- Ben Gold
name = Benjamin Gold
birth_date = birth date|1898|9|8|mf=y
Bessarabia, Russian Empire
death_date = death date and age|1985|07|24|1898|9|8|mf=y
North Miami Beach, Florida, United States
occupation = Labor leader
Manager, New York Furriers' Joint Board
Secretary-Treasurer, Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union
President, International Fur Workers Union (later the
International Fur and Leather Workers Union)
spouse = Sadie Algus
Benjamin Gold (
September 8, 1898Fink, Gary M., ed. "Biographical Dictionary of American Labor." Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1984. ISBN 0313228655] – July 24, 1985) was an American labor leader and communist. He was president of the International Fur and Leather Workers Unionfrom 1937 to 1955."Ben Gold." "New York Times." July 25, 1985.]
Gold was born in September 1898 to Israel and Sarah (Droll) Gold, Jews living in
Bessarabia, a province of the Russian Empire. The Golds emigrated to the United States in 1910, where 12-year-old Ben took a variety of jobs to support his family but eventually became an operator [An "operator" removes the coarse long outer hair with a knife, leaving only the soft under-fur, applies steam heat to the skin to soften it, and then shaves it in preparation for curing and tanning. The process is both tedious and delicate. See: "The Fur Trade," in Depew, Chauncey Mitchell. "1795-1895: One Hundred Years of American Commerce." New York: D.O. Haynes, 1895.] in a fur shop. In 1912, the 14-year-old joined the Furriers Union of the United States and Canada, which changed its name a year later to the International Fur Workers Union of the United States and Canada (IFWU).Foner, Philip S. "The Fur and Leather Workers Union: A Story of Dramatic Struggles and Achievements." Newark, N.J.: Nordan Press, 1950.] He attended Manhattan Preparatory Schoolat night to complete his education, intending to go to law school.
The same year he joined the Furriers Union, the 14-year-old Gold was elected assistant shop chairman by his local union during the first furriers' strike in the United States. [His election at such a young age was not uncommon in the American labor movement. He was probably the only individual in his workplace who could read and write, or had any education whatsoever.]
In 1919, at the age of 21, Gold was elected to the New York Furriers' Joint Board, a council of furriers' unions whose jurisdiction covered all of
New York City. In September of that year, he joined a group which broke away from the Socialist Party to form the Communist Labor Party.
Communism and early trade union career
Gold's adherence to
communismand trade unionism intertwined to shape much of his career as a labor leader.
In 1924, Gold was suspended from the Furriers for engaging in
dual unionismbecause of his activities on behalf of the Communist Party of America(with which the Communist Labor Party had merged in 1921). He was reinstated in 1925, and appointed manager of the New York Furriers' Joint Board.
In 1926, Gold led a massive furriers' strike in New York City. The Joint Board's contract with the city's furriers expired on
January 31, 1926. Among the union's demands were a reduction in working hours to the five-day, 40-hour work week; union inspection of shops; a 25 percent wage increase; an employer contribution of 3 percent of each workers' salary to an unemployment insurance fund; a single paid holiday; and equal division of work among employees (to eliminate favoritism). The employer's association refused to negotiate over the work week, unemployment fund or equal division of work, but agreed to seek a settlement on the other terms if the union would withdraw the other three demands.Foner, Philip S. "History of the Labor Movement in the United States. Vol. 10: The T.U.E.L., 1925-1929." New York: International Publishers, 1994. ISBN 071780691X] Led by Gold, the Joint Board was on the verge of doing so when IFWU President Oizer Shachtmanaccused the Joint Board of being infiltrated by communists. The Joint Board made its recommendation to the employers all the same, who—aware of Shachtman's opposition—promptly rejected it. The employers then instituted a lockout of 8,500 workers on February 11, 1926. ["Fur Men Lock Out 8,500 In Wage War." "New York Times." February 12, 1926.] The union responded by calling a general strike of all 12,000 fur workers in the city on February 16, 1926. ["Fur Workers Quit Jobs This Morning." "New York Times." February 16, 1926.]
The strike quickly turned violent. On
February 19, New York City police attacked a picket line of striking workers and arrested 200 workers. ["Seize Fur Strikers After Fight In Shop." "New York Times." February 19, 1926.] On March 8, Gold called out 10,000 workers for mass picketing throughout the furriers' district. Police used clubs to beat hundreds of strikers, and then drove cars at high speed into the crowd to try to break up the pickets. Only when Gold ordered the picket to break up were law enforcement authorities able to regain control; 125 workers arrested. ["Police Wield Clubs On Fur Strike Mob." "New York Times." March 9, 1926.] The police response was so brutal that a city magistrate later excoriated the police department for "undue coercion" against the striking workers. ["Fur Strike Pickets Upheld By Court." "New York Times." May 25, 1926.]
As the strike commenced, President Shachtman went into hiding, leaving Vice President
Isidor Winnickto take over as Acting President. Shachtman's disappearance significantly hindered the Joint Board's ability to stop furriers outside New York City from engaging in strikebreaking.
Certain developments seemed to indicate an early end to the strike. On
March 13, a New York state judge refused to grant the employers an injunction which would force an end to the strike. ["Court Scores Union, Denies Injunction." "New York Times." March 14, 1926.] In mid-April, the Eitingon-Schild Company, the wealthiest fur importer in the United States, broke with the employers' association to settle with the union. The company agreed to a five-day, 40-hour work week; equal division of work; no subcontracting; and a 10 percent wage increase.
But the strike continued despite this agreement. In early April, Hugh Frayne, an organizer with the
American Federation of Labor(AFL), met with a moderate faction within the Joint Board. Frayne and the moderate furriers asked AFL President William Green to personally intervene in the strike. Green and Shachtman (who had reappeared in Washington, D.C.) drew up an agreement establishing a 42-hour work week and a 10 percent wage increase.Minton, Bruce. "Men Who Lead Labor." Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969. ISBN 0836913094] But when the proposal was presented to the membership on April 15, they overwhelmingly rejected it. The AFL barred Gold from the meeting, but the membership chanted his name and nearly rioted until he was admitted to the hall. In part, the workers rejected the proposal because they had had no hand in making it. But they also rejected the proposal because it did nothing to help Jewish workers, who needed the five-day work week provision in order to protect their Shabbatobservances. ["Radicals Disrupt Fur Peace Meeting." "New York Times." April 16, 1926; "Strikers Denounce Fur Peace Terms." "New York Times." April 17, 1926; "Green Takes Hand in Fur Strike Here." "New York Times." April 18, 1926; "End of Fur Strike Foreseen by Green." "New York Times." April 19, 1926.] Shachtman accused "radicals" of leading the near-riot and coercing the workers into rejecting the settlement. Shachtman and Green tried to get the membership to adopt the proposal a second time on May 2, but it was again turned down. ["Green Moves Again to End Fur Strike." "New York Times." April 22, 1926; "Peace Move Fails to End Fur Strike." "New York Times." May 3, 1926.]
In retaliation for Shachtman and Green's attempt to end-run the local leadership, and to increase pressure on the employers, Gold asked the Joint Board to initiate a drive for the 40-hour work week which would involve every union in the city. The Board agreed, and soon the
New York State Federation of Labor, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the Teachers Union, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, and a number of other unions agreed to join the effort. ["Fur Strikers Stand On A 40-Hour Week." "New York Times." May 4, 1926; "Finish Fight Is Seen In Furriers' Strike." "New York Times." May 11, 1926; "Fur Union to Start 40-Hour Week Drive." "New York Times." May 14, 1926; "9,000 Fur Strikers Demand Short Week." "New York Times." May 20, 1926.] On May 22, 1926, a mass rally filled the newly-built Madison Square Garden, making it the largest labor meeting held in the city up to that time. Gold denounced labor leaders who did not attend, and declared that winning the 40-hour work week in New York City would lead to a nationwide movement which would gain the limitation throughout the nation.
The Joint Board faced a crisis, however. By
May 27, only $70 remained in the Joint Board's strike fund. Gold spoke at every union hall in the city within four days of the revelation of the fiscal crisis. The union asked workers and other unions to buy "40-Hour Liberty Loan Bonds" which would be redeemable in six months. By May 31, more than $100,000 had been raised. ["Fur Strikers Ask Aid of All Other Unions." "New York Times." May 19, 1926.] Even though strike relief funds were paid on June 1, the Joint Board kept up the bond drive to maintain the pressure on the employers. ["Seek to Finance Fur Strike By an Issue of Bonds." "New York Times." June 3, 1926.]
The fund-raising success of the union and the pressure from the 40-hour work week drive pushed the employers to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. The manufacturers signaled their willingness to talk on
May 26, but the union kept up its demand for the 40-hour week. ["Fur Peace Offer By Manufacturers." "New York Times." May 27, 1926; "Strikers Reject Fur Peace Terms." "New York Times." May 28, 1926.] A mediator was called in, and a new contract reached on June 11, 1926. The contract provided for the 40-hour, five-day work week; an end to overtime from December through August; time-and-a-half overtime pay for half-days from September to November; a 10 percent wage increase; 10 paid holidays; and a ban on subcontracting. ["Fur Strikers Accept New Mediation Plan." "New York Times." May 29, 1926; "Agreement Reached to End Fur Strike." "New York Times." June 11, 1926; "Fur Peace Treaty Believed Accepted." "New York Times." June 15, 1926; "Celebrate End of Fur Strike." "New York Times." June 16, 1926; "Fur Workers Returning to Shops." "New York Times." June 17, 1926.]
