacture. However, although Lebus's was a Jewish led firm, only a minority of its employees were Jews, which was atypical. Many of the Jewish firms were family concerns and hence employed only other co-religionists. Jewish cabinet-makers, in turn, continued to work mainly for Jewish firms, whether small or medium-sized.38 It was in the area of employer-employee relations that the progress from ethnic separateness through uneasy accommodation to a degree of assimila? tion and integration was most apparent. The changing demographic composition of the furniture trade was reflected in the progress and organi? zation of industrial relations and the conduct of trade disputes. As early as 1896 a non-denominational employers' organization, the Cabinet Trades Association, was formed. It included 'many members of the Jewish persua? sion' on its Board. It evidently existed alongside a separate Hebrew Cabinet Employers' Association.39 The Hebrew Association continued to function as a distinct entity, dealing with trade disputes within the Jewish firms. 37 P. G. Hall (see n. 20) 89; BPP 1903, IX, Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, 30; Board of Trade Working Party Reports: Furniture (London 1946) 49; Sir H. Llewellyn-Smith (see n. 12) 218. 38 Sir H. Llewellyn-Smith (see n. 12) 215-16; P. G Hall (see n. 20) 90; P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 17-19, 23; W. Massil (see n. n) 8-9, 15-16, 23-33; C. Spector, Volla Volla Jew Boy (London 1988); BPP 1903, IX, Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, 492-3 (evidence of James O'Grady); Booth Coll., Group A, VI 39, 42, 45; author's taped interview with W. Massil 28 Dec. 1999. 39 Jewish Chronicle, 23 Oct.., 27 Nov., 4 and 18 Dec. 1896, 1 and 8 Jan. 1897. ii4</page><page sequence="13">Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914 However, as industrial relations became increasingly volatile, simultane? ously involving both Jewish and non-Jewish masters and men, greater co? operation became inevitable. By 1907 there was another active joint employers' federation in existence.40 On the employee side the situation was rather more complex. A national trade union, the Alliance Cabinet Makers Association, had been in existence since 1872, established as a 'new model' craft union. However, its member? ship never comprised more than a minority of cabinet-makers (an estimated one thousand out of thirty-three thousand).41 Because of the widespread perception among the native cabinet-makers that aliens were threatening the trade by working long hours at below the established rates, immigrants were initially not welcome in existing unions. As was the case in other sweated trades, those who sought to improve their conditions felt obliged to set up their own organizations. Interest among the immigrants in union participation was variable. Some had experience of trade union or left-wing political organization in Poland and Russia. For many, however, various factors initially militated against trade activity. The precarious nature of the new immigrants' employment situation meant that some were pleased to be able to work at any price and consequently had little interest in risky moves to better their conditions. Contemporary commentators like Russell further observed that Jews characteristically made poor trade unionists. They were seen as too quarrelsome, too individualist by nature and lacking in ideas of class or trade solidarity. Consequently, they were considered difficult to organize.42 Historians including Lloyd Gartner and Harold Pollins have tended to accept the argument that immigrant Jews did not make good trade union? ists and that their participation in industrial conflict was sporadic, erratic and ineffective. Their perspective has been countered by the more recent work of Bill Williams, Joe Buckman, Anne Kershen and David Feldman, who have shown the energetic if sometimes undisciplined involvement in union activity of significant sections of the immigrant workforce in Leeds, Manchester and London.43 The situation in the cabinet-making trade closely reflects this latter position. 40 R. A. Leeson, Strike: A Live History 1887-1971 (London 1971) 36-7 (testimony of I. Eisenstone). 41 BPP 1888, XX, Select Committee on the Sweating System, 290 (evidence of William Parnell); University of Warwick, Modern Records Centre, MSS 192/FT/C, National Amalgamated Furniture Trades Association (NAFTA) 1902 Report; P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 79-85. 42 C. Russell and H. S. Lewis (see n. 5) 82-4; L. P. Gartner (see n. 2) 119-20; H. Pollins (see n. 3) ch. 10. 43 L. P. Gartner (see n. 2) 63-72; H. Pollins (see n. 3) 159; W. Williams, 'The Beginnings of Jewish Trade Unionism in Manchester, 1889-1891', in K. Lunn (ed.) (see n. 5) 263-307; J. Buckman, "5</page><page sequence="14">Leonard D. Smith By the late 1880s many Jewish cabinet-makers were showing a definite interest in trade organization, and in late 1886 or 1887 the Hebrew Cabinet Makers' Association was formed, one of the earliest Jewish trade unions in London. Its secretary explained the particular reasons for its establishment to the Booth survey in 1888. 