Union Bread, by Larry Wayne

Union Bread, by Larry Wayne

Subtitled 'Bagels, Platzels and Collah: The Story of the London Jewish Bakers Union'

Published by the Jewish Socialists Group,the Socialist History Society, in 2009, 114 pages. Paperback (SNWSO)

From the rear side cover: This book was originally written in 1984, and is published now, for the first time, twenty-five years on. It is the first study of the London Jewish Bakers' Union - and indeed the first detailed account of any of the Jewish trade unions. These were part of an important and hitherto unwritten chapter in the full story of the trade union movement - that of the ethnic or "religious" unions. Working alongside their sisters and brothers in the struggle for social justice, these unions sought also to meet the special needs of particular cultural and ethnic groups with their different traditions, dietary laws and religious practices.

Amongst these often tiny groups struggling to reconcile progress and tradition, none stand out more clearly than the Jewish bakers with their aim to provide good, cheap, wholesome bread baked in hygienic and humane working conditions by proper union labour. These issues of identity, language, and cultural difference serve today, just as in the 1930s or 1880s, as an essential "leaven" in the rising of the labour movement. The union's brave attempts at cooperative production and distribution, and its pioneering use of the union label are a part of the great history of co-operation.

The book is a story both of division and of solidarity. There were bitter divisions between Jewish and non-jewish Bakers oyer the issue of Sunday baking, and between the journeymen and the masters. But there was also great solidarity with many of the other tiny "immigrant" unions - the Mantlernakers, the Tailors, and the Tobacco-cutters, and a history of respected affiliation to the TUC. Though frequently repudiated by the mainstream of Establish­ment Jewry and sometimes underrated by the British Left, these unions all played their part fighting for justice at home and abroad in the early years of the 20th century.

The book unflinchingly depicts the appalling working conditions which persisted in the bakeries from the 1840s until World War 2, the entrenched antisemitism from both the establishment and sometimes from within the labour movement itself, the ups and downs of the pioneer co-operative bakeries, and the first attempts to unite production and distribution of a staple (bread) through the introduction of a union label.

The book marks the union's association over the years with many famous names - John Burns, Keir Hardie, Rudolf Rocker, Charlotte Despard, Eleanor Marx. It also brings to light new material on the great strike of 1913 - one of the longest and bitterest in the history of this country - and follows the union into the years after WorId War 2 when it was the only Jewish trade union in existence outside Israel.

The condition of the book is generally good. The covers have several minor scuffs and creases, and light wear along the edges and corners, but the spine is intact and all pages are clean, intact, unblemished and tightly bound.