The Passover story of workers collectively rising up against their oppressors repeats itself throughout our history. In the early
20th century, we saw this theme reflected in the more than two million Eastern European Jewish immigrants fighting for union rights, protections, and solidarity. These workers, who risked so much to emigrate to their “Promised Land,” quickly found themselves working in sweatshops with low pay, excessive hours, and dangerous worksites. They used their European tradition of labor activism as a tool to organize thousands, many of them immigrant women, offering them the opportunity to change their world through the union movement. In 1909, Jewish women workers, including labor organizers Clara Lemlich and Rose Schneiderman, sparked the Uprising of 20,000 – a strike led and won by women garment workers who walked off their jobs and eventually gained thousands of union jobs. This movement ultimately achieved five-day workweeks, the recognition of the rights of women workers, and workplace safety regulations that still exist today. Today we commit to continue our tradition of labor activism and join in campaigns to make today’s United States a “Promised Land” for workers and immigrants.
-- Ann Toback, Executive Director, The Workers’ Circle
American Jewish communities today are of mixed socioeconomic class, as they have always been, and include poor and working-class Jews. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that 16 percent of Jewish adults had a household income of below $30,000, and another 15 percent earned below $50,000. When the Jewish community mobilizes its resources to effect change in the world, we should remember to count among those resources the lived experience and changemaking energy of poor and working-class Jews. It is not just that many of us were poor a century ago; many of us still are today.
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