'The Society', he said, 'was formed to protect the men many of whom were unable to speak English and consequently were imposed upon by the masters.' Although he acknowledged that it was not yet strong enough to influence the trade, it was disliked by the masters, who had gone so far as to dismiss some men for belonging to it. Booth's colleague Aves was impressed with the union's early progress, observing that it had recruited more than two hundred members within a few months of its inception. By 1892 the Hebrew Cabinet Makers' Association had four hundred members in the East End, a significant proportion of the Jewish men in the trade. Yiddish was the medium for both the Association's printed rules and its argumentative and often heated meetings.44 Trade union organization in the immigrant trades was characterized by volatility. Unions tended to be ephemeral and membership could fluctuate dramatically in the wake of successful or unsuccessful localized strikes. Increasingly, though, the more aware Jewish trade unionists were seeking to form alliances with their English counterparts, while the leaders of estab? lished unions were coming to realize that it was in their interests to include the immigrants within the main structure in order to protect the wages and conditions of the native workers.45 In the furniture trade, the early success of the Hebrew Cabinet Makers' Association, and its willingness to engage in strike action to achieve higher piece-rates during 1889 and 1890, did not go unnoticed by the Alliance Cabinet Makers Association. Both Jewish and English workers were recognizing that a joint approach, setting aside resid? ual prejudices, was in the interests of all. A period of mutual cooperation culminated in the Hebrew Association joining the Alliance in 1893, bringing their accumulated funds with them. They were constituted as a Hebrew 'Alien Working-Class Response: The Leeds Jewish Tailors, 1880-1914', in ibid. 222-62; A. J. Kershen (see n. 4) 61-83, 127-45; A. J. Kershen, 'Trade Unionism among the Jewish Tailoring Workers of London and Leeds, 1872-1915', in David Cesarani (ed.) The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry (Oxford 1990) 34-52; G. Alderman (see n. 2) 180-4. 44 H. Pollins (see n. 3) 155; L. P. Gartner (see n. 2) 120; E. Aves (see n. 12) 209-10; BPP 1892, XXXVI, Part 4, Royal Commission on Labour, Answers to Schedules of Questions, Group C, 45; Jewish Chronicle, 11 Oct. 1901; Booth Coll., B81, f.41, 14 March 1888, cited in D. Englander, A Documentary History of Jewish Immigrants in Britain 1840-1Q20 (Leicester 1994) 151 45 C. Russell and H. S. Lewis (see n. 5) 81-4; D. Feldman (see n. 2) ch. 10; L. P. Gartner (see n. 2) 120-30; A. J. Kershen (see n. 4) chs 3 and 5; J. Buckman, Immigrants and the Class Struggle: The Jewish Immigrant in Leeds (Manchester 1983). n6</page><page sequence="15">Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880-1914 branch, and a thousand copies of the Alliance rules were duly printed in Yiddish for their benefit.46 The relationship, however, remained an uneasy and unstable one, with mutual suspicions and jealousies never far below the surface. Some of the Jewish members objected to the high level of subscriptions charged by the Alliance, and in 1895 a number of them seceded and re-established a sepa? rate Jewish union, to be known as the Independent Cabinet Makers Association. In the autumn of 1896 the Independent Association claimed a membership of 362, while the Hebrew branch of the Alliance claimed 325 members. These numbers suggest that more than half the Jewish cabinet? makers were unionized which, contrary to received wisdom, indicates a rather greater affiliation than among their English counterparts. The split was not as disastrous as it might have been, though, for the two unions continued to work in cooperation. In late 1896 there was a major dispute in the trade, which involved carefully orchestrated sectional action specifically targeting a number of Jewish firms. The Alliance was able successfully to secure its key objective of payment by the hour, based on a fixed working week of 52V2 hours, rather than by piece-rate. So concerned had they been to ensure solidarity that they gave strike pay to members of the Independent Association as well as to their own members. This unofficial working arrangement continued during 1897, as both unions sought to maintain the gains achieved.47 A certain amount of rivalry developed between the two unions, with each attempting to demonstrate that it was more effective and more militant than the other. Small localized strikes affecting particular