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Meyer London, one of only two Socialist Party members elected to Congress (the other was Victor Berger), was born in Lithuania on this date in 1871. He came to New York at age 20 and worked as a tutor and printer while acquiring a law degree. London was a fundraising activist for the Jewish Bund and a lead attorney for the fledgling ILGWU during the 1910 Cloakmakers Strike, which brought out 50,000 garment workers and earned him a reputation as an orator. (“We charge the employers with ruining the great trade built up by the industrious immigrants.... Treachery, slavishness and espionage are encouraged by the employers... This general strike is greater than any union. It is an irresistible movement of the people.... We appeal to the people of America to assist us in our struggle.”) In 1914, London overcame the Tammany Hall fixers behind his electoral opponent to gain a seat in the U.S. Congress, where he was one of only 50 representatives and six senators to vote against American entry into World War I. London also cast the only vote in the House against the Sedition Act of 1918. He nevertheless supported the American war effort, which led to his denunciation by radicals within the Socialist Party. London’s tepid support of the Zionist movement also cost him support in his Lower East Side district. Still, he was elected three times to Congress. He died after being struck by a car in 1926. “It’s not his fault,” said London on his deathbed of the driver, “and he is a poor man.”
“London had an impact on Congress because he talked learnedly about national unemployment insurance, child labor, and an eight-hour day for railroad workers, against literacy tests for immigrants, and against Prohibition. In 1917, he won bipartisan support in the House for a commission to make recommendations to the President and the House of Representatives concerning mandatory health insurance. His approach, a commission, was the one followed two decades later by Franklin Roosevelt in developing his version of the Social Security Act.” —Rosalyn Baxandall, Jewish Currents