Gold's success in leading the 1926 furrier workers' strike was short-lived. On
July 19, 1926, President Green sent a letter to Gold demanding that the Joint Board turn over all books, papers, ledgers and materials related to the conduct of the strike. In a secret letter, Hugh Frayne assured IFWU President Shachtman that the International Union was not under investigation, and that the AFL intended only to purge the Joint Board of "radicals" and "communists." Despite his reservations, Gold turned over the Joint Board's books, and the AFL conducted its investigation throughout August and September. The goal of the investigation soon became clear: The AFL accused Gold and the other strike leaders of debauchery, wasting union money, bribery, forcing workers to join the Communist Party, coercing workers to participate in the strike, prolonging the strike on the orders of the Communist Party, and lying to the AFL investigating committee. On January 13, 1927, the AFL's final report was issued, in which the AFL demanded that the IFWU purge the Joint Board of all communists or expel the locals in question. On February 17, the New York City Central Labor Council expelled the Joint Board and its member locals; the IFWU expelled Gold and 36 other local leaders from the union on March 2.
March 17, 1927, Gold and 10 other leaders of the Joint Board were arrested for allegedly breaking into a furrier's shop near Mineola, New York, during the 1926 strike. ["Bail Is Denied to Gold in Fur Strike Attack." "New York Times." March 19, 1927; "Gold Hits Bail Denial, Blames A.F. of L. Officials for Judge's Refusal of Liberty." "New York Times." March 21, 1927; "Fur Strike Leaders Locked Up In Cells." "New York Times." April 12, 1927.] Although the AFL successfully pressured Clarence Darrowto not take Gold's case, it was unable to prevent Frank P. Walsh, former chairman of the federal Commission on Industrial Relationsand the National War Labor Board, from doing so. Walsh formed a "Committee of 100" to provide financial and moral support to Gold and the others. The AFL tried to persuade the members of the committee to resign, but none did. ["Organizes to Help Union Men In Jail." "New York Times." March 31, 1927.] At Gold's trial, which began on April 14, ["Gold and 10 Aides Go On Trial Today." "New York Times." April 14, 1927.] the prosecution repeatedly asked if Gold was a member of the Communist Party, if he knew communists, and if he endorsed the party's principles. ["Gold's Aide Denies He Raided Fur Shop." "New York Times." April 20, 1927; "Five Furnish Alibis at Furriers' Trial." "New York Times." April 21, 1927.] Walsh protested that these questions had nothing to do with the alleged crime of burglary, but the judge overruled his objections. Nevertheless, Gold and one other person were acquitted, but nine others were not. [Seven of the nine later had their sentences overturned after an appellate court ruled that the trial judge had engaged in serious misconduct during the trial. See: Foner, "History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. 10: The T.U.E.L., 1925-1929," 1994.] ["Gold Threatens Strike." "New York Times." April 29, 1927; "Nine Sentenced Who Beat Furrier." "New York Times." May 6, 1927.]
The AFL also accused Gold of allegedly bribing police officers to give the union favorable treatment during the 1926 strike. Charges were filed on
March 4, 1927. ["Fur Bribe Charges Before Mayor Friday." "New York Times." March 5, 1927; "Fur Bribe Charges in Walker's Hands." "New York Times." March 12, 1927; "To Confer on Fur Inquiry." "New York Times." March 24, 1927.] Gold's trial opened on March 30, 1927, as his trial for assault continued on Long Island and the AFL-dominated Joint Council was attempting to take over the fur unions in New York City. ["Fur Strike Inquiry Starts." "New York Times." March 31, 1927; "Fur Bribe Inquiry Will Start Today." "New York Times." April 6, 1927.] Several witnesses testified that the police received $3,800 a week from the Joint Board, ["Fur Men Say Police Got $3,800 A Week." "New York Times." April 7, 1927; "$840,000 Fur Strike Audit Was Hopeless." "New York Times." April 8, 1927.] but Gold, the Joint Board and their supporters (which included the New York State Federation of Labor) alleged an AFL-led conspiracy to frame them. ["Fur Reds Charge A.F. of L. Frame-Up." "New York Times." April 9, 1927; "Doubts That Police Took Fur Bribes." "New York Times." April 27, 1927; "Bribery of Police Denied By Gold." "New York Times." April 28, 1927.] The trial was suspended on June 3after two prosecution witnesses revealed they had perjured themselves in an attempt to implicate Gold. ["Fur Graft Inquiry Hinges on Records." "New York Times." May 5, 1927; "Sudden Revelations in Fur Bribe Inquiry." "New York Times." June 3, 1927; "Fur Graft Inquiry." "New York Times." June 4, 1927.] Gold and the other defendants were found innocent on July 21, 1927, after the court could find no evidence of any misuse of funds. ["Police Are Cleared of Fur Bribe Charge." "New York Times." July 22, 1927.] Indeed, most testimony focused on police brutality against the union and its members, significantly undermining the prosecution's claim of police favoritism.
The IFWU, meanwhile, organized a new "Joint Council" to replace the Joint Board. On
March 2, 1927, the Joint Council announced it was the true collective bargaining agent for all New York City fur workers, that it alone administered their union contracts, and that they must become members of the Joint Council or be fired by their employers. ["Fur Union Ousts Communist Faction." "New York Times." March 4, 1927; "Fur Union Pushes War On Reds." "New York Times." March 8, 1927.] Thousands of workers refused; many were fired, and some had to be forcibly removed from their place of employment in protest. Gold and the Joint Board fought the Joint Council's actions. As the dispute between the Joint Board and Joint Council continued, employers ceased to honor the 1926 contract. Soon, the work week crept as high as 70 hours over seven days. Overtime pay was eliminated, wages were cut by as much as 50 percent, and subcontracting became rampant.
Although Gold was on trial for assault and bribery, he led the Joint Board in a counter-organizing campaign against the AFL-dominated Joint Council. He personally led mass pickets and protests in the fur district of New York City in late March 1927. ["Fur Workers Riot." "New York Times." March 23, 1927; "Parley Fails to End Warfare of Unions." "New York Times." March 25, 1927.] The AFL attempted to undercut the Joint Board by releasing statements that the Gold-led union was seeking a "peace treaty" with the Joint Council, while accusing the Joint Board of coercing workers into joining. ["Won't Deal With Fur Reds." "New York Times." March 30, 1927; "Say Fur Workers Face Terror Plot." "New York Times." April 11, 1927; "Warning to Fur Workers." "New York Times." April 15, 1927.] Despite AFL assertions that workers were stampeding into the Joint Council, ["Fur Workers Rush to Join New Unions." "New York Times." April 2, 1927.] the Gold-led Joint Board had the support of the vast majority of workers in the New York City fur industry. The Joint Board's strength among the workers was so strong that on
May 3, 1927, the Fur Trimming Manufacturers' Association broke with the employers' group and signed a contract with Gold's Joint Board—reaffirming the 1926 contract and restoring working conditions to their June 1926 level. ["Fur Trimmers Sign Compact With Reds." "New York Times." May 4, 1927.]
Gold began threatening a new strike to force the employers to honor the terms of the 1926 contract and win recognition of the Joint Board again. The AFL accused the Joint Board of being a communist front, and pleaded for the public to withdraw support for it. ["Warns of 'Red' Request." "New York Times." May 28, 1927.] In confidential talks with the New York City police, the AFL conceded that Gold's union had the support of the workers and that the only way to defeat the "Red-led" union was a massive show of police force which would intimidate the strikers. Mass arrests and heavy fines, coupled with long jail terms, would bankrupt the Joint Board and terrify the protesters, AFL officials and staff told the police. The strike began on
June 3, 1927, with several thousand picketers taking to the streets and police arresting hundreds of workers. When the police proved unable to control the large number of strikers, they began isolating groups of two or three people (often women) and beating them with clubs. ["Gold Plans One-Day Fur Strike." "New York Times." June 1, 1927; "Fur Strike Called For This Morning." "New York Times." June 3, 1927; "Fur Workers Fight in 'Surprise' Strike." "New York Times." June 4, 1927; "Blow to Reds Seen in Fur Strike Move." "New York Times." June 5, 1927; "Denies Fur Strike Is Moscow Move." "New York Times." June 6, 1927; "Fur Pickets Clash With Police In Riot." "New York Times." June 7, 1927; "Police Act to Cope With Fur Pickets." "New York Times." June 9, 1927.] The extreme police response led Gold to call strike after strike, most of which were broken up by police attacks on peaceful picketers and which led to scores of arrests and jail sentences. ["Fur Strike Leader Scores Picket Call." June 12, 1927; "Gold in Attack on Woll." "New York Times." June 13, 1927; "Arrest 150 Fur Strikers." "New York Times." June 15, 1927; "163 Fur Strikers In Court." "New York Times." June 16, 1927; "105 Fur Strikers Are Sent to Jail." "New York Times." June 17, 1927; "47 More Furriers Join 105 in Jail." "New York Times." June 18, 1927; "Police Round Up 116 Fur Picketers." "New York Times." June 21, 1927; "Court Is Crowded With Fur Pickets." "New York Times." June 28, 1927; "Fur Strike Pickets Sentenced to Jail." "New York Times." June 30, 1927; "13 Fur Pickets Arrested." "New York Times." July 6, 1927; "1,000 Fur Strikers Protest to Mayor." "New York Times." July 7, 1927; "Radical Fur Strikers to Renew Picketing." "New York Times." July 8, 1927.] The AFL and its leadership again accused Gold and the Joint Board of terrorizing workers in order to force them to join the union, ["Charges Terrorism in Fur Strike Here." "New York Times." June 14, 1927; "Says Reds Threaten Furriers' Families." "New York Times." June 20, 1927.] and claimed that only the Joint Council had the support of the majority of workers. ["Fur Organization Nearer." "New York Times." June 24, 1927; "Tells of A.F.L. War Against Reds Here." "New York Times." July 19, 1927; "Accuses Moscow in Red Strikes Here." "New York Times." August 4, 1927.]