firms and sections of the unionized cabinet-makers occurred frequently. In 1901 the Alliance's leader? ship made overtures to the Independent Association for an amalgamation, as part of the moves to establish a comprehensive National Amalgamated Furniture Trades Association. These moves were rejected, not least because many of the Independent Association's members were questioning the basic principles of payment by the hour and a fixed working week, the very corner? stones of Alliance strategy. Some of the Jewish immigrants, prepared as they were to work extremely long hours, considered that they could earn more by a reversion to the piece-work system that their masters favoured. By June 1902 the Independent Association had abandoned the struggle to keep payment by the hour and formally conceded the restoration of piece-work. Bitter recriminations followed, with the exasperated leadership of the 46 Jewish Chronicle, n Oct. iqoi; Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (1903), 492, no. 13969; P. Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 29, who give the date of the amalgamation as 1889. 47 Jewish Chronicle, 9, 16 and 23 Oct., 27 Nov., 4 and 18 Dec. 1896, 1 and 8 Jan., 4, 11 and 18 June 1897, 11 Oct. 1901. ii7</page><page sequence="16">Leonard D. Smith Alliance declaring that 'they can never approve of the step taken by the Jewish workers of the Independent Society'.48 The turbulent nature of Jewish trade union activity in cabinet-making at the beginning of the twentieth century was reinforced by the wave of immi? gration which followed further anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia and Poland. Sid Fineman, a life-long trade union official, later recalled a typical scenario: The trade was mainly small shops, three-man, five-man, eight-man, few with machinery. A lot of the workers came from abroad, Poland and Russia. When I became union branch secretary we had the minutes in English and Yiddish as well and I had to learn to speak it and write it to do the job. Though there would be people who would claim I hadn't said the same in English as I had said in Yiddish. The members were mainly refugees, very emotional people, but ready for a fight, sometimes with each other. Meetings were big and crowded, people would shout at the top of their voices. I remember one man shouted from the floor 'You talk like a Guvnor's man' and the chairman took his mallet, threw it and knocked him out.49 In this sort of environment union membership among the immigrants could oscillate quite wildly, affected both by the economic state of the trade and the level of recent success or otherwise of the unions and their strikes.50 Despite the breach over piece-work, the pursuit of similar interests impelled the Independent Association and the Alliance's successor, the National Furniture Trades Association (NAFTA), towards re-engaging in cooperative activity. By June 1905 the leadership of the Independent Association was basing its membership drive on its plan to work in conjunc? tion with the 'English workers'.51 NAFTA's Hebrew branch remained active, along with other Hebrew branches of the union in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. Its leadership began to seek actively to 'organise the East End', by trying to bring within the union structure those 'who were working under conditions other than those of the local working rules', with the aim of 'raising them and improving their conditions', so as to deal with the 'menace' to the better paid shops.52 NAFTA's efforts to raise standards in the East End were strengthened with the formation of a new primarily Jewish branch, known as the 'London Partial' (later renamed the 'East London' branch) in August 1906. It 48 Ibid. 4, ii and 18 June, 9 and 16 July, 15 Oct. 1897, 1 and 22 April, 13 May, 24 June, 12 Aug. 1898, 11 Oct. 1901, 13 June 1902. 49 Quoted in R. A. Leeson (see n. 40) 35. 50 Jewish Chronicle, 14 July 1905,9 Feb. and 13 July 1906. 51 Ibid. 14 July 1905. 52 University of Warwick, Modern Records Centre, MSS 192/FT/C, NAFTA, Annual Reports (1906) 6,9,10, 84, 108,136,142. n8</page><page sequence="17">Jewish immigration and the cabinet-making trade in East London, 1880?1914 achieved some early successes in replacing piece-work with hourly pay and in securing reduced working hours in 'a considerable number of shops'. A notable confrontation came in 1909, at the firm of Isaac Griew, who was paying his men below the union rate. The strike lasted for three months. Sid Fineman, who had become union branch secretary, recalled it as a 'terrible struggle', with some intimidation by strikers in the form of holding funeral services in the evenings outside the houses of blacklegs. Over the next few years the East London branch experienced varying fortunes, characterized by the fluctuating membership that seemed to surround strikes. For ex? ample, it began 1907 with 124 