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[Pages 129-136]

CHAPTER 9.

SELF-HELP ORGANIZATIONS

 

A. TRADE UNIONS

After the Polish–Bolshevik War, trade unions started to organize anew. In 1922, two unions, actually federations of unions, were functioning. The first was the Jewish Branch Union, which included needle workers, leather workers, butchers, porters, sheet-metal workers, and painters. Its offices were at 7 Piękna Street. In was under the influence of the Bund as well as Communist-inclined Bundists. Two currents clashed at that time among the members of the Bund: the Socialist and the Communist. The union had about 400 members, who paid 400 marks each into a common fund. These monies paid for the office space and the secretary. The rest was known as the strike fund, which was dipped into in the event of a strike. In 1922, needle workers, under the influence of Zionists, and especially Josek Słuszny, left the Branch Union and formed an independent Union of the Needle Branch. The remaining unionists formed the Council of Branch Unions, which consisted of Alter Nauczyciel, chairman (officially he did not belong to any union); Froim Śliwka and Berko Szapiro (both from the Union of the Leather Branch); and Abram Feinapel and Moszko Wysoki (from the Union of the Food-Industry Branch).

The second association was the multibranch Trade Union of Jews, which brought together carpenters, locksmiths, and bakers. Its offices were at 24 Piękna Street. It was under the influence of the Zionists. It numbered about 200 members, who paid about 400 marks a week for its activity. At the beginning of the 1920s, the cooperation between the two unions was good.1

In subsequent years, the two associations fell apart as the result of political agitation among their members and personal disagreements. The following unions emerged or were formed:

 

1. UNION OF AGRICULTURAL WORKERS IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY IN POLAND—SIEDLCE DIVISION

There were eight founding members, four Jews and four Poles. The management board in 1935 consisted of Józef Alberg, chairman; Symcha Sztajnberg, vice-chairman; Mojżesz Eksztejn, secretary; Abram Rotfarb, treasurer; and members Nuchim Lubliner, Berko Liwak, Józef Jagodziński, and Szmul Winer.

 

2. TRANSPORTATION WORKERS TRADE UNION—SIEDLCE DIVISION

Founded in March 1936, it had 30 members. On 12 April 1936, the following management board was elected: Jankiel Lejbman, chairman; Josek Lustigman, secretary; Szmul Lipa, treasurer; as well as Beniamin Węgrowski and Ela Kawecki as members. Abram Wajnapel, Ela Tenenbaum, and Dawid Lejbman were also union activists.

 

3. CENTRAL TRADE UNION OF THE LEATHER AND ALLIED INDUSTRIES—DIVISION IV IN SIEDLCE

At the end of 1921, it functioned under the name Labor Union of Workers of the Leather Industry or Union of the Leather Branch. It consisted mostly of gaiter makers and shoemakers. Its offices were located at 7 Piękna Street. The main goal of the union was the battle for an eight-hour workday. The chairman that year was Lewi Altfeder. From 23 to 26 April 1922, the union announced a strike demanding a 30 percent raise for its members. It achieved its goal. On 26 February 1923, the union proclaimed a strike of “mechanized shoemakers,” demanding a raise for them. The strike lasted two days. Employers agreed to a wage raise of 50 percent. The strike was led by Moszko Kadysz.2 It was registered under its proper name on 3 August 1932. The first management board at that time consisted of Szymon Żelechowski, Abram Wajnsztejn, and Josek Rowak. Abram Słuszny, Szmul Winer, Hersz Judka Gutman, Ela Szejbaum, Moszko Mandelman, Chaim Ela Kisieliński, Binem Finfter, Grynberg Motel, Moszek Wajnapel, Abram Szyja Rotman, Wigor Lustigman, Michel Tenenbaum, and Beniamin Kramarz were energetic activists. Bund members, Left Poalei Zion members, and Communists vied for influence in this union. The most spectacular action of this union was the strike announced together with the Christian Trade Union of Workers of the Leather Industry. It started on 29 January 1936. The strike had an economic foundation having to do with raising wages. The announcement of the strike was preceded by many meeting in which workers, unionists, and employer representatives took part. The main contentious issue was the determination of remuneration for seasonal shoemakers. The strike involved 350 people. The meetings called by the strike committee were attended by from 30 to 300 interested people. The organizers and negotiators of the strike were Abram Wajnsztejn, Szymon Dzielkiewicz, and Bolesław Pływak. The representatives of the above-mentioned unions as well as representatives of the Union of Merchants, Siedlce Division, in the presence of the Work Inspector of the 29th District, held four meeting on 10, 12, 16, and 17 February 1936 debating the regulation of prices for the production of footwear. The strike ended on 17 February with the signing of the “Collective Agreement for a Period of Four Months” containing mostly the demands of the workers. The negotiations were supervised on the part of the authorities by vice-administrator L. Walicki. The strikers celebrated their success on 22 February by having a community dance with the participation of 150 people. On 6 June 1936, a management board was elected: Szmul Frydrych, president; Jankiel Cukier, secretary; and Chaim Kisieliński, treasurer. On 23 January 1937, a new board was elected: Moszko Mandelbaum, president; Chaim Kisieliński, secretary; and Binem Finfter, treasurer. The union was under the influence of the Left Poalei Zion. In May 1938, it was suspended by the Polish authorities for Communist activity.