But by mid-July 1927, the AFL's claims were proven to be false. The Joint Council lost most of its support, and the Gold-led Joint Board received recognition by companies employing a majority of workers in the fur district. Most employers no longer compelled their workers to join the Joint Council, and the Joint Board's 1926 contract was re-established and enforced.
Creation of a new union
As the Joint Board sought to re-establish itself in New York City during the June-July 1927 strike, the IFWU moved against Gold in yet another way.
President Shachtman issued a call for the biennial convention of the IFWU to be held in the Executive Council chamber at the AFL Building in
Washington, D.C., on July 13, 1927. The union's constitution required the convention to be held in May, but AFL leaders (including the influential Executive Council member, Matthew Woll) demanded that Shachtman delay the meeting until such time as he could guarantee that a large majority of delegates would be pro-AFL. "As you well know, your International Union is today being financed to a great part by the reorganizing activities going on here in New York City," Woll and two others wrote Shachtman, "and that without this income your organization would be practically bankrupt." [Quoted in Foner, "History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. 10: The T.U.E.L., 1925-1929," 1994, p. 98.] The letter was thinly-veiled blackmail, and Shachtman knuckled under to it.
Nonetheless, Gold and 35 other delegates from New York City appeared at the convention and demanded to be recognized. The Credentials Committee refused to seat them, even though the Joint Board represented about 85 percent of the total IFWU membership. AFL President Green—tired of the constant conflict in New York City, believing Shachtman and the leadership of the IFWU were incompetent, and convinced that fighting the Joint Board was a waste of money—persuaded Shachtman to at least let Gold and the other Joint Board delegates speak before the convention to make their case. Gold delivered an impassioned speech in which he denounced the attacks on the political views of the Joint Board's leadership, argued that the union should be spending its money building solidarity and fighting employers, and pushed for strong internal democratic procedures in the IFWU. But despite his pleas, the convention refused to seat the delegates, and then revoked the charters of the locals which comprised the Joint Board. ["Fur Workers Eject New York Radicals." "New York Times." June 15, 1927.]
These efforts to undercut Gold and the Joint Board also failed. Several IFWU locals outside New York City passed resolutions criticizing the International Union's actions, and worker support for the Joint Council dwindled even further. On
July 6, 1928, the AFL notified the Joint Council that it was withdrawing all staff and monetary support for the rump union. When the news leaked to the leaders of other needle trade unions, President Green was forced to publicly reiterate the AFL's support for the non-communist union. But the new flow of funds and staff did nothing to resuscitate the Joint Council. Worse, from the AFL's perspective, the Joint Board then called several strikes in July 1928 and won major wage increases from the employers.
In the summer and fall of 1928, Gold began building support for a new international union of fur workers. He met with the leaders of eight non-New York City fur workers' locals as well as a left-wing group of fur workers who were attempting to disaffiliate from what remained of the Joint Council. Included in the new union were 15,000 dressmakers and other garment workers comprising the left wing of the
International Ladies Garment Workers Union. The new Needle Trades Workers Industrial Unionwas formed on January 1, 1929. [Draper, Theodore. "American Communism and Soviet Russia." Reprint ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0765805316] Louis Hymanwas elected President,"Hyman Heads New Union." "New York Times." January 3, 1929.] and Ben Gold was elected Secretary-Treasurer. The thirty-nine member General Executive Board included African Americans, Russians, Poles, Greeks, women and even a youth delegate.
Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union
As chief strategist as well as secretary-treasurer for the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union (NTWIU), Ben Gold pursued an aggressive and militant policy of collective bargaining. The formation of the union was inauspicious: Within the year the
Great Depressionbegan, leading to thousands of layoffs in the fur industry and strong downward pressure on wages. But even as early as February 1929, as the economy slid toward depression, Hyman and Gold were announcing a series of strikes designed to raise wages. [Department of Labor Research. Rand School of Social Science. "The American Labor Year Book, 1916-1932. Vol. 13: 1932." New York: Rand School of Social Science, 1932.] The new union's first strike occurred in the garment industry in February 1929. ["Communists Call A Garment Strike." "New York Times." February 7, 1929; "221 Pickets Seized As Reds Aid Strike." "New York Times." February 12, 1929.] A second strike in the New York City's fur industry occurred in June 1929, as NTWIU sought to organize AFL-affiliated locals of fur workers into the breakaway union. ["Red Fur Workers Call For A Strike." "New York Times." June 5, 1929; "Ask Untermyer to Aid in Fur Row." "New York Times." June 6, 1929; "Red Union Invites Inquiry." "New York Times." June 7, 1929; "Few Leave Benches in Reds' Fur Strike." "New York Times." June 20, 1929; "Fur Strikers Seek to Rejoin the Union." "New York Times." June 21, 1929; "Ready to Supply Furriers." "New York Times." June 22, 1929.] With nearly all the city's fur workers already in the NTWIU,"Fur Workers Defy Green, Accept Reds." "New York Times." June 21, 1935.] however, Gold made little headway against the anti-communist AFL locals. Meanwhile, press reports implied that most of the city's fur workers belonged to the AFL, inverting the true situation. On occasion, violence broke out between the two groups. ["Police Balk Reds' Near Riot in 6th Av." "New York Times." January 20, 1932.] The AFL also sought to strip the NTWIU's New York City locals of the right to use the phrase "fur workers" in their name. ["Fur Union Seeks 'Left Wing' Curb." "New York Times." February 4, 1932.]
As the internecine union struggles continued, Gold led strikes in both the garment and fur industries. Sporadic violence also broke out during these events. ["20,000 Go On Strike In Dress Industry." "New York Times." February 17, 1932.] More than 3,500 union members struck for shorter working hours and higher wages on
June 17, 1931, collective bargaining goals which were considered madness by nearly all labor leaders. Yet, Gold won an increase in working hours, [During the Great Depression, employers often cut working hours to 30, 20 and even 15 hours a week, leading to significant reductions in worker pay. See: Kennedy, David M. "Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945." New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0195144031] leading to a guaranteed 40-hour work week well as increased pay—an achievement important in the establishment of the standard American work week. [Foner, Philip S. and Roediger, David R. "Our Own Time: A History of American Labor and the Working Day." New ed. New York: Verso, 1997. ISBN 0860919633] In August 1932, Gold won yet another agreement retaining the union's work-week and pay goals in the fur industry despite the worsening depression. ["Fur Workers Vote to Call Off Strike." "New York Times." August 20, 1932.] The union also launched an assault on sweatshopconditions in the garment industry in early 1933, an effort the AFL-led Joint Council labeled communistic. ["2,000 Reds Parade in Garment District." "New York Times." February 2, 1933; "A.F.L. Fur Union Scored in Report." "New York Times." August 2, 1933.]
Battles with the AFL-led Joint Council continued to occupy much of Gold's time. The stridently anti-communist labor leader, Matthew Woll, had been placed in charge of a three-person committee of AFL Executive Council members charged with assisting the IFWU and breaking the NTWIU. Woll and the two other council members funneled funds and staff into the IFWU and assisted the IFWU in strategizing ways to win back the loyalty of the majority of fur workers in New York City. ["Fur Workers Open War on 'Red Reign'." "New York Times." May 17, 1933; "Fur Trade Plans War Against Reds." "New York Times." May 24, 1933.] Violence broke out when AFL supporters stormed NTWIU offices in April 1933. ["One Slain, 16 Hurt As Thugs Raid Union." "New York Times." April 25, 1933.] Gold, leading the fur workers' division of the NTWIU, led a series of counter-protests and marches through the fur district in May and June 1933. ["Red Fur Workers Routed." "New York Times." May 25, 1933; "Reds Kept In Order." "New York Times." May 30, 1933; "3,000 Fur Workers Protest." "New York Times." June 1, 1933; "Detective Hurt In Strike." "New York Times." June 14, 1933.] The AFL also continued to work closely with the New York City police, providing law enforcement officials with information on dates, times and places Gold's union would strike or protest and pushing hard for a strong police response to intimidate the communist-led union. ["Fur Union Accused of Coercing Labor." "New York Times." August 23, 1933.] In July, police clashed repeatedly with marching workers led personally by Gold, leading to a number of arrests and hundreds of worker injuries. In one case, police on horseback charged at a full gallop into a peaceful march on
July 5, 1933. ["7 Seized In Fur Rows." "New York Times." July 6, 1933; "6 Hurt As Police Battle 500 Reds." "New York Times." July 6, 1933; "Police Acts Cited in Fur Inquiry." "New York Times." July 8, 1933.] Despite the police violence and opposition of the AFL, the "dynamic leadership of Communist Ben Gold" helped the fur workers in 1933 to salvage a 35-hour work week and win an increase in pay from $38 to $50 a week. ["Learning." "Time." July 10, 1933.]
When the Communist Party formed the
Trade Union Unity Leaguein late August 1929, Gold affiliated the NTWIU with the umbrella labor group. The League was shuttered in 1935 when the Communist Party abandoned its strategy of dual unionismand "boring from within" in favor of the Popular Front. [Devinatz, Victor G. "Trade Unions As Instruments of Social Change: Does Ideology Matter?" " WorkingUSA." 10:4 (January 2007); Devinatz, Victor G. "A Reevaluation of the Trade Union Unity League, 1929-1934." "Science & Society." 71:11 (November 2007); Johanningsmeier Edward P. "The Trade Union Unity League: American Communists and the Transition to Industrial Unionism: 1928-1934." "Labor History." 42:2 (May 2001).]