members; during the year 134 new members were admitted but 116 left, leaving 142 at the year's end. Similar patterns were recorded in 1909 and 1912.53 The energy and militancy of the Jewish sections of NAFTA seem to have been matched by the Independent Cabinet Makers Association. I. Eisenstone became the latter's chairman in 1907, and succeeded in raising the membership from seventy to more than five hundred. They started by tackling a number of small shops, achieving significant reductions in the working hours. Flushed with success the Association sought to take on a larger firm, precipitating an employers' lock-out. Eisenstone then enlisted the co-operation of NAFTA's leadership, who agreed to call out any shop where there were Jewish members. With this support the Independent Association managed to achieve an agreement for a 52V2 hour week. Several more strikes followed in the troubled years before 1914.54 Increasingly, Jewish and Gentile cabinet-makers were coming to recognize their mutual interests. As Yiddish-speaking immigrants gave way to their English-speaking sons, the need for a specific Hebrew section of the main union, NAFTA, declined. The transition was marked officially at the begin? ning of 1916, when the Hebrew branch was renamed the East End Branch. According to the published report this had become necessary 'owing to other than Hebrews being members of same'. Mutual suspicions and antipathies were evidently much on the wane. Two years later, the various East London branches of NAFTA, Jewish and non-Jewish, were all brought together to form the East End United Branch, with a membership in excess of eight hundred, and J. N. Cohen of 136 Brick Lane as its secretary. This was part of a wider amalgamation, which finally led the Independent Cabinet Makers' Association and two other small unions to sacrifice their independence and join the ranks of the National Amalgamated.55 53 Ibid. Annual Reports (1907) 4, 106, 136, 142,(1908) 5, in, 155,(1909)9, 82,89, 106, 125, (1912) 104; Monthly Reports, November 1915,29; R. A. Leeson (see n. 40) 35-6 (Sid Fineman). 54 R. A. Leeson (see n. 40) 36-7 (I. Eisenstone). 55 University of Warwick, Modern Records Centre, MSS 192/FT/C, NAFTA, Annual Reports (1917) 94, (1918) 105,161; R Kirkham, R. Mace and J. Porter (see n. 8) 90. ii9</page><page sequence="18">Leonard D. Smith Conclusions It is clear that all the conditions for sweating were in place long before the influx of Jewish immigrants in the early 1880s. Their arrival coincided with a period of sustained trade depression, which particularly affected trades producing consumer goods like furniture. It is hardly surprising that a new group of distinctive foreigners in these circumstances would arouse strong feelings and strident expressions even if they had been totally innocent of any blame for the economic conditions. In the event the immigrants proba? bly did contribute, to some extent, to the deteriorating situation in the furniture-making trade in the 1880s. The simultaneous presence of a signif? icant number of newly arrived young men desperate to start work at any price in the hope of future betterment, and of a small number of entrepre? neurial men who had the resources, the drive and sometimes the lack of scruples to set up small firms, provided a perfect recipe for the furtherance of sweating. The Jewish immigrants did not invent the sweating system, but it suited both masters and men to avail themselves of it. Notwithstanding the protests of native men under threat and the clamour of the anti-alien lobby, it is remarkable how a large and increasing number of Jewish immigrant cabinet-makers were absorbed into the East End furni? ture trade. Part of the explanation must lie in the resilience and the expan? sion of the trade itself. Beyond this, though, it is evident that immigrant workers and masters demonstrated an ability to make considerable and quite rapid adjustments to the conditions in which they found themselves. The indigenous cabinet-makers, however reluctantly, had to accept that the immigrants were here to stay. For their own benefit they had to make accommodations, in order to protect their position as far as they were able. It was the recognition and pursuit of mutual interests through trade union activity that provided the key to progress. At first that joint activity was tentative, with the two sections working in parallel, coming closer together at times before drawing apart again. With the growing acclimatization of the immigrants and their sons, and their growing acceptance by the English men, trust and mutual confidence could develop. Union amalgamations during the First World War were a reflection of how far things had come in three decades. Jew and Gentile in the furniture trade had perhaps not learnt to love each other, but they had learnt how to work together towards common goals. 120</page></plain_text>