From: Labour Struggles in South Africa The Forgotten Pages 1903 - 1921 by Evangelos A. Mantzaris


Labour is a neglected aspect in published accounts of the history of the Jewish community in South Africa. Although several books on the latter subject have adequately covered some aspects of the life and activities of the community such as personalities, communal institutions, Zionism, and so forth,1a thorough investigation and analysis of Jewish labour is conspicuously absent. In this article several pertinent aspects of Jewish labour in Cape Town will be examined with special emphasis on the material conditions in the Cape Colony that gave impetus to the rise of Jewish Trade Unions and their formation and activities, as well as their political roots and basis.

Their relations with other British and "coloured" unions during that period and their struggle toward the formation of a united trade union movement will also be examined. The relations between the Jewish Trade Unions and the Jewish Labour Movement and its organizations especially the Bund, will be studied, and comparisons will be drawn regarding the experiences of Jewish workers in Cape Town and elsewhere (such as in Britain and the United States).


Jews began to appear as colonists in the Cape early in the nineteenth century and by 1850 a group of them had established a synagogue. 2Nearly all the early colonists converted to Christianity, the most renowned being Henry and Joel Solomon who later became founders of the Cape Argus newspaper and prominent civic leaders and parliamentarians. 3The arrival of Rev. J. Robinowitz which led to the reorganization of the religious institutions put an end to this process. The economic decline of the Cape Colony, however (following the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Transvaal), led to a significant number of Jews emigrating to the Transvaal because of better employment possibilities. 4

From the early period several English and German Jews had begun to break into the commercial and financial world; some of them pioneered the manufacturing sector of the Colony's economy, the most important person being David Isaacs. 5Other prominent manufacturers included Herman and Canard, L Rubin and D. Polikansky in tobacco, M. Eilenberg, S. Roy and R. Back in garments, and B. Isaacson in the tanning industry. In the commercial sphere, Jews competed successfully with British commercial capital and from the early period dominated sectors of the wholesale and import/export markets. The Mosenthal Brothers, Joseph and Adolph, paved the way with their successful business ventures of such entrepreneurs as the Friedlanders, H. Zuckerman, H. Lieberman, and H. Eilenberg, among others. 6

The "ethnic" balance among the Jewish population in Cape Town changed radically with the influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, following the tsarist pogroms in the turn of the nineteenth century. Thus in 1904 the Jewish population of the Cape Colony was approximately 20,000, or 3.37 per cent of the European population, with 8,114 of them living in Cape Town. 7The community was clearly divided into two distinct language and cultural groups: the Anglo-German Jews on the one hand; and the Yiddish-speaking of the other. The well-established Anglo-German community had become associated with British culture and way of life, despite maintaining its Jewish heritage, generally, while East European Jews displayed a "foreign" culture which proved an "embarrassment" to their acculturated coreligionists. 8This "embarrassment" was in fact the realization of a deeply-rooted class antogonism which was manifested throughout that period.

A comprehensive record of naturalizations of Russian Jews shows that approximately thirty-five per cent of the applicants declared as their profession trading and commerce and another thirty-six per cent declared "artisans" (tailors, shoemakers, builders, cabinet makers, watchmakers, blacksmiths, mechanics, tobacconists, and so forth). The rest were speculators, hawkers, barbers, butchers, agents, and cattle dealers. Other significant statistical details on those appearing in the naturalization list were: they presented approximately 6.5 per cent of the Jewish population of the Cape, an estimated one-seventh of the Jewish adult male population; more than half were born in Lithuania; and 30 per cent were natives of Latvia and Poland. Only thirteen per cent were under 21 years of age at the time of their arrival; 32 per cent were in the 21-25 age group, while 26 per cent were between 26 and 30 years old, and 22 per cent were between 31 and 40 years old. This division of labour reflected the urban background of the new immigrants which resulted from the economic decline of the Jewish peasantry at the turn of the century. 9

By the end of the century urbanization had so increased the number of Jewish craftsmen there that two-thirds to three-fourths of the entire artisan population lived within the Pale of Settlement, a special area clearly defined in 1835. This area included regions of "New Russia," Ukraine Belorussia, Lithuania, the Polish territories added to the Empire after the Napoleonic wars, and several areas in the Baltic Provinces. The May Laws of 1882 prohibited Jews from resettling in rural areas and thus the extremely difficult mobility of the Jewish population within Russia led to their concentration in the urban centers of the Pale. The most populous artisan groups were tailoring, and others, such as cutters and milliners, who concentrated on the preparation of clothing, as well as shoemakers and carpenters. 10The Jewish artisan's role within the social division of labour in Russia was dichotomous; as the relationship between master and apprentices had not changed since medieval times, when the latter had not the opportunity to learn the trade, the masters were organized in "guilds" (known as artisans guilds) in order to fight against the competition of the gentile artisan; they also played an ideological (mainly religious) role in order to satisfy their members' religious needs. On the other hand the journeymen established their own organizations against the exploitation and ruthlessness of their Jewish employers and it was there that the Socialist movement found fertile ground for its propaganda and agitation. 11