Gold also worked hard to integrate the NTWIU. While other unions actively discriminated against
African Americansand other minorities or ignored the issue of race,Zieger, Robert. "The CIO, 1935-1955." Reprint ed. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. ISBN 0807846309] Gold encouraged a bottom-up attack on racism. He actively involved members in "trials" of union members who had used racist language or engaged in discriminatory behavior, and his efforts were largely successful in weeding racism out of the union. [Solomon, Mark. "The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-36." Paperback ed. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. ISBN 1578060958]
Meanwhile, Gold also was heavily involved in writing the "Fur Code." The
National Industrial Recovery Act, enacted on June 16, 1933, established the National Recovery Administrationand authorized the agency to establish voluntary agreements within each industry regulating working hours, pay rates, and prices. [Schlesinger, Arthur M. "The Age of Roosevelt: The Coming of the New Deal: 1933-1935." Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1958. ISBN 0618340866] Hundreds of industry codes were created, including a code governing the fur industry. Gold was appointed to the panel crafting the Fur Industry Code, and on July 21, 1933, the panel established a preliminary "blanket code" providing a 40-hour week and a minimum wage of $14 a week (about $216 a week in 2008 inflation-adjusted dollars). ["Fur Code Adjusts Work to Seasons." "New York Times." July 22, 1933.]
In late 1933, Gold served a brief prison sentence after having been arrested for participating in a hunger march in
Wilmington, Delaware. Hunger marches had been occurring throughout the United States since 1931.Edsforth, Ronald. "The New Deal: America's Response to the Great Depression." New ed. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. ISBN 1577181433] Catholic social activist Dorothy Dayherself encouraged Gold to participate in a march from New York City to Washington, D.C. [Day, Dorothy. " House of Hospitality." New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939.] Gold was one of 315 marchers who left New York City on November 29, 1932, bound for Washington. The marchers reached Wilmington on December 2, their number having increased by several hundred. Their permit to march in the city was withdrawn. That night, the police herded most of the marchers into a warehouse downtown, but Gold, most of the women and most of the marchers from New England stayed in a rented church two blocks away. That night, the marchers at the church were refused permission to hold a meeting in the street, so they held it on the church steps. When the police tried to stop the meeting, the marchers resisted. The police began beating the people listening to the speaker, and the marchers fled into the church and barricaded the doors. The police fired tear gasthrough the windows of the building, then broke down the doors and entered the building with weapons drawn. The marchers resisted by hurling chairs at the police, but were beaten and gassed repeatedly until subdued. Twenty-three marchers, including Gold, were arrested. Four police and three marchers were hospitalized. Gold was convicted of incitement to riot, and served a brief prison term in Wilmington in late 1933 and early 1934. ["Tear Gas Quells Wilmington Riot." "New York Times." December 3, 1932; "Benjamin Gold Free; 2,000 Welcome Red Leader on Return From Wilmington Jail." "New York Times." February 24, 1934.] [For a first-hand account, see: [http://www.weisbord.org/ThreeOne.htm Daly, Sidney. "The Washington Hunger March of 1932." "Class Struggle." 3:1 (January 1933).] ] Gold participated in additional hunger marches in 1933 and 1934, and was arrested again in Albany, New York, in late October 1934. ["Reds Visit Lehman to Protest On Riot." "New York Times." November 2, 1934.]
Gold's battles with the AFL also continued in 1934. Joint Board and Joint Council supporters fought with fists, bricks and clubs in January 1934. ["Rival Fur Groups Battle in 7th Av." "New York Times." January 17, 1934.] But the AFL group continued to shrink as the Great Depression worsened, and IFWU leaders feared for the survival of their union. To forestall any peace talks, AFL President Green launched a major initiative to drive communists and communist sympathizers out of all AFL-affiliated local, national and international unions. ["Labor Opens War on Reds in Ranks." "New York Times." August 19, 1934; "Green Urges Laws to Restrict Reds." "New York Times." December 18, 1934.] AFL accusations against Gold and his union also continued. ["Fur Union Charges Coercion." "New York Times." September 1, 1934.]
In 1934 and 1935, Gold led the garment and fur workers in two successful strikes which propelled his union into a merger with the IFWU. The first was week-long strike by 4,000 fur workers in late August 1934, which led to additional wage increases and stricter enforcement of contract provisions. ["Fur Workers' Strike Puzzles Mediators." "New York Times." August 30, 1934; "Fur Strike Settle, Union Is Recognized." "New York Times." September 5, 1934.] The second was a strike by 10,000 garment workers in April 1935 which led to a contract guaranteeing a minimum weekly wage. ["10,000 End Dispute Over Dress Wages." "New York Times." April 14, 1935.]
Merger with IFWU
The success of the NTWIU and particularly Gold's aggressive leadership of the union's fur workers division significantly undermined support for the AFL-supported IFWU. Gold asserted in August 1934 that the IFWU was in financial trouble and had too few members to ensure viability, but the IFWU denied his claims. ["Union Statement Denied." "New York Times." September 8, 1934.] IFWU President Pietro Lucchi, however, knew that Gold was correct. In May 1935, his union near bankruptcy, he approached
David Dubinsky, President of the ILGWU, for an infusion of funds. Dubinsky turned him down. Lucchi next appealed to AFL President Green, who appointed a committee composed of Woll, Dubinsky, and Sidney Hillman(President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers) to consider a fund-raising effort. But the committee would not meet until June 18, and by then the union would have collapsed. Given Green's disinclination to support the IFWU in 1927, some scholars conclude that Green purposefully delayed the committee meeting in order to let the IFWU collapse.
At the IFWU convention in
Toronto, Canada, the week of May 19, 1935, delegates voted to establish a Unity Committee whose charge was to seek and win immediate merger with the NTWIU. ["Seeks Peace in Fur Industry." "New York Times." May 26, 1935.] The committee met on May 27, 1935, with its NTWIU counterparts, and quickly hammered out a merger agreement.
The merger convention opened on
June 20, 1935, at the Manhattan Opera House. In a final attempt to stall merger, on June 19Green announced that any union which admitted communists as members would have its charter pulled by the AFL Executive Council. ["Green Opens War on Reds in Unions." "New York Times." June 20, 1935.] The merger proceeded despite Green's threat. More than 3,000 delegates from the NTWIU met on an upper floor, and about 2,500 delegates (nearly all the union's members) from the IFWU met on the ground floor. The same speakers addressed both conventions, although by prior agreement Gold was not permitted to speak. When Gold appeared about an hour after the two conventions opened, he was greeted with chants of "We want Gold!", "Let Gold speak!", and "Gold! Gold! Gold!" Gold sat impassive in his seat while he received a standing ovation, and it was clear that a wide majority of the members of both conventions supported him. On June 21, Lucchi and the executive board of the merged organization met in Long Island City, Queens, and reinstated Gold as a member in good standing of the IFWU. ["Fur Workers Weigh Reinstating Gold." "New York Times." June 22, 1935.]
Under an agreement reached by the merger conventions, leadership elections for the New York City locals of the merged IFWU took place 40 days later. Gold was elected to his old position of business manager of the Joint Council on
August 10, 1935, defeating a candidate put forth by the AFL by a greater than 2-to-1 majority. ["Victory for Left Wing." "New York Times." August 11, 1935.]
Business manager once again
Gold was business manager of the New York City Joint Council for two years. Since the IFWU had just held its biennial convention in May 1935, new elections for officers of the international union could not be held until 1937. So, despite overwhelming member support, Gold had to wait to run for president of the IFWU. He was not idle, however. Relations between various New York City locals were acrimonious after years of inter-union warfare, many employers were openly ignoring provisions of the contract because the union's attention was elsewhere, and
organized crimehad infiltrated many union shops.
The contracts controlled by the Joint Council expired on
February 1, 1936. Gold faced a difficult task: In just six months, he had to rebuild the locals which had remained with the IFWU while preparing the union for a strike in the depths of a depression. A strike was authorized on January 18, but Gold quickly accepted the services of an impartial mediator to assist with the negotiations. ["Furriers Vote Strike." "New York Times." January 18, 1936; "Seeks Peace in Fur Trade." "New York Times." January 30, 1936.] In the final few days of January, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardiaintervened and heard presentations from both sides. ["Strike Conferences Enter the 'Last Day'." "New York Times." January 31, 1936.] The intervention by government officials worked, and a new contract reached on February 1. ["Accord Is Reached in the Fur Industry." "New York Times." February 2, 1936.]
Gold also led a number of organizing drives among fur and garment workers in New York City, so that by May 1937 the union had nearly 35,000 members.Galenson, Walter. "The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement." Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960. ISBN 0674131509] Continuing a campaign he began in 1927, Gold also purged the union's locals of organized crime influence. ["Gurrah Is Named As Racket Leader." "New York Times." October 30, 1936; "Lepke and Gurrah Get 2-Year Terms." "New York Times." November 13, 1936; Brodkin, Karen. "How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America." New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999. ISBN 081352590X]
November 6, 1933, Gold and about 80 other individuals were indicted for violations of federal antitrust law. Former IFWU presidents Morris Kaufman and Pietro Lucchi, the IFWU itself, several of IFWU locals and local leaders, as well as 68 employers and several organized crime figures were also included in the indictment. ["80 Indicted Here in Huge Fur 'Trust'." "New York Times." November 7, 1933.] The indictment alleged that Louis "Lepke" Buchalter and Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro—co-founders of the infamous Murder, Inc.murder-for-hire organization—formed a group of employers known as the "Fur Dressers Factor Corporation" to fix prices and eliminate competition.Block, Alan A. "East Side-West Side: Organizing Crime in New York 1930-1950." Paperback ed. New York: Transaction Publishers, 1983. ISBN 0878559310; Kavieff, Paul R. "The Life and Times of Lepke Buchalter: America's Most Ruthless Labor Racketeer." Ft. Lee, N.J.: Barricade Books, 2006. ISBN 1569802912; Fried, Albert. "The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America." New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. ISBN 0231096836; Horne, Gerald. "Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930-1950: Moguls, Mobsters." Paperback ed. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2001. ISBN 0292731388.] The employers allegedly paid higher wages to unions which agreed to participate in the scheme by striking uncooperative businesses, and Buchalter and Shapiro provided the muscle to force other furriers out of the business (which included bombings, acid throwing, kidnapping, arson and more).
