Reaping the Peace Dividend

American Jewry and the Other ‘Protocols’

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Published October 06, 2010, issue of October 15, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Amid the press of our hectic, activity-filled daily lives, important milestones often go unnoticed. September 2, 2010, was one of those occasions. Its existence barely registered in my household or, I suspect, in yours. But it should have, for 100 years ago, on or about September 2, the conditions of modern life changed markedly — and for the better. On that day, the so-called “Protocols of Peace” came into being, fundamentally shaping how hundreds of thousands of Americans, most of them Jewish immigrants, came to terms with America. Putting labor unions on a safe and secure footing, the “Protocols of Peace,” an agreement between management and labor or, more precisely, between predominantly Jewish garment manufacturers and predominantly Jewish garment workers, brought stability to an industry whose volatility and bitter internecine strife had long been a matter of record. I don’t think I’m guilty of exaggeration when I say that without the “Protocols of Peace,” American Jewry as we know it might not have come into being.

The Protocols saw the light of day against the dark backdrop of one of the nation’s most prolonged and ugly labor disputes. It began in July 1910, when anywhere from 60,000 to 70,000 coat makers — “cloakmakers,” in the nomenclature of the time — walked off their jobs. “We saw a sea of people surging out of the side streets toward Fifth Avenue,” recalled Abraham Rosenberg, then president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. “In my mind, I could only picture to myself such a scene taking place when the Jews were led out of Egypt.”

Rosenberg’s biblically inspired exuberance, sure to strike just the right note with his largely Jewish constituents, soon soured as the strike dragged on throughout a long, hot summer, with no end in sight. Though management and labor, abetted by the adroit negotiating skills of two honest brokers, Louis Brandeis and Jacob Schiff, periodically sat at the same table, little came of their exchanges. Neither side would budge. Labor, for its part, insisted on a union shop, only to be rebuffed out of hand by the manufacturers, who persisted in characterizing labor unions as both a “nuisance” and a “plague.”

As talks between the two parties stalled, tempers flared and fists flew: Strikebreakers and strikers alike routinely attacked one another verbally and physically, prompting one eyewitness to suggest that the “cloak strike” had generated its very own Frankenstein. In one incident, which was widely reported by the mainstream press, a “raging, yelling mob” even laid siege to the offices of Die Wahrheit, one of the Forward’s chief competitors, smashing windows, hurling stones and wreaking havoc in protest against what it took to be that newspaper’s conciliatory tone toward management. Die Wahrheit, in turn, accused the Forward of needlessly — and recklessly — stirring the waters of discontent.

With things at a boil, the grandees of the Jewish community stepped in, determined to lower the temperature once and for all. Enlisting the legal talents of Louis Marshall, one of its most celebrated sons, they made sure that labor and management hammered out an acceptable agreement, one that ratified a 50-hour workweek, the principle of collective bargaining and the establishment of a “preferential shop,” in which the hiring of unionized workers was to be given priority over the hiring of nonunionized ones.

Although the Forward denounced the latter provision as a “scab shop with honey,” most garment center employees, their energies and their pocketbooks sapped, welcomed an end to the strike. Upon hearing the September 2 news that both sides had endorsed the “Protocols of Peace,” these employees took to the streets in celebration. “Everywhere men and women, old and young, embraced and congratulated one another on the victory,” the press reported with considerable relief. Although the manufacturers did not take to the streets, preferring to celebrate in a more private and sedate fashion, they, too, claimed victory.

Interesting on its own terms, the history of the cloakmakers’ strike and, with it, the creation of the “Protocols of Peace,” also remind us of a time when the Jewish community was a house divided, a time when tensions, born of class differences, threatened to make a mockery of the cherished notion of klal yisroel. That these divisions are now a thing of the past is surely reason enough to mark September 2 on our calendars so that come next year, this day will take its rightful place alongside other major moments in our history.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.