The appalling working conditions of the Jewish artisans in the Pale of Settlement have been described with considerable detail by several scholars; A. Lieberman, one of the doyens of the Jewish Socialist Movement, once remarked that the majority of Jewish workers in the cities of Belorussia-Lithuania lived in the "semi-darkness of cellars of similar hovels that had wet walls and floors and were crammed together in the oppressive, stupefying atmosphere." 12Many of those destitute artisans constituted the Jewish population that emigrated to South Africa.


Both the naturalization papers already mentioned and the Cape Colony's professional directory of the period (which were systematically scrutinized) point to the existence of a large Jewish artisan class in the Colony. 13Most of these people belonged to the "depressed crafts" as opposed to the "privileged Jewish crafts." The vital difference between these crafts lay in the sphere of social relationships. According to Cahnman, the latter crafts were directly connected with "marriage" between scholarship and manual skills: calligraphy; cartography; the making of mathematical and astronomical instruments; and the silk industry. On the other hand, other Jews were employed as tailors working in sloppy squatters, or were used to remake old mattresses, an activity which led to diseases of eyes and skin, coughs and constipation. They were employed as glassblowers, house painters and furriers, both in Eastern and Western Europe. 14In the Cape; the majority of Jewish artisans were tailors, cabinet and joiner makers, carpenters and bakers. They pioneered the organizing of craft unions in Cape Town.

Before examining the emergence of these unions let us examine briefly the political and ideological position of many of those early Jewish immigrants. The process of emancipation of the Jews in South Africa was faster than in the "old country." In the latter, the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement was dominant before the emergence of the powerful Socialist "Bund." The process of capital accumulation destroyed the old myths of religious emancipation connected with the "yeshivah" and opened new paths of political thought and propaganda methods among the oppressed crafts. The same process also took place in South Africa where Socialism and religious ideologies became the focus of the new immigrants' lives. New forms of life and struggles substituted the old material conditions; new material conditions were experienced and, above all, there were new bosses for the vast majority of immigrants. Tabatznik has described the struggle between Zionist religious ideologies and Socialism which took place within an environment of loneliness, poverty and despair for the vast majority of Jewish people in early South Africa. 15A large number of those who found their way of South Africa, in general, and the Cape Colony, in particular, were, as Hotz's analysis has shown, young men who threw themselves into the political struggle for the amelioration of the world's social ills, by joining a Socialist, revolutionary or trade union movement such as the Bund. 16This organization was the vanguard of the Jewish working class in its struggle against both national and class oppression and exploitation. An uncompromising attitude toward "Jewish capitalism" was the guiding principle of the Bund, which proved to be one of the most vital components of Jewish and Socialist life in the Pale of Settlement for many years to come. 17

The Jewish artisans who arrived in South Africa, and Cape Town especially, at the turn of the century, faced severe problems. The unfamiliarity of the environment, which sometimes could be overcome through the various small groups of landsmancraften (groups of individuals who came from the same village or region), was topped by the financial insecurity caused by the problems facing the Colony after the Anglo-Boer War, that is, unemployment and poverty. Many immigrants hit by depression and unemployment were supported by their fellow workers or by the various Jewish philanthropic societies headed by prominent individuals, such as M. Alexander, Buirski, Herman and Bender. 18Several historians have described the extreme poverty among the Jewish artisan newcomers, who also faced severe competition from their English counter parts 19and, above all, the strong anti-alien, antisemitic sentiments of large sections of the population and the authorities. 20One of their major efforts to ameliorate this situation was the establishment of craft unions that actively participated in the labour scene of the Cape Colony and beyond.


The Jewish tailors have the longest tradition of worker organization, political militancy and radicalism in South Africa. 21It was primarily because of the appalling working conditions under which most Jewish artisans lived and worked in Cape Colony that trade unions were established. The political and ideological influence of the Jewish "Bund," however, cannot be underestimated. The first Jewish tailoring union started in Cape Town in 1898. 22Its members joined forces because they felt they needed a vehicle to fight against the extremely unhygienic working conditions, the meager pay and the lack of vacation-time, including the high Jewish religious occasions. This is how a Jewish tailor described his everyday life in a tailoring "sweatshop":

When I enter the gate in the morning I do not know whether my day will be finished with myself on my feet. If I finish the day on my knees, it will not affect me. I have the feeling that my day will finish and I will join my ancestors. The dirt, squalor, unhygienic conditions in the workshop will kill us all. We are fifteen people working here, all foreigners, decent people, but it seems sometimes people do not understand.... 23