After several defendants were granted their own separate trials and charges against others dropped, the court reached its verdict on
December 16, 1937. Gold was convicted of violating the Sherman Antitrust Actand sentenced to one year in prison. It was the first conviction of a labor union official or labor union under the Sherman Act."Six Are Convicted in Fur Racket Case." "New York Times." December 17, 1937.] After the convictions, the government undertook additional investigations against the IFWU and now-defunct NTWIU for violations of the Sherman Act. ["U.S. Sifts Charge Fur Union Bars Collective Pact." "New York Times." August 11, 1938.]
But Gold and his union co-defendants appealed their convictions, and on
December 19, 1938, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned the convictions of all but three union officials. Gold's conviction was among those voided. ["Unions Win Trust Case." "New York Times." December 20, 1938.]
The government then reinstated charges in February 1940 against Gold, the NTWIU and 28 other labor leaders based on allegations not pursued in 1933. ["U.S. Starts Fur Trial On Old Amen Charges." "New York Times." February 21, 1940.] Charges against six labor leaders were dropped on
March 20, 1940, and four others but Gold and 17 others were tried. ["Two Are Acquitted in Fur Racket Case." "New York Times." March 21, 1940; "Four Are Cleared in Fur Union Trial." "New York Times." March 16, 1940.] Despite one witness recanting most of his accusatory testimony on the witness stand, ["Accuser of Gold Recants in Court." "New York Times." March 14, 1940.] Gold and IFWU Vice President Irving Potashwere convicted of these additional antitrust charges. ["Gold and 10 Others Guilty in Fur Case." "New York Times." April 14, 1940; "Gold and Potash Get 1-Year Terms." "New York Times." April 20, 1940.] As the union raised a $100,000 defense fund for Gold and Potash, ["Union to Levy Appeal Tax." "New York Times." May 10, 1940; "$100,000 for Union Appeal." "New York Times." May 23, 1940.] the government brought a fresh set of charges against Gold on May 17, 1940, accusing him of jury tamperingduring his first trial. ["Fur Union Leaders Indicted by U.S." "New York Times." May 15, 1940; "New Trial for Gold Is Set for June 17." "New York Times." May 18, 1940; "Coercion and Bribes Alleged in Fur Case." "New York Times." June 18, 1940; "Ben Gold Jury Locked Up." "New York Times." June 28, 1940; "Government Rests Case Against Gold." "New York Times." July 11, 1940.] As the jury deliberated Gold's fate, a group of employers sued Gold and the NTWIU for $3 million in damages under the Clayton Antitrust Act, ["Suit for $3,000,000 Charges Fur Plot." "New York Times." June 11, 1947.] and accusations of witness tamperingwere levied against Gold. ["Furrier Charges Threat." "New York Times." June 19, 1940.]
mistrialoccurred in the Gold jury tampering case on June 28, 1940, after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. ["Mistrial in Fur Case." "New York Times." June 29, 1940.]
Gold's second jury tampering trial (which now included the witness tampering charge) began on
July 1, 1940. ["3rd Gold Trial On Today." "New York Times." July 2, 1940; "Government Rests Case Against Gold." "New York Times." July 11, 1940.] Gold and his three co-defendants were acquitted on July 11, 1940. ["Gold Is Acquitted In Jury Plot Trial." "New York Times." July 12, 1940.]
Meanwhile, Gold's appeal on the second set of Sherman Antitrust Act violations was winding its way through the courts. ["Union Men's Appeal Heard." "New York Times." October 10, 1940.] On
May 27, 1940, the Supreme Court of the United Statesissued its ruling in " Apex Hosiery Co. v. Leader" 310 U.S. 469 (1940). In that case, a union had engaged in a sit-down strike which shuttered a hosiery company's operations and prevented it from fulfilling its interstate contracts. The union was indicted and convicted for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. But the Supreme Court disagreed:
The mere fact that strikes or agreements not to work, entered into by laborers to compel employers to yield to their demands, may restrict the power of such employers to compete in the market with those not subject to such demands does not bring the agreement within the condemnation of the Sherman Act. ["Apex Hosiery Co. v. Leader," 310 U.S. 469, 503.]Following the reasoning laid down by the Supreme Court in "Apex Hosiery," the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit once more voided the antitrust convictions imposed on Gold and the others in the case. ["Convictions Voided in Fur Racket Case." "New York Times." November 5, 1940.] The government declined to prosecute Gold further.
Gold was elected president of the International Fur Workers Union in May 1937. Immediately after his election, Gold disaffiliated the IFWU from the American Federation of Labor and joined the
Congress of Industrial Organizations(CIO). ["Fur Union of 30,000 Joins C.I.O." "New York Times." May 22, 1937; "Fur Workers Go to C. I. O." "Associated Press." May 23, 1937.] The change in affiliation was driven almost solely by Gold, and shocked the members of the union. He was elected to the CIO executive council."'The Time Has Come'." "Time." May 26, 1947.]
CIO affiliation did not, however, protect the IFWU or Gold from political attacks.
John L. Lewis, then the president of the CIO, was a strong anti-communist. In late January 1938, Lewis publicly announced that he would pursue a policy barring communists from membership in the CIO. Moderates within the IFWU denounced Gold for using "Hitler methods" to retain power, and pleaded with Lewis to intervene. ["Reds Not Excluded by C.I.o. Units Here." "New York Times." February 3, 1938; "Fur Union Faction Appeals to Lewis." "New York Times." July 29, 1938.] In May 1938, the U.S. House of Representatives established the House Committee Investigating Un-American Activities as a successor to the Special Committee on Un-American Activities (which had spent the last three years investigating Nazi Germany's attempts to influence American public opinion).Goodman, Walter. "The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities." New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.] Rep. Martin Dies, Jr.was named chair of the committee, and charged with continuing the investigations into Nazi propaganda and initiating new investigations into the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. When committee members voiced support for the Klan and ignored the Nazi threat, Dies concentrated the committee's work on communist infiltration of the labor movement. [Kennedy, David M. "Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945." New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0195144031] Dies eagerly permitted the AFL time before the committee to denounce the CIO and the IFWU as riddled with communists and communist sympathizers—accusations CIO representatives called "nonsense" and Gold denounced as redbaiting. ["Communists Rule the C.I.O., Frey of A.F.L. Testifies." "New York Times." August 14, 1938; "Testimony of Frey Called 'Nonsense'." "New York Times." August 14, 1938.]
Gold continued to pursue an aggressive collective bargaining policy until the beginning of
World War II. Within weeks of taking over as president, he authorized a sympathy strikeof 13,000 fur workers in New York City to support striking fur workers in Canada. ["13,000 Furriers Authorize a Stoppage In Sympathy Movement to Aid Strikers." "New York Times." June 5, 1937.] The protests, rallies and spot strikes continued as Gold pushed to organize the remaining fur shops in New York City. Signed contracts were reached with newly-organized employers in July 1937. ["Fur Union Seeks $100,000." "New York Times." June 10, 1937; "Fur Workers in Protest." "New York Times." June 29, 1937; "Fur Union Wins Contract." "New York Times." July 7, 1937.]
Employers, however, often fought back, and in the spring of 1938 a lengthy strike nearly ended in defeat for the union. The U.S. economy had risen to its pre-depression levels by the spring of 1937, but a strong recession began in late summer (triggered in part by large reductions in federal spending, higher bank reserve requirements, and reductions in disposable income brought about by implementation of the Social Security Act). [Meltzer, Allan H. "History of the Federal Reserve: 1913-1951, Vol. 1." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. ISBN 0226520005; Roose, Kenneth D. "The Recession of 1937-38." "Journal of Political Economy." June 1948; Brinkley, Alan. "The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War." Paperback ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. ISBN 0679753141; Temin, Peter. "Lessons from the Great Depression." Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1991. ISBN 0262700441; Eggertsson, Gauti B. and Pugsley, Banjamin. "The Mistake of 1937: A General Equilibrium Analysis." "CFS Working Papers." November 2006.] Between August 1937 and May 1938, industrial production fell by 30 percent, the economy contracted by more than 6 percent, and unemployment rose from 5 million to over 9 million. [McJimsey, George T., ed. "Documentary History of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidency: Vol. 26: FDR's Response to Recession, 1937-1938." Bethesda, Md.: University Publications of America, 2003.] The steep recession led many employers to resist union demands. On
February 11, 1938] , employers locked out 4,000 fur workers as the IFWU contracts expired. ["Lockout of 4,000 Fur Workers Due Today." "New York Times." February 11, 1938.] Gold hesitated calling a strike for seven weeks, seeking peace with the manufacturers, but finally called all fur workers out in a general strike on March 30. ["Fur Strike Is Voted for 15,000 March 30." "New York Times." March 18, 1938; "15,000 Fur Workers Called on Strike." "New York Times." March 31, 1938.] Hoping for a quick end to the strike and alarmed by the lockout, Gold initially kept pickets and rallies small. But locked out workers attacked a fur dealer on April 1, and police retaliated against the pickets with clubs and beatings. ["Fur Strike Marked By First Violence." "New York Times." April 2, 1938.] Infuriated, Gold ordered all the union's members out into the streets. The police responded by attempting to use violence to intimidate the strikers, and the union responded in kind. For seven weeks, the fur district in New York City was in a state of near-riot. The union filed unfair labor practice charges against the employers, and the NLRB moved on May 6to investigate. ["Labor Board Acts in Fur Strike." "New York Times." May 7, 1938.] Mass picketing and mass rallies continued, and the employers asked Mayor LaGuardia and the police to end the strike. ["City Asked to Curb Fur Strike." "New York Times." May 10, 1938; "10,000 Fur Strikers Jam Street in Rally." "New York Times." May 12, 1938.] On May 13, the parties agreed to submit their disputes to Dr. Paul Abelson, [ [http://www.americanjewisharchives.org/aja/FindingAids/abelson.htm An Inventory to the Paul Abelson Papers. Manuscript Collection No. 4. Jacob Rader Marcus Center. American Jewish Archives.] ] an impartial arbitrator with the National Recovery Administration. Thirteen days later, Dr. Abelson announced a tentative agreement, and IFWU members ratified the contract on May 26. ["Join In Fur Peace Move." "New York Times." May 14, 1938; "Fur Strikers Get Settlement Plan." "New York Times." May 26, 1938; "Fur Strike Ended With 3-Year Pact." May 27, 1938.] Although Gold publicly characterized the strike as a victory for the union, ["Fur Workers Cite Gains." "New York Times." June 25, 1938.] he privately conceded that the strike had been a very near thing.
