By Lisa Phillips
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Extra resources for A Renegade Union: Interracial Organizing and Labor Radicalism
60 This dedication made the union “progressive” in 1935. 36 . Chapter 1 The union was at this point still very small, under one thousand members, most of them Jewish men working in wholesale shops and some warehouses. When it launched major organizing drives over the period 1937–41, the racial and ethnic composition of the union changed to reflect its commitment to organizing black workers who would constitute about one-third of the union’s membership (see the following chapter). As A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) found, advocating racial equality proved just as threatening to the AFL Executive Council as did supporting industrial unionism.
Some sewed the garments, others carted them to and from the warehouse, others “processed” and packed them, others stocked the clothing, still others sold them both to customers off the street and to larger retail establishments Uptown, and most of them, regardless of the job they did, worked in small shops employing forty people or less. In the 1930s, about 20 percent of the city’s manufacturing workers (about 200,000 people) made garments, while several thousand more (about 10,000) made the buttons, thread, boxes, and other items that supported the apparel industry.
Osman approached Bill Collins, the regional director of the AFL, and proposed that Local 19932 merge with them to organize in the wholesale industry regardless of the product sold. 45 Collins’s and Osman’s differences in philosophy were being played out in this period within the larger AFL in which a civil war was brewing over precisely the same debate: whom and how Organizing on New York’s Lower East Side · 31 to organize. The AFL would split into two organizations in 1938, the AFL and the new CIO, with which Osman’s union would remain affiliated until 1948.
A Renegade Union: Interracial Organizing and Labor Radicalism by Lisa Phillips