 

4. CLASS TRADE UNION OF THE FOOD BRANCH

In its initial period it had the name Trade Union of Workers in the Food Industry—Siedlce Branch. Its activists at that time were Moszek Ejbchoren, Szmul Sarnacki, and Srul Sarnacki. This union then changed its name to the Class Trade Union of the Food Branch. There was a rally in the hall of the cinema Lux at the initiative of this union on 20 May 1922. This union was under the influence of Right Poalei Zion. In the presence of 500 people, they reflected on the development of Jewish schooling. The rally was led by Szlome Hochberg, a member of Poalei Zion. The first speaker was Abend, a student of Warsaw University, who pointed out the “lamentable condition of Jewish schooling in Poland.” He blamed the Polish government, which had brought about numerous requisitions of school buildings after the Polish–Bolshevik War. In Abend's opinion, Jewish workers should object to this and ask the government to provide assistance, including financial, to Jewish schooling. Tabakman spoke after him, agreeing with the previous speaker, emphasizing at the end that these schools should bring up young people in the socialist spirit so that it would be more informed. Next the floor was taken by Comrade Sender from Warsaw, a member of the Bund. He criticized the preceding speakers, arguing that Jewish workers should join Polish workers and not ask the government for aid in running Jewish schools but rather to demand, having strength in unity and numbers. After him, Arnold and Alter Nauczyciel spoke in the same vein. The rally turned into a political dispute between the Zionists and the Bundists. The dispute was stopped by Josek Słuszny, a member of Poalei Zion, who said that in no case does he agree to the proposal of joining the Jewish proletariat with the Polish and dismissed the rally.3

 

5. GARMENT INDUSTRY WORKERS TRADE UNION—SIEDLCE DIVISION

In 1921 it was functioning under the name Needle Workers Trade Union in Siedlce or Union of the Needle Branch. Its activists were Chana Handlarz, Boruch Apelbaum, and Chil Gutowski. From 23 to 26 April 1922, it proclaimed a strike, demanding a 30 percent raise for its members. It achieved its goal. On 13 March 1923, the union demanded a raise of at least 35 percent. The employers did not agree, so a strike was called that lasted three days. Sixty workers took part in it. Employers agreed to a raise of 50 percent but only during the preholiday period; after the holiday of Passover, wages were to return to their previous levels. The strike was led by Josek Słuszny, Chil Kotowski, and Chana Handlarz.4 In 1923, a section arose as an adjunct to it consisting of the union of bakers, who united during the Passover holiday to defend their interests during the period of baking matzah. Josek Słuszny stood at its head.5 It took on its proper name in the early 1930s. In October 1932 it had about 150 members. The management board consisted of Judko Rybak, chairman; Szymon Rafał, secretary; and Kielman Kawa, Szulim Rak, Sura Rotsztejn, and Abram Uszer as members. It was registered anew on 2 September 1936 with 34 members. Its activists were Icko Goldberg, Jojne Lipowicz, and Beniamin Kramarz. On 22 March 1934, Tabakman, the owner of a tailor's shop, refused to pay the whole of the insurance premiums for his workers, so the union intervened with the Labor Inspectorate. When this did not help, it called a meeting in the union's premises at 20 Kiliński Street. One hundred people came. A strike was planned, but a policeman present at the meeting explained that their demands were unfounded. At the meeting on 17 October 1936, in the presence of 150 people, a collection was taken up in the amount of 100 zlotys and donated to the cause of the Madrid government. At the next meeting, 24 October 1936, in the presence of 70 people, a new leadership was elected. The management board was made up of Chaim Ajzenberg, chairman; Motel Epelbaum, vice-chairman; Chaim Sokołowski, secretary; and Nusym Rozen, treasurer.