The problems arising because of the different wages between White (mainly Jewish) and Malay tailors (who outnumbered their white counterparts by 2 to 1) stopped the formation of a "united" union. The first and primary reason for the lack of united action was that both sides felt reluctant (especially the Malays) to join a union which in the process might face the problem of a schism because of the unique situation facing a labor force which was paid not according to working hours or capabilities, but precisely because of race. 24

Although the Jewish Tailors Union was short-lived because of the Anglo-Boer war, it was reestablished in 1902, and immediately took up the struggles of its rank and file. The economic depression which hit Cape Town after the Anglo-Boer war led to many Jewish tailors being dismissed and others doing shift-work, including on the Sabbath. Those who had employment were also compelled to work long hours and most of them spent their Sabbath in the filthy and overcrowded premises of the workshops. Reverend Bender, the rabbi of the Orthodox Jewish Congregation, religious leader of the Anglo-Jewish classes and a spokesperson for Cape Jewry, 25and other prominent members of the Jewish community tried to complain to the Trades and Labour Council (T.L.C.). 26These leaders, however, never tried to persuade the Jewish employers of tailors (or other artisans for that matter) to allow their workers to observe the Sabbath. Bender and the other civic leaders of the community never convinced the T.L.C. of their good intentions since this labour coordinating body had consulted with the Jewish tailors who themselves rejected Bender's idea. They feared that if Sabbath was a "free day" for them, there could be a good chance of them being dismissed. The Jewish tailors were supported in their stand by J. Buckland, Cape Town's most prominent unionist and leader of the Stonemasons' society who said that Rabbi Bender had no more power to prevent a Jewish worker from working on his Sabbath than the Archbishop of Cape Town had in the case of a member of the Church of England. 27

The Jewish Tailors' Society was disbanded in 1902 and its militant members threw themselves into the political struggle taking place in the Colony at that period. In 1903, however, their defunct society was reestablished, while they kept galvanizing the political aspirations of Cape Town's laboring classes through the formation of the Political Labour League under the leadership of Gordon. In this grouping, H. Alexander, a Jewish tailor, was the representative of the Tailors' Society and the "International"(Jewish) trade unions, J. Bernstein, represented the Jewish Working Mans' Club 28and S. Gillitz the Social Democratic Federation and the "Bund," 29

There were approximately 210 Jewish tailors in Cape Town in 1905 (or 85 per cent of the total number of white tailors in town). 30Many of them worked for master tailors under appalling conditions, labouring for approximately eighteen hours a day, and their wages were the lowest in the country. The "helpers" were paid approximately 2.10.0 pounds per week working from seven in the morning until midnight. The master paid no overtime, and female workers were paid approximately 1 pound per week. Several tailoring manufacturers, such as Garlick, used a system that "killed the tailors because of the intensity of work and the unhealthy conditions under which they were working." 31Although the T.L.C. had an informal agreement with the masters to the effect that workers would not work on Sundays, the former never respected it. They also never kept the negotiated agreement concerning fixed wages. 32Thus the 50 tailoring workshops, which had very unsanitary conditions, kept operating because of the reluctance of the local tailors who were unorganized. 33

In October 1905, following an initiation by Jewish tailors, a new union was formed under the name "The Operative Tailors Society of Cape Town." 34The first priority of the new union was to secure the maintenance of a day rest, preferably on Sunday, since there were female employees who worked from 7h30 in the morning until 9h30 at night with one hour off for dinner. 35 The master tailors tried to keep white and "coloured" tailors apart and make them compete against each other. J. Sailer, an organizer of the T.L.C., summarized the situation by pointing out that because of the employers' tactics "the Malays would not trust the Jews and the Jews would not trust the Malays and the Christians would not trust neither." The chairman of the union, J Harlow, said that a united union would fight for "equal pay for equal work" and without united struggle "the workers were doomed to be slaves to the capitalists all their lives." Dr.Abdurahman, a leading Malay politician, supported the idea of a union that would bring together Malay and white workers with the same problems. "Racism as exposed by capitalists would be defeated only by the united action of the workers, " he said. 36The union had 170 members after only five months in existence. 37It participated in all the struggles of workers by collecting funds for other strikes, such as that of the cigarette-makers, 38and organized new unions. It also repudiated the "paternalistic" attitude of the self-professed "workers leader," D. Goldblatt, a pioneer Yiddish journalist who accused Jewish unions of incompetence in going on strike against their coreligionists, J. Herman and Canard and Polikansky in the tobacco-industry strikes. 39