Determined to expand the union, Gold merged the IFWU with the
National Leather Workers' Association(NLWA). The IFWU had organized leather workers over the years but never concertedly. The NLWA was formed by four local unions in Massachusettsin 1933, and affiliated with the CIO in 1937. By 1939, however, the NLWA had only 14 locals (half of which actually functioned) and only 5,000 dues-paying members.International Fur and Leather Workers Union of the United States and Canada. "Proceedings of the Convention." Washington, D.C.: International Fur and Leather Workers Union of the United States and Canada, 1942.] The two unions agreed to merge in March 1939.Stepan-Morris, Judith and Zeitlin, Maurice. "Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions." New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0521792126] The NLWA approved the merger during its 5th National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, April 29 to May 2, and the IFWU approved the merger at its annual convention in New York City on May 14. Ben Gold was elected the president of the newly amalgamated union, which adopted "International Fur and Leather Workers Union of the United States and Canada" (IFLWU)as its new name. ["Gold Heads C.I.O. Unit." "New York Times." May 15, 1939.] The new union maintained distinctly separate fur and leather divisions. Each division had its own executive board and conventions and maintained its own finances. But the amalgamated union was nonetheless effective: Within a year, the union had organized 25,000 new workers into 42 new locals.
Gold was a staunch supporter of CIO President John L. Lewis. In 1940, when other left-wing unions challenged Lewis' handling of CIO finances, Gold defended him. He also applauded Lewis' refusal to endorse
Franklin D. Rooseveltin the 1940 presidential election, but unlike Lewis did not endorse Wendell Wilkieor MontanaSenator Burton K. Wheeler(whom Lewis supported as a third party candidate). [Dubofsky, Warren and Van Tine, Warren. "John L. Lewis: A Biography." Reprint ed. Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1992. ISBN 081290673X; Raskin, A.H. "J.L. Lewis Backs Bolt of 13 Unions From State C.I.O. on Third Term." "New York Times." September 22, 1940; "Fur Union Not Backing Lewis." "New York Times." November 2, 1940.]
After the United States entered
World War II, Gold proved an ardent patriot. As war approached, in November 1941, he led large rallies in New York City urging union members to buy war bonds. ["Fur Trade Holds Rally for Defense." "New York Times." November 11, 1941.] When the CIO advocated a no-strike pledge for all American unions, Gold wholeheartedly and strongly supported the pledge. He readily agreed to the seven-day work week after the United States declared war on Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan, sent aid to the Republic of China, ["Grateful for China Aid." "New York Times." January 24, 1943.] and implemented a campaign to donate 50,000 fur-lined vests to British sailors as part of the war effort. ["Backs 7-Day Work Week." "New York Times." December 18, 1941; "Mayor Stitches A Seaman's Vest." "New York Times." July 29, 1942; "Hunters Asked for Fur." "New York Times." October 23, 1942; "Fur-Lined Vests Given to British Seamen." "New York Times." November 3, 1942.]
As the war came to an end, however, Gold began to press for major salary and benefit increases for IFLWU members. Refusing to break the union's no-strike pledge, Gold submitted the union's demands to the
National War Labor Boardin February 1944. ["Fur Workers Plan to Appeal to WLB." "New York Times." February 15, 1944.] The War Labor Board subsequently granted the union a minimal wage rise in line with its "Little Steel Formula," but granted it substantial fringe benefit increases and ordered employers to end seasonal layoffs. ["WLB Challenged By Fur Industry." "New York Times." April 29, 1944; "10,000 Furriers Hail WLB Panel Report Providing End for Seasonal Discharges." "New York Times." July 25, 1944.] The Board's order was vigorously opposed by employers, and Gold used the dispute as leverage to win a new collective bargaining agreement. The new agreement did not without a price, however, as Gold was forced to threaten to break his union's war-time pledge not to strike. ["Fur Trade Argues 'Right to Fire' Case." "New York Times." October 29, 1944; "Ask Fur Men to Obey WLB." "New York Times." November 29, 1944; "Fur Employers Vote to Fight Any Strike." "New York Times." December 12, 1944; "Furriers Approve Pact." "New York Times." May 23, 1945; "One Day Work Stoppage Voted." "New York Times." November 13, 1945.]
Gold also strongly advocated a third political party which would more strongly support unions and working-class Americans. Gold first backed a third-party candidate in 1947 when he asked former Vice President
Henry A. Wallaceto form a third party. ["Gold Asks 3d Party Be Led By Wallace." "New York Times." November 19, 1947.] In 1948, Soviet leaders ordered American communists to support the third party candidacy of Wallace against incumbent President Harry S. Truman, [Starobin, Joseph R. "American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1957." Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972. ISBN 0674022750; Shannon, David. "The Decline of American Communism: A History of the Communist Party Since 1945." New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1959; Klehr, Harvey and Haynes, John Earl. "The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself." New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992. ISBN 080573855X.] and Gold actively supported Wallace ["Fur Union Leaders Out for Wallace." "New York Times." May 17, 1948; "Union's Militancy Hailed By Taylor." "New York Times." May 18, 1948; "Fur Workers' Group Backs 3d Party." "New York Times." May 20, 1948; "Union Heads Re-Elected." "New York Times."May 23, 1948.] despite the CIO's refusal to do so. [Stark, Louis. "CIO's Board Votes Against 3d Party, For Aid Plan." January 23, 1948.]
Gold was a strong supporter of statehood for
Israel. He was president of the Jewish Labor Committeein 1948. [Hahn, Peter L. "The Influence of Organized Labor on U.S. Policy Toward Israel, 1945-1967." In "Empire and Revolution: The United States and the Third World Since 1945." Peter L. Hahn and Mary Ann Heiss, eds. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 2000. ISBN 0814208568] In March 1948, Gold led a parade of 10,000 people in a parade and rally to support the emerging Jewish state. ["10,000 Communists and Left-Wing Labor Leaders Demonstrate For Israel." "New York Times." March 12, 1948; Feinberg, Alexander. "10,000 in Protest on Palestine Here." "New York Times." March 12, 1948.] When American recognition of Israel drew protests in April 1948, Gold defended the Truman administration's actions. ["30,000 Here Hold Palestine Rally." "New York Times." April 15, 1948.]
Gold was an active member in the Communist Party, and rose to important positions within its ranks by the late 1940s. He attended the
Lenin Institutein Moscow(an institute of higher education which taught the works of Vladimir Lenin) for a short time during the winter of 1930-1931, and was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1936 to 1948."Gold v. United States," 237 F.2d 764 (1956).] Cammer, Harold. "Taft-Hartley and the International Fur and Leather Workers Union." In "The Cold War Against Labor." Ann Fagan Ginger and David Christiano, eds. Berkeley, Calif.: Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, 1987. ISBN 0913876208] ["Ex-Red Accused Gold." "Associated Press." February 25, 1954.] His commitment to the party was occasionally tested, but never broken. For example, in 1939, the American Communist Party endorsed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Gold initially walked out of a party meeting to express his dismay at the decision. He changed his mind a few days later, and followed the party line. [ [http://www3.washingtontimes.com/commentary/abeichman.htm Beichman, Arnold. "The Communist Who Couldn't." "Washington Times." March 25, 2007.] ]
In the post-
World War IIperiod, relations between the CIO leadership and communists within its member unions deteriorated. The first sign of a break came in May 1946. CIO President Philip Murray sponsored a denouncing Communist Party interference in the affairs of the CIO. Gold voted to approve the resolution. When asked why, he allegedly replied, "I have no problem being a loyal American, that's all the resolution asks. We just don't agree on the Truman foreign policy. We'll work with anyone on legitimate union business. We can't worry about Jim Carey and Reuther. They have their axes to grind." [Quoted in Dolnick, Norman. "Packinghouse Workers Face the Cold War: A Memoir." " [Labor History (journal)|Labor History." Fall 1997.] ["Gold's Union Backs Murray Statement." "New York Times." May 21, 1946.] But when the CIO established a committee in November 1946 to purge the labor federation of communists and communist influence, Gold denounced the effort and said it would "destroy" the CIO. [Loftus, Joseph A. "CIO Committee to Attempt Purge of Communist Ties." "New York TImes." November 16, 1946; "Defends Reds in CIO." "New York Times." January 14, 1947.] In May 1947, CIO leaders met to discuss the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, where locals representing thousands of members had recently disaffiliated due to the communist politics of the international union's leadership. CIO President Philip Murrayproposed that the CIO run the international union for a time, but Gold and seven other communists voted against Murray's proposal. An outraged Murray declared, "Any man who goes into a shop ostensibly as the representative of the workers and then devotes his time to furthering the interest of the Communist Party is a goddamn traitor. I'm tired of defending Communists and I'm tired of hearing C.I.O. officials defend them. The time has come to kick them out wherever and whenever we find them."