 

6. MUTUAL AID (RELIEF) ASSOCIATION OF SHOEMAKERS IN SIEDLCE

It arose in 1937 and had 23 members. Its management board consisted of Berko Srebrnik, Abram Krawiec, Abisz Rosjan, Dawid Kogut, Chaim Gruszka, Szymon Grynberg, Motel Garnek, and Gedale Karsz. This association was under the influence of the Bund.

 

7. ALLIANCE OF SMALL MERCHANTS

It arose in 1937 and had 43 members. Ela Tenenbaum (merchant), Moszko Bronsztejn, Fajwel Rozenberg, and Chil Mejer Zajdencwajg were on the management board. The Auditing Commission included Moszko Judenglauben, Chil Liberman, and Gdala Nisenbaum. Most of the members were Zionists.

 

8. JEWISH CONSTRUCTION WORKERS UNION

In March 1935, the management board comprised Jankiel Kapłan, chairman; Jankiel Popiołek, vice-chairman; Zamwel Wajberg, secretary; and Moszko Klain, treasurer. The union had 30–35 members.

 

9. RETAIL AND OFFICE WORKERS TRADE UNION

This union was active in the 1930s. It had 50 members on 25 October 1936, with a management board consisting of Szlema Czerwoniec, Izaak Jabłkowicki, Chaja Ryza, Estera Stejnberg, and Michał Rydel. The influences of the Bund and Right Poalei Zion clashed in this union.

 

10. CENTRAL CLASS UNION OF SIEDLCE SHOEMAKERS

In the early 1920s, the attempt was made to create a shoemakers union that would consist of both Jews and Poles. Only 50 people acceded. The authorities did not, however, agree to the registration of the union, fearing that it would implement Communist goals.6

 

11. UNION OF MERCHANTS AND INDUSTRIALISTS

In 1927, Izrael Gutgeld stood at its head. In that year, before elections to the City Council, a conflict arose between the chairman Gutgeld and the remaining members of the management board, who issued a special communique. It stated that the union has not joined the Agudath Israel bloc. The management board announced that, at the meeting that took place on 22 May, Mr. Gutgeld and Mr. Lichtenpacht received a mandate to initiate a discussion on the subject of creating a unified election bloc, but they were not authorized to join any list.7

In the early 1930s, Kazimierz Szymański was chairman. On 2 April 1932, a meeting was organized in the hall of the Jewish Home for Orphans and Seniors with the participation of Walberg, the deputy director of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Lublin. About 400 people took part in this meeting, Christians and Jews. The speaker discussed the great significance of consolidating merchants and industrialists, presented the consequences of the global crisis, and called for uniting regardless of religious differences.8

 

12. UNION OF PAINTERS AND VARNISHERS

There were two unions with this name, a Polish one and a Jewish one. The two unions consolidated on 13 February 1934. This union detached itself from the Construction Workers Union.

 

13. GUILD OF SHEET-METAL WORKERS, LOCKSMITHS, BOILER SMITHS, AND ALLIED TRADES

It was created on 12 August 1934 and had about 50 members.

 

14. TRADE UNION OF JEWISH PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHERS IN SIEDLCE

It was created in 1925 and had 32 people in its membership. It was headed by Rachela Berg, Estera Śliwkówna, and Rozalia Nengolberg.9

 

15. BRANCH UNION OF PORTERS

In 1922 it had 120 members and was directed by the porter Wajfeld. It was under the influence of radical Bund activists. It functioned independently only briefly and then became part of the Trade Union of the Leather and Allied Industries.10

 

16. BRANCH UNION OF BUTCHERS

It had 50 members in early 1922. It was under the influence of the Bund. In May 1922, the members of the union now returned to work for their erstwhile “employers and masters” as co-owners. This union was voluntarily dissolved, although members continued to meet for discussions of current matters relating to this trade. The organizer of these meetings was Berko Lubelski.11

 

17. REGIONAL COUNCIL OF TRADE UNIONS IN SIEDLCE

It was formed on 15 December 1935. The following Jewish workers' trade unions from Siedlce were in its composition: Garment Industry Trade Union, Leather Industry Trade Union, Hairdressers Trade Union, Trade Union of Workers in the Food Industry, General Retail and Office Workers Trade Union, Transportation Workers Trade Union, Construction Workers Union, as well as the Textile Industry Workers Union from Mordy.