The Tailors' Society participated in the select committee on the Factories Act and escorted its prominent members around Cape Town's sweatshops. Its leaders negotiated all future deals with employers and took care of all problems involved in the production process that directly affected the union's rank and file members. 40They fought against the "shrewd" tactics of employers such as Garlick who tried to turn his Malay tailors against the Jews by offering them jobs in his factory. Garlick promised his Malay tailors better conditions and also promised that, in a future confrontation between them and the Jews, he would side with them (a reasonable promise since Malays could be used to his advantage as cheaper labourers). 41The Factory Act was supported by both the Tailors Union and the General Workers' Union, an umbrella organization of which the tailors were members. The newly-established South African Commerce Journal of being socialist agitator who advocated an "unnecessary, vexatious and useless Act", however, accused the tailors. 42They supported the 1907 miners' strike and condemned the government for the use of violence against the workers. 43

The history of the Jewish tailors group in Cape Town is an example of a rising "trade union" consciousness, which was also transformed into a political consciousness supporting the efforts of workers' leaders in the Colony to organize against the exploitative tactics used by the local manufacturing fraternity. The tailors struggles continued ceaselessly for a long time.


The baking industry was another example of primarily an "interethnic" conflict as the bakery-owners and artisans operating the business were Jews. By 1903 there were several letters in the newspapers pointing to the exploitation of Jewish workers' by their coreligionist "bosses." 44The Bundist organizers, J Mark and Schochet, initiated a Jewish Bakers Union, which was open to all employees of bakers' shops in Cape Town. 45Thirty-one out of the possible forty bakers enrolled at the first meeting of the organization. 46After the initial meeting of the rank-and-file of the Union, the decision was made to organize a cooperative bakery in mid-1903. 47The basic reason for this radical decision was the opposition of the bakers to the middlemen and the exploitation of the bakers by the wholesale merchants. The employees felt that if the middlemen and the wholesalers were eliminated their wages would increase as the net profits of their employers would be higher. 48

The Jewish artisans and bakers organized a "defense committee" (against exploitation) and series of much-publicized and well-supported public meetings calling for united action against the exploitation of the "labouring classes" gave impetus to a new "protest movement." Most mass meetings were addressed in Yiddish and English, the principal speakers being Alexander, a leading Jewish trade unionist, and Gordon, a Labour leader. 49

The cooperative bakery started with a working capital of 1.000 pounds. It was both a business venture and a political / ideological experiment, because the pioneering Jewish trade unionists realized that large numbers of Jewish and other workers were directly affected by the high price of bread. This meant that a cooperative bakery would be a challenge to the exploitative tactics of the leading bakers who retailed a 16 oz. loaf at 2 1/2 d and a 9 oz. loaf at 1 1/2 d. 50It was also a political experiment toward the emergence of a cooperative movement in the Utopian socialist mould of English syndicalism (but not the Communist-oriented United Workers Cooperatives that were introduced by the Jewish left in America). 51The experiment started successfully and the leading bakers accused Alexander, Gordon and B. Levinson of being instruments in the hands of "foreign" (read "Jewish") bakers. A. Brown, a leading trade unionist, was appointed secretary. 52The bakery was called the International Cooperative Bakery and was situated on Roeland Street, Cape Town. A huge public gathering to celebrate the opening was addressed in Yiddish, and most of the Jewish working class was present at the meeting. 53

Although the bakery lasted for at least four months, the competition with the leading bakers and problems associated with poor buying and retailing techniques led to its subsequent closing. 54The union, however, was still in existence by mid-1904 when the fight over long hours of work and poor pay was pursued. Jewish bakers worked for at least 84 hours per week and were paid between 1.17.6 pounds and 2 pounds per week. 55Several letters appeared in the newspapers congratulating the bakers on the struggle of the union and accusing the Jewish capitalists of being assimilated Britishers or Frenchmen who did not pay any attention to their Jewish employees but were even worse oppressors than their gentile counterparts. 56The Jewish anti-capitalist campaign continued for some time in the columns of the newspapers. 57

Another "cooperative union" in which Jews had a large participation was the Boot and Shoemakers Cooperative Union. There were approximately one hundred Jewish boot makers in Cape Town and suburbs, amounting to 75 per cent of the city's white bootmakers. 58Their union was established after the cigarette-makers strike 59and soon joined the General Workers Union. The situation of cobblers was really appalling; they were paid a wage of 3 pound per month without board and lodging. Following the establishment of the union, two cooperative stores were opened by it on Caledon Street, and continued to exist for several months. Nothing is known of this store after 1906. 60

The Bakers' union took up the struggle of its rank-and-file members on all fronts and its leading members were also initiators and strong supporters of the labour political movements in the colony. 61Nothing is known of the Union after the collapse of the Cooperative, however, and the reemergence of the struggles after the mid-1904.


The Jewish cabinetmakers in Cape Town made it to the headlines of the local press in mid-1903 as major actors in an extraordinary strike which took place in the city of Kimberley. Since they faced the same problems of economic recession and resulting unemployment as in Cape Town, approximately thirty Jewish cabinetmakers accepted job offers by various firms in Kimberley, where a strike of the local cabinetmakers was in progress.

