The 12,000-strong New York Furriers’ Union, a heavily Jewish union led by the hard-hitting Ben Gold, ended a half year of striking, lock-outs, police brutality, and red-baiting to win a contract on this date in 1926 that established the first guarantee in America of a five-day, 40-hour work-week, beyond which workers would be paid time-and-a-half. Other demands that were met included a 25 percent wage increase, union inspection of shops, an employer contribution of 3 percent of workers’ salaries to an unemployment insurance fund, a paid day off, and the equal assignment of work without favoritism. The strike was marked by intense intra-union factionalism, as anti-communist leaders of the American Federation of Labor sought to undermine Gold and expel communists from the labor movement. He nevertheless rose to head the International Fur and Leather Workers Union from 1937 to 1955, where he left a legacy of militancy, successful strikes, and the expulsion of corrupt and criminal elements. Gold also wrote stories and novels in Yiddish, with working-class themes, throughout his life.
“During the 1930s the fur bosses hired gangs led by Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter and Jacob ‘Gurrah’ Shapiro. The union formed defense units and bested the hoodlums in a bloody series of confrontations that resulted in serious injuries and deaths on both sides. Almost alone among the garment unions, the fur workers could boast that they had defended their interests against gangsters without having to hire gangsters of their own to do the job.”—Encyclopedia of the American Left