The breach widened throughout 1947. The CIO was extremely supportive of President Truman, and Soviet opposition to the
Marshall Planin the summer and fall of 1947 [Schain, Martin, ed. "The Marshall Plan: Fifty Years After." New York: Palgrave, 2001. ISBN 0312229623] (opposition supported by most communists in the CIO). This led to a significant rupture between Murray, Walter Reutherand other leaders of the federation on one side and the communist leaders and staff in the CIO member unions on the other. The situation deteriorated further when Soviet leaders ordered American communists to support the Wallace candidacy for president. Then on June 23, 1947, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Actover President Truman's veto. The Act amended the National Labor Relations Actto require union leaders to file affidavits with the Department of Labor declaring that they were not supporters of the Communist Party and had no relationship with any organization seeking the "overthrow of the United States government by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional means" as a condition to participating in NLRB proceedings. [Cochran, Bert. "Labor and Communism: The Conflict That Shaped American Unions." Paperback ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980. ISBN 0691005893] [The U.S. Supreme Court later held held the Taft-Hartley Act's non-communist oath provisions to be an unconstitutional bill of attainder, and struck down that portion of the Act. See: " United States v. Brown," 381 U.S. 437 (1965).]
The NLRB acted to aggressively enforce the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. Although the level of enforcement was not certain at first, many unions quickly filed the anti-communist affidavits. ["Enforcement Not Certain." "United Press International." August 26, 1947; Stark, Louis. "Anti-Red Affidavits Aid Labor, Denham Says as Two Unions File." "New York Times." August 26, 1947; Stark, Louis. "AFL, CIO Yielding on Oath Predicted." "New York Times." August 28, 1947.] Gold declared the affidavit and increasingly anti-communist atmosphere a threat to the survival of the IFLWU, ["Head of Fur Council Sees Threat to Union." "New York Times." November 18, 1947.] and sought contract language which would lock in employer recognition of the union if its leaders failed to sign the oath. ["Furriers Receive Unions' Demands." "New York Times." January 17, 1948.]
Political pressure on Gold also increased. Rep.
John Parnell Thomas, chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), subpoenaed fur industry employers to testify before the committee about Gold's political beliefs. Their September 8, 1948, testimony blasted Gold for establishing a "dictatorship" within the union and ruining the fur industry through mass picketing and intimidation. [Trussell, C.P. "Furriers Say Reds Menace Industry." September 9, 1948; "Furrier Protests Mass Union Pickets." "New York Times." September 11, 1948.] HUAC then forced Gold to testify. ["To Study CIO Fur Union." "New York Times." September 5, 1948.] Gold denounced and denied the testimony of the employers, proudly declaring that he had been a member of the Communist Party for nearly a quarter century. [Trussell, C.P. "Fur Union Official Balks on 'Red' Tie." "New York Times." September 16, 1948; Trussell, C.P. "Fur Union Leader Proud He Is A Red." "New York Times." September 17, 1948.]
The CIO subsequently acted to expel Gold and the IFLWU. Over Gold's protests, the CIO expelled the Greater New York CIO Council, of which the IFLWU's Joint Council was a member, in November 1948. [Davies, Lawrence E. "New York Council Expelled by CIO As 'Slavish' to Reds." "New York Times." November 21, 1948.] Gold began fighting a drive at the national level of the CIO to expel all communist-led or communist-dominated unions. [Raskin, A.H. "Drive on Communists Gains Momentum in CIO." "New York Times." December 12, 1948; Loftus, Joseph A. "CIO Leaders Map Fight on Leftists." "New York Times." May 17, 1949.] The CIO censured Gold and nine other communists on its Executive Council in May 1949 for allowing the Communist Party to control their unions, [Loftus, Joseph A. "CIO CHiefs Censure Leftist Minority." "New York Times." May 18, 1949; Stark, Louis. "Murray Rejects Bridges' Proposal." "New York Times." October 30, 1949.] and he lost re-election to the CIO Executive Council in November 1949 as the federation's leaders purged itself of all communists. [Stark, Louis. "C.I.O. Starts Purge of Leftist Officers." "New York Times." November 5, 1949; Stark, Louis. "Ouster of Leftists Is Pressed By C.I.O." "New York Times," November 6, 1949.] A few days later, the New York State CIO banned communists from being members, and expelled Gold from that body as well. [Raskin, A.H. "State C.I.O. Votes Ban on Communists." "New York Times." November 17, 1949.]
The attacks on Gold's politics had collective bargaining consequences as well. In August 1949, a tanners' employers' association in Massachusetts refused to bargain with the IFLWU so long as Gold was president of the union, on the grounds that Gold was a communist. ["Tanners' Group Bars 'A Union Led By Reds'." "New York Times." August 18, 1949.] The labor dispute with the tanners escalated in late 1949 (leading to some limited violence and vandalism), ["Stones Fly in Union Rift." "New York Times." December 28, 1949.] before a new contract was signed in January 1950. ["'Red' Union Barred From Labor Voting." "New York Times." November 24, 1949; "Peetz-M'Kay Resumes." "New York Times." January 4, 1950.]
These pressures took a considerable toll on Gold and the IFLWU. Gold told delegates to the union's convention in May 1950 that the communist political views of the union's leadership could cause the organization much difficulty, ["Gold Warns Union of 'Difficulties'." "New York Times." May 22, 1950.] yet he also defied the CIO and urged a united union front rather than caving in to redbaiting political pressure. ["Fur Union Board Scores C.I.O. Chiefs." "New York Times." May 23, 1950.]
Nonetheless, the IFLWU agreed to order its leadership to sign the Taft-Hartley Act's non-communist affidavits. ["Fur Union to Accept Noncommunist Oath." "New York Times." May 25, 1950.]
Trial for communist beliefs
Gold resigned from the Communist Party on
August 24, 1950, ["Gold Quits Party to Hold Union Job." "New York Times." August 29, 1950.] and signed the Taft-Hartley oath. However, he made it clear that he had resigned only so the Fur Workers could receive the protection of federal law. ["The Road Back." "Time." September 4, 1950.] The Justice Department argued that Gold had not really resigned, and indicted him for perjury in August 1953 one day before the statute of limitationsran out. ["Near Thing." "Time." September 7, 1953; "Perjury Charged to Fur Union Head." "New York Times." August 29, 1953; "Ben Gold to Surrender." "New York Times." August 30, 1953; "Ben Gold Gives Up on Perjury Charge." "Associated Press." September 1, 1953.]
At trial, Gold was charged with three counts of
perjury. He was accused of continuing to be a member of the Communist Party; accused of being affiliated with Communist party; and accused of being a supporter of an organization which advocated the overthrow of the United States government by force, illegal means, or unconstitutional methods. Numerous famous character witnesses appeared on Gold's behalf, including W. E. B. Du Bois. [Du Bois, W. E. B. "Testifying at Ben Gold's Trial." "Jewish Life." May 1954.] Nonetheless, Gold was convicted on the "membership" and "supporting" counts, and sentence to 1 to 3 years in prison. ["Ben Gold Is Guilty in Denial He's Red." "Associated Press." April 3, 1954; "Ben Gold Jailed for 1 to 3 Years." "Associated Press." May 1, 1954.]
Gold appealed, and his conviction was overturned by the
Supreme Court of the United States. Gold raised six grounds for reversal: 1) The trial court refused to apply the rules of evidencefor perjury to the case; 2) The circumstantial evidence offered at trial was not sufficient to convict him under the rules of evidence; 3) The trial court's instructions to the jury regarding the definition of "support" were unsupported by law or common usage; 4) The trial court erred in permitting expert testimony regarding his resignation (e.g., the fact of his resignation was a matter for the jury, not expert witnesses, to decide); 5) Government employees on the grand and petit juries were biased (as they themselves had to take an anti-communist oath to retain their jobs); and 6) Law enforcement officers discussed anti-communist oaths with members of the jury while investigating an unrelated case. A deeply divided 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. The court of appeals then asked for an " en banc" rehearing sua sponte. An equally divided "en banc" court upheld his conviction. Gold appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in " Gold v. United States," 352 U.S. 985 (1957)."Gold v. United States," 352 U.S. 985 (1957).] ["Ben Gold Gets A Hearing." "New York Times." January 13, 1956.] An FBI agent, investigating another case in which falsity of a non-Communist affidavit was at issue, telephoned or visited three members of the Gold jury or their families during Gold's trial. The Supreme Court held that although the FBI intrusion was unintentional it prejudiced the case against Gold. Relying on its recent decision in " Remmer v. United States," 350 U.S. 377 (1955), the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to grant a new trial. [Huston, Luther A. "High Court Gives Gold A New Trial." "New York Times." January 29, 1957.]
Although the government initially expressed interest in prosecuting Gold further, all charges against him were dropped in May 1957. ["New Gold Trial Set." "New York Times." March 19, 1957; "U.S. Abandons Case Against Ben Gold." "New York Times." May 10, 1957.]
Aftereffects of the Gold trials
Gold's indictment and conviction led to two other U.S. Supreme Court cases as well.