Although the Jewish workers had signed a six-months' contract with their prospective employers, they went on strike on the first day of their arrival in Kimberley in solidarity with the striking workers, but a court case and the fear of jail made them start to work again. Simultaneously, they were, however, the organizers of a cabinetmakers' trade union in Kimberley. As the main speakers at the strikers meeting 62they expressed the wish of the rank-and-file Jewish artisans to improve their positions within the sweatshops. This had been one of the major reasons behind the organization of Jewish workers in Cape Town, as it had been with their counterparts in England and America during that period. 63Although the Jewish cabinet makers were sent back to Cape Town by their Kimberley employers their action in solidarity was the "talk of the town" for a long time. 64Jewish trade unionists in Cape Town were the first to pursue a course of uniting all nationalities under umbrella unions representing all trades. The carpenters and cabinetmakers were organized under the auspices of the Bund and the Social Democratic Federation (S.D.F.) 65Alexander and J. Gillitz, a Bundist, were the organizers of the unions. 66Alexander organized the unions on a "uniting ourselves" ticket and believed that only a united trade movement could better all workers, financially, politically and culturally. 67Gordon, the undisputed champion of labour during this period congratulated the Jewish trade Unionists on their efforts, as did Gillitz who called for a common struggle toward better wages and working conditions. 68The British-dominated Carpenters' Society would not accept "foreign" workers and rejected an appeal by Jewish carpenters to join forces. Since many Jewish artisans could not speak English, their leaders finally decided to form international trade unions. The Jewish Carpenters' Society did not undercut the English society's rates and took an oath not to act as scabs in industrial disputes. The S.D.F and several Bundist leaders within it decided also to organize the Jewish printers and paperhangers. 69The union was established soon after on the lines of New Zealand trade unions. Gordon and Alexander, the S.D.F., and Bundist militants such as Gillitz, were the leaders of the union. 70Gillitz was the trade unionist who called for class solidarity across ethnic and colour lines. He repeatedly appealed to Jewish workers to ally themselves with the British and their "coloured brothers" in the fight against exploitation. 71The British Printers' Society welcomed the Jewish union but urged its leaders to keep the union free of those who were unskilled, 72a position contrary to both principles and strategies of the Bund, Jewish trade union and the S.D.F

These ethnic antagonisms were not unlike sentiments expressed by an indigenous or colonial working class toward new immigrant artisans. Particularly within the British Labour Movement, "anti-alien" trade union exclusivism played a very prominent role within workers' circles. Those sentiments were the first attempts of craft unions to protect their own exclusive economic interests against the "refuge of all the rubbish of the central countries of Europe" as the (British) Trade Union Congress called Jewish workers in 1898. 73Concurrently, Engels was examining workers' conditions in America and expressing his dis­appointment with the "ethnic diversities" existing among the working classes in that country; he also suggested that it was impossible to form a single revolutionary party because of the divisions among the native and immigrant workers. 74

A problem of "recognition" appeared after the establishment of Jewish trade unions as the British unions were reluctant at first to recognize their "foreign counterparts." The South African News appealed to all British unions to immediately recognize the Jewish unions and pointed out that the "foreign" unions in Britain were the backbone of the workers' struggles. A "united front" would be a threat to capital and of benefit to workers and, according to the Labour correspondent of the newspaper, trade unionism did not know colour, creed or nationality. 75The prospective alliance of Jewish and British workers disturbed the Progressive party, whose spokesman. Rev. S.J.du Toit, accused the Labour movement of being "criminal" by pointing out that the alliance of the British workers with Revolutionary Socialists (a direct reference to the Bundist element within the trade union movement and the S.D.F.) "lighted fires, forged weapons and reaped winds [sic]." 76These actions did not stop certain unification steps. Jewish and British trade-unionists participated in joint committees, and also started organizing "coloured labour". The latter step and Jewish trade unions' principle of a common organization among semi-skilled and skilled artisans (most "coloureds" were unskilled and semi-skilled), overpowered the narrow-minded British artisans' opposition to a "common front" of skilled and unskilled. 77

In June 1903 a Jewish union of carpenters, cabinetmakers and joiners was established with Gillitz as chairman and Alexander as secretary. The overwhelming support of Jewish artisans belonging to these crafts was saluted by Gordon, who also pointed out that the time was ripe for a political step forward with the formation of a "genuine Labour Party." 78Although the South African Review, an influential "pro-Labour" journal, accused "Jewish" trade unionism of being "detrimental to British workers and disastreous for workers," 79joint meetings of Jewish, British and "coloured" workers were conducted for the formation of united unions, where J. Tobin, a pioneering "coloured" politician, was prominent. 80The Cape Town painters joined forces in uniting under the name "South African Painters' and Decorators' Trade Union." The African Political Organization (APO), a "coloured" political body, was called upon to persuade its members and the community in general to register new members. 81The Jewish trade unionists were the vanguard of the movement and their determined efforts to attract as many "coloured" workers as possible was praised by all leaders of the organisation. 82Joint lectures and discussions among British, Jewish and "coloured" workers continued for some time, under the auspices of the Trades and Labour Council. 83