 

B. COOPERATIVES

The cooperative movement among the Jewish population was made up mostly of tradesmen and small merchants. Władysław Rusiński has indicated that in 1926 only 25 percent of Jewish cooperative members in Poland were entrepreneurs. The rest were tradesmen, small merchants, office workers, skilled laborers, and piece workers.12 The situation in Siedlce was similar. The following cooperatives functioned for a number of years:

 

1. GENERAL WORKERS COOPERATIVE

In time it took on a new name: Jewish Workers Association of Consumers. In 1922 it had 611 members and had working capital of from 700 thousand to 1 million marks. The management board included Abram Słuszny, chairman; Moszko Kadysz, deputy; Moszko Grabie, member. It was under the influence of the Bund and partly the Zionists. The management board included Abram Wajnapel, Alter Nauczyciel, Josel Słuszny, and Fajga Grynwald. The cooperative carried on intense political action. It took care of political prisoners and their families. It organized night courses for older workers at which the Yiddish language, the Polish language, arithmetic, geography, and economics were taught. The courses took place in the premises at 26 Długa Street. Josek Słuszny and Jakub Groman were involved in conducting these courses and lectures.13 Its funds were used to finance rural schools functioning in the county and run by the Folkists. On 10 March 1923, a meeting of cooperative members was held in the Community Center that was attended by 40 members. A new makeup of the Chief Council of the Cooperative was elected at it, including Moszko Grabie, Szyja Finkielszwarc, Moszek Orlicki, Zelman Frejlich, Mendel Farbiarz, and Herszek Ofgang, with Chaskiel Frejlich, Mendel Gongolewicz, and Frydrych Berysz as their deputies. The management board included Abram Słuszny, Moszko Kalisz, and Szlama Ajzenberg, with Abram Wajnapel and Dawid Grünberg as deputies.14

 

2. FOLKIST COOPERATIVE

In 1922 it had 700 members and working capital of from 2.5 to 4 million marks. It was directed by Izaak Zając. The management board included Josek Jabłoń, Icek Altszuler, and Abram Słuszny (a relative of the Bundist with the same last name). In the beginning of the 1920s, in functioned very efficiently; among other things, it bought up dairy products and eggs in the country and sold it to its members at very affordable prices in unlimited quantities. Goods were also brought from Warsaw, and matzah was sold there at very favorable prices. With the goal of increasing capital, the cooperative organized theatrical performances in which amateurs performed. It ran a Credit Association, thanks to which members of the cooperative could borrow money at a low interest rate for a period of six months.15 In the Sejm elections, the members voted for Noach Pryłucki.

 

3. JEWISH HORTICULTURAL-AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVE

It had 30 members. After the meeting on 25 June 1932, which took place under the leadership of Berko Zembrowicz; Abram Kimel and Moszko Sokołowski from Siedlce as well as Epsztejn, an agronomist from Warsaw, were the speakers. Herszko Cynamon from Krynica tried to convince the assembled people to organize a fruit-growers cooperative in Siedlce. It was not created due to the objections of a majority of the members.16


Author's Notes, Chapter 9

  1. APS, KPPPS, sig. 59, fol. 5. Return
  2. Ibid., sig. 61, fol. 9. Return
  3. Ibid., sig. 60, pp. 381–382. Return
  4. Ibid., sig. 61, p. 9. Return
  5. Ibid. Return
  6. APS, KPPPS, sig. 7, pp. 24–25. Return
  7. Łętocha, Messer, and Cała, Żydowskie druki ulotne w II Rzeczpospolitej w zbiorach Biblioteki Narodowej, p. 77. Return
  8. APS, SPwS 1918–1939, sig. 16, fol. 71. Return
  9. Związek Żydowskich Nauczycieli Szkół Powszechnych w Siedlcach, Wydz. II Społ.-Pol. 1919–1939, UWL, APL, sig. 1244, p. 8; sig. 1118, p. 50. Return
  10. APS, KPPPS, sig. 59, p. 14. Return
  11. Ibid., sig. 60, p. 353. Return
  12. W. Rusiński, Zarys historii polskiego ruchu spółdzilczego, part 2, 1918–1939 (Warsaw 1980), pp. 305–306. Return
  13. APS, KPPPS, sig. 59, p. 42. Return
  14. Ibid., sig. 61, p. 10. Return
  15. Ibid., sig. 59, p. 42. Return
  16. APS, SPwS 1918–1939, sig. 15, fol. 59. Return

 

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