The first case was a major test of the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) enforcement of the Taft-Hartley Act. In 1951, Lannom Manufacturing Co. refused to honor its contract with the International Fur and Leather Workers Union on the grounds that the union's officers had lied when making their Taft-Hartley anti-communist oaths. ["Meat Cutters v. NLRB," 352 U.S. 153 (1956).] The union filed an
unfair labor practicecharge against the employer with the NLRB. The Board found against the employer, but after Gold's conviction in April 1954 it reversed itself. ["Meat Cutters v. NLRB," 352 U.S. 153, 154-155.] ["N.L.R.B. Cites Fur Union." "United Press International." April 22, 1954.] The union, already embroiled in a similar case, ["Farmer v. International Fur & Leather Workers Union," 221 F.2d 862 (1955); "N.L.R.B. Fights Suit on Non-Red Oaths." "New York Times." November 15, 1953; "N.L.R.B. to Fight Ruling." "New York Times." November 22, 1953; "N.L.R.B. Loses Plea on Non-Red Oaths." "United Press International." April 13, 1954; "N.L.R.B. Is Enjoined." "Associated Press." July 21, 1954.] asked the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay; the court declined. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, granted certiorari. In " Meat Cutters v. NLRB," 352 U.S. 153 (1956), the Supreme Court (relying on a decision released earlier that day, " Leedom v. Mine Workers," 352 U.S. 145) held that the National Labor Relations Board had no authority to refuse to provide the protections of the NLRA to unions not in compliance with the Taft-Hartley Act. " [We]conclude that the sole sanction for the filing of a false affidavit under 9 (h) is the criminal penalty imposed on the officer who files a false affidavit, not decompliance of the union nor the withholding of the benefits of the Act," the court ruled. ["Meat Cutters v. NLRB," 352 U.S. 153, 155.]
The second case led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on whether an attorney was an "officer of the court." After the
grand juryhad indicted Gold for perjury, Harold Cammer(an attorney noted for representing communists in the United States), took Gold's case. Within two days, Cammer mailed a letter and questionnaire to all members of the grand jury who were employees of the federal government. He told the grand jurors that he was Gold's attorney and that he was trying to learn the effect of the federal government's loyalty program on federal employees. ["Cammer v. United States," 350 U.S. 399 (1956), 399-400.] Cammer undertook this action because of developments in another Taft-Hartley anti-communist oath case. In " Emspak v. United States," 203 F.2d 54 (1952), the Justice Department convinced a district court that grand jurors who were federal employee were not biased. In particular, the government had argued that "there is not the slightest indication in the long motion and offer of proof that an attempt has been made to interview a single one of the persons." ["Cammer v. United States," 350 U.S. 399 (1956), 402, quoting Government's Reply Brief in "Emspak v. United States," 203 F.2d 54 (1952). The Supreme Court had previously held in " Dennis v. United States," 339 U.S. 162 (1950), 171-172, that "Preservation of the opportunity to prove actual bias is a guarantee of a defendant's right to an impartial jury."] To prevent the government from making a similar claim in the Gold case, Cammer polled the jury. The "Contempt Act of March 2, 1831" (4 Stat. 487) gave federal courts the authority to penalize officers of the court for misbehavior. ["Cammer v. United States," 350 U.S. 399 (1956), 403.] For questioning the grand jurors, the district court found Cammer guilty of contempt and fined him $100. ["Cammer v. United States," 350 U.S. 399 (1956), 400.] ["Gold's Lawyer Fined." "New York Times." June 16, 1954.] Cammer appealed. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. ["Cammer v. United States," 223 F.2d 322 (1955).] ["Ben Gold's Lawyer Loses on Contempt." "Associated Press." May 6, 1955.] Cammer appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari. In a landmark ruling, [Doyle, Charles. "Obstruction of Justice: An Overview of Some of the Federal Statutes that Prohibit Interference with Judicial, Executive, or Legislative Activities." CRS Report RL34303. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, December 27, 2007.] a unanimous Supreme Court overturned Cammer's contempt citation, holding that a lawyer is not a court "officer" in the same category as marshals, bailiffs, court clerks or judges. ["Cammer v. United States," 350 U.S. 399 (1956), 399-400.] The district court erred in subjecting Cammer to summary punishment, the Supreme Court concluded, and the high court order the contempt ruling reversed. ["Cammer v. United States," 350 U.S. 399 (1956), 407-408.] ["High Court Voids Contempt Charge." "New York Times." March 13, 1956.]
Merger with the Meat Cutters and retirement
Gold was re-elected as IFLWU president in May 1954 despite his conviction for perjury. ["Union Re-Elects Gold." "New York Times." May 9, 1954.] But the problems created by the Taft-Hartley Act, expulsion from the CIO, and prosecutions of the IFLWU's top leadership led Gold to seek merger with another union to strengthen the union's finances and collective bargaining power. A month after his re-election, Gold announced that he was discussing merger with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, a labor union affiliated with the AFL that represented retail
butchers and packinghouse workers. ["Union Merger Discussed." "New York Times." June 12, 1954.] AFL leaders, however, expressed strong reservation against bringing the "Red-led" union into the federation. [Raskin, A.H. "A.F.L. Leaders Cool to Furriers' Union." "New York Times." June 14, 1954.]
Although the merger talks had moved forward aggressively, Ben Gold retired as IFLWU president on
October 3, 1954, in order to remove AFL objections to the merger. ["Ben Gold Resigns As Fur Union Head." "Associated Press." October 3, 1954.]
Gold's resignation at age 56 provide crucial in winning AFL approval for the merger. A new effort to merge the IFLWU and Meat Cutters began the day after his retirement. ["A.F.L. Cool to Hints Fur Union May Join." "New York Times." October 4, 1954.] Eventually, the merger was consummated in 1955 after the AFL announced it would bar the IFLWU from joining the federation directly but not from merging with an AFL affiliate. ["Fur Union Merger Is Reported Near." "New York Times." November 20, 1954; "A.F.L. Bars Entry for Fur Workers." "New York Times." December 16, 1954; Raskin, A.H. "Fur Union Trying to End Red Taint." "New York Times." January 3, 1955; "Fur Union Moves to A.F.L. Merger." "New York Times." January 23, 1955; Raskin, A.H. "Fur Union Seeking A.F.L. Entry Again." "New York Times." January 30, 1955; "Fur Union Shifts A.F.L. Entry Plan." "New York Times." February 1, 1955; Raskin, A.H. "A.F.L. Union Faces Expulsion Threat." "New York Times." February 5, 1955; "Meat Cutters Defy A. F. L." "New York Times." February 18, 1955; "Furriers Merge In Spite of A.F.L." "New York Times." February 23, 1955.] The fur workers' division underwent additional purges of communist leaders and members after the merger. [Raskin, A.H. "Leftist Fur Union Undergoes Purge." "New York Times." March 27, 1955; Loftus, Joseph A. "A.F.L. Tells Union to Push Red Fight." "New York Times." May 4, 1955.]
Ben Gold spent the rest of his life in Florida. He published his memoirs in 1984. [Gold, Ben. "Memoirs." New York: W. Howard, 1984. ISBN 0961428805] He died in July 1985 at his home in
North Miami Beach, Florida.
At the height of his career as a labor leader, Gold resided in
The Bronx, where he ran unsuccessfully for judge in 1928; he received one of the lowest vote-totals in the history of New York state judicial elections.fact|date=April 2008 He ran for the New York State Assemblyin 1931 and 1936, and for president of the New York City Board of Aldermen in 1933. [Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws. Committee on the Judiciary. United States Senate. "Guide to Communist Tactics Among The Unemployed: A Staff Study Prepared for the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary." 87th Cong, 1 sess. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1961.] He also ran for justice of the New York Supreme Courtin 1932.fact|date=April 2008 All of his campaigns were on the American Labor Partyticket,fact|date=April 2008 and all failed.
Throughout his life, Gold wrote short stories in
Yiddishthat often dealt with labor relations and Jewish immigrants. His 1944 novel "Avreml Broide" included illustrations by fellow communist William Gropper. [Gold, Ben. "Avreml Broide." New York: Prompt Press, 1944.] In 1948, he wrote "Mentshn", published by the Needle Trades Workers Committee. [Gold, Ben. "Mentshn." New York: Nodl treyds arbeter-komitet, 1948.] His last work of fiction was "The Storm in Riverville," published in 1972. It is a semi-fictional account of garment workers in the 1920s, their fight against organized crime, and their attempt to win a 40-hour work week. [Gold, Ben. "The Storm in Riverville." New York: Ben Gold Book Committee, 1973.]
Gold himself appears as a character in the fiction
novel"Union Square." The book, published in 2001, is about two Russian Jewish families—one Marxist, the other socialist—who are forced by pogroms to flee to the United States. Sarah Levy, one of the most prominent characters in the novel, meets a slightly fictionalized Ben Gold in her attempt to unionize women garment workers in New York City. [Tax, Meredith. "Union Square." Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2001. ISBN 0252070313]
Gold also appears as a character in the stage play "
I'm Not Rappaport." Actor Ron Rifkinplayed Gold in the film version of the play. [Arnold, Gary. "'Rappaport' A Grumpy Old Flick." "Washington Times," January 1997.]
* [http://www.fbi.gov/libref/historic/famcases/furdress/furdress.htm Famous Cases: The Fur Dressers Case. FBI History. Federal Bureau of Investigation. U.S. Department of Justice.]
* [http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/EAD/htmldocs/KCL05676.html Guide to the International Fur and Leather Workers' Union. Records, 1913-1955. Collection Number: 5676. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library, Cornell University]
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