Collins and Roberts of the APO were also present at the meeting of the establishment of the "political arm" of the Cape Colony's Labour Movement. 84Jewish workers and unions were prominent in this short-lived organization, many meetings of which were addressed in Yiddish by Levinson, Gillitz and H. Alexander. 85Although the Progressives tried to canvass votes among Jewish, Portuguese, Spanish and "coloured" people during the elections in 1904, 86most Jews and "coloureds" wholeheartedly supported the Labour candidates, A. Corley and C. J. Craig , who spoke to all-Jewish audiences in District Six. 87The Jewish unions also offered English classes free of charge to all workers, while the Zionist societies used their hall for the same reason, but they charged a high fee. 88Although G. Woolends, a "labour charlatan," tried his best to break the alliance between "foreign" and British workers, by using a populist jingoist and British chauvinist language, full of anti-alien and antisemitic rhetoric, the alliance of the artisan classes in the Colony remained stable. 89


The struggle of the Jewish workers and their unions in Cape Town was concentrated in the tackling of practical, everyday problems facing the workers such as low wages, working conditions and so forth. Their activities were concentrated only on the economic level upon which they based the solidarity of all sections of the labour community. This solidarity which was built after long and protracted efforts and developed a "united front" across colour and ethnic lines, 90was one of major achievements of the Jewish Labour Movement. The material conditions in the Cape were ripe for trade union organisations of plumbers, stonemasons, engineering workers, bricklayers, painters and carpenters who were faced by increasing unemployment 91which coupled with aggravating circumstances such as work under unsanitary conditions and economic exploitation, were the conditions that gave momentum to the organized trade union movement because the day-to-day problems were too many and too burning to pass unchallenged.

After 1907 most Jewish trade unions were amalgamated with the existing British and "coloured" ones. As all local newspapers switched their allegiance to the more "established" social, economic and political groups (including the pro-labour South African News) and the Bundists paid more attention to the efforts of the "Mother Organization" overseas, Jewish trade unions died a natural death. This does not mean, however, that individual Jews did not continue to play a very important role in the Cape Labour scene. Oshman, Gillitz and Levinson were pioneers of labour organization and agitation during the following years. Although trade unions in the Transvaal were more organized at that time (according to a Cape Town Bundist) mainly because of the larger workers' population in that province, 92no one can neglect the pertinent role Jewish workers played in the organization and activities of trade unions of Cape Town. They mainly pioneered workers' unity across color and ethnic lines, and this alone makes them a vanguard in workers' organization in South African history.

As the years went by Jewish workers continued to build solidarity among workers across color and ethnic lines. In the late 1910s and early 1920s they were instrumental in organizing and educating the Black workers in the Socialist "Night schools"under the auspices of the Industrial workers of Africa and the South African Communist party. 93In the 1930s and up to 1950s, Jewish workers' leaders such as Ben Weinbren and Solly Sachs organized non-racial unions in the clothing, textile, tailoring and other sectors. 94In the 1980's, the number of Jewish worker's leaders and organizers who were instrumental in the historical development of the non-racial, progressive workers' federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), such as David Lewis, Bernie Fanaroff, Taffy Adler, and others signifies the continuation of a proud tradition of Jewish involvement in progressive, non-racial and militant trade unionism, which was developed as a pioneer force in South Africa's social fabric in the early days of Jewish immigration in the Cape Colony.

*The article was originally published in Jewish Social Studies, Vol. XLIX, No. 3.-4, Summer Fall 1987.

See for example, Gustav Saron and Louis Hotz, Jews in South Africa: A History (Oxford, 1955); Gideon Shimoni, Jews and Zionism: The South African Experience (Oxford, 1981); and Marcia Gitlin, The Vision Amazing: The Story of South African Zionism (Menorah Book Club, 1950).

See Louis Herman, "Cape Jewry before 1870," in Saron and Hotz, Jews in South Africa, p. 1.


See Israel Abrahams, "Western Province Jewry 1870-1902," in Saron and Hotz, Jews in South Africa, pp. 18-19.

Ibid., pp.21-22. .

See Louis Hotz, "Jewish Contributions of South Africa's Economic Development," in Leon Feldberg, ed.. South African Jewry - 1965 (Johannesburg, n.d.). Also biographies in SA Jewish Year Book, 1929.

Cape Colony Population Censuses, 1904.

See specially, Milton Shain, "The Jewish Population and Politics in the Cape Colony 1898 - 1910," unpublished M.A. Thesis, History Department, University of South Africa, 1978, p. 19.

See Louis Hotz," Jews who arrived 60 years ago," in Jewish Affairs, 13 (1963). See also Shain for an extensive analysis of the newcomers in terms of age, division of labour, etc. The original documents are to be found in the Alexander Papers, University of Cape Town.

See Ezra Mendelsohn, Class Struggle in the Pale - (Cambridge, 1970), p.6.


See his article "In Belostoka," in "Vpered," No. 23, 1875 as quoted in Mendelsohn, Class Struggle, p. 13.

The directories scrutinized were Juta's Cape Town Directories and the Braby's Professional Directories for the years 1895 - 1905.

See Werner Cahnman, "Role and significance of the Jewish Artisan Class," in Jewish Journal of Sociology, 7, no. 2 (December 1965).

See Michael Tabatznik, Shtaplen in Mein Lebensweg [Milestones in My Life], 2 vols. (Johannesburg, 1933).

Louis Hotz, "Jews who arrived", op. cit.

See among others. Henry Tobias, The Jewish Bund in Russia from its Origins to 1905 (Stanford, 1972); Koppel Pinson, "A Kramer, V. Medem and the Ideology of the Jewish Bund", in Jewish Social Studies, 7 (Summer, 1945); also Mendelsohn, Class Struggle. On the Bund in South Africa, see Evangelos Mantzaris, "A Short History of the Bund in South Africa," in the Bulletin of the Bund Archives of the Jewish Labour Movement (Winter 1981).

See South African Jewish Chronicle, 4 December 1903, 10 June 1904, 23 July 1904.

See Louis Herman, A History of the Jews in South Africa from Earliest Times to 1895 (Cape Town, 1935), p. 255; Vivian Bickford-Smith, The Impact of European and Asian Immigration in Cape Town History Workshop.

Milton Shain, "The Jewish Population and Politics." op.cit.

Evangelos Mantzaris, "The Labour Movement in Cape Town 1890 -1899: Craft Unions and Political Ideologies," unpublished paper, University of Durban-Westville, 1986.

Ibid., p. 12.

See the letter signed "one of the them," which appeared in The Argus, 26 October 1900.

See The Argus, 15 November 1900.

On the role of Bender, see Shain, "The Jewish Population and Politics," passim.

The Argus, 14 October 1902.

See South African News (S.A.N.), "Trade and Labour Notes," 11 October 1902; also 29 November 1902.

See Evangelos Mantzaris, "The Jewish Working Man's Clubs," unpublished paper. University of Cape Town (UCT), 1981, pp. 4-9.

On Gillitz and other prominent bundists, see Evangelos Mantzaris, "The Bund in South Africa: op.cit.

See Braby's Cape Town Directory, 1905, Juta's Cape Town Professional Directory, 1905; see also, Cl - 1906 Select Committee on Factories and Fair Wage Clause (hereafter called Select Committee), evidence by Alfred Stone, secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Tailors, himself a Jew.

A6 - '06, Select Committee, evidence by Andy Walner, a Tailor.

Ibid., evidence by Alfred Stone.

Cl - 1906, ibid., evidence by William Salter, a tailor and trade unionist.

See Rand Daily Mail, 3 October 1905.1 am indebted to Dr David Ticktin for this information.

See Cl - 1906, Select Committee, evidence by Alfred Stone.

S.A.N., 17 February 1906.

See Cl - 1906, Select Committee, evidence by Alfred Stone.

See Evangelos Mantzaris, "The First Workers' Co-operative in Cape Town: The Lock-out Cigarette," in this volume.

See S.A.N., 29 February 1906.

Ibid., 7 July 1906

Ibid., 15 September 1906.

See "South Africa Commerce, " No. 1 as quoted in S.A.N., 20 May 1907.

S.A.N., 28 May 1907.

See Argus, 12 March 1903.

See the letter of Walter Schochet to the Central Committee (hereafter called C.C) of the Bund (in Yiddish), no date, to be found in the Bund archives of the Jewish Labor Movement, New York (hereafter called Bund archives of the J L M).

S.A.N., 23 May 1903.

Schochet to C.C. of the Bund, ibid.

See Al - 1905, Select Committee, Cost of Living Commission, evidence by William Mountfold, a manager at Attwell Baking Company.

See S.A.N., 22 June 1903. On Gordon's career, see the pioneering work of David Ticktin, "The origins of the South African Labour Party 1888 -1990," unpublished Ph.D. thesis, History Department, UCT, 1973. See also consecutive issues of the Cape Times, 1903 - 1908.

S.A.N.. 22 June 1903.

See Melech Epstein, The Jew and Communism: The Story of Early Communist Voctories and Ultimate Defeats in the Jewish Community, USA, 1919-1941. (New York, 1959), pp. 214 -18.

See the letter, "Fair Play," in S.A.N., 11 August 1903.

S.A.N., 12 October 1903.

Argus. 12 March 1904.

See A6 - '06, Select Committee, evidence by "Anonymous".

See letter by "Passer-by" and "K.L." in S.A.N., 27 April 1904 and 6 May 1904, respectively.

See letters by "Pro-Zionist Socialist" and the "South African Coloured Citizens' Defense Committee" in S.A.N., 1 May 1904, respectively.

Calculations are based on Juta's and Braby's Commercial Directories of Cape Town for 1904 - 1905.

See Mantzaris, "The 1906 Tobacco-Makers' Strikes," op.cit.

S.A.N., 10 February 1906.

See Mantzaris, "The Jewish Working Man's Clubs," pp.10-12.

See The Argus, 11 April 1903 until 16 May 1903 for a detailed account of this extraordinary strike.

See Keith Lunn, ed.. Host, Immigrants and Minorities (London, 1980); Melech Epstein, Jewish Labour in the USA: an Industrial, Political and cultural History of the Jewish Labour Movement 1882 - 1914 (New York, 1968); Elias Tcherikower, The Early Jewish Labour Movement in the USA (New York, 1961).

See Argus, 18 June 1903,22 June 1903 and 22 August 1903.

Schochet to C.C. of the Bund (in Russian), no date. Bund archives of J L M.

Gillitz to C.C. of the Bund (in Yiddish), 10 January 1905, ibid.

See his speech in S.A.N., 25 May 1903.


Schochet to C.C. of the Bund (in Yiddish), 27 May 1903, Bund archives of J L M.

Gallitz to C.C. of the Bund (in Yiddish), 30 June 1903, Ibid. 46

.S. A. N.,8 June1903.


Quoted in John Backman, "Alien working class response: The Leeds Jewish Tailors 1880 - 1914," in Lunn, Host Immigrants and Minorities, p.224.n.11.

See Lewis Feuer, Marx-Engels ; Basic writing on Politics and Philosophy (New York, 1959), pp. 458 - 59.

S.A.N., 13 June 1903.

See article by du Toit in the Progressive party organ in Paarl "Voorwaarts", as quoted in S.A.N. Labour Notes, 27 June 1903.

S.A.N., 4 July 1903.

Gillitz to C.C. of the Bund (in Russian), 15 July 1903, Bund archives of J LM.

See South African Review, 3 July 1903. 7 August 1903, 21 August 1903.

S.A.N., 4 July 1903.

See Ibid., 4 July 1903, 11 July 1903.

Ibid., 25 July 1903.

Schochet to C.C. of the Bund (in Yiddish), 15 September 1903, Bund archives of J L m.

S.A.N., 11 July 1903.

See S.A.N., 19 October 1903, 24 October 1903, 5 January 1904.

See Cape Times, 12 January 1904.

See S.A.N., 5 January 1904, 12 January 1904.

See letter of Morris Diamond in S. A. Jewish Chronicle, 5 January 1904.

For George Woolends and his ideology, see especially Evangelos Mantzaris, "Class and Ethnicity: The Politics and Ideology of the Greeks in S. A.," unpublished Ph.D thesis. UCT, 1982. Also see Shain, "Jewish Population and Politics." op.cit.

See a theoretical analysis of this position in Tom dark and Leslie Clements, Trade Unions under Capitalism (Fontana, 1977), pp. 47 - 48.

S.A.N., 15 October 1904. See also Cape Times. 18 September 1904.

Schochet to C.C. of the Bund (in Russian), no date. Bund archives of J L M.

See Evangelos Mantzaris, "Radical Community: The Yiddish-speaking Branch of the International Socialist League 1918 - 1920, " in Belinda Bozzoli, ed.. Class, Community and Conflict: South African Perspectives (Cape Town, 1987), pp. 160-78; Frederick Johnstone, "The Industrial Workers of Africa on the Rand Socialist organising among Black workers on the Rand 1917 - 1918," in Belinda Bozzoli, ed. Labour, Township and Protest (Cape Town, 1979).

See Martin Nicol, "Joh'burg Hotheads and the 'Gullible Children' of Cape Town: The Transvaal Garment Workers' Union's Assault on Low Wages in the Cape Town Clothing Industry 1930 - 1931," Belinda Bozzoli, ed.. Class, Community and conflict; see also J. Lewis, "Solly Sachs and the Garment Workers' Union," in South African Labour Bulletin, 3, no.3 (1975); and Leslie Witz, "Servant of the workers: Solly Sachs and the Garment Workers' Union 1828 - 1952," unpublished M.A. thesis. University of the Witwatersrand, 1984.