Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Sam Brosilow, October 21, 1981

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:04 - Factory preference and strikes

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Partial Transcript: --was in the summertime when there was no school.

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow discusses the differences among various mills and factories. He states that the only important distinction is whether the mill or factory was union or non-union. He also shares that non-union workers were called "scabs" and that the violence during a strike was generally between union men and scabs. Brosilow also dislikes teachers, who looked down on textile workers and called them ungrateful.

Keywords: "Scabs"; Careers; Closed shops; Communism; Communists; Jobs; Labor strikes; Occupations; Strikebreakers; Teachers; Teachers strikes; Textile mills; Transit workers; Work

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:05:42 - Working conditions and working hours

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Partial Transcript: Now what else do you want to ask me?

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow says that before the 1930s, the garment industry paid $3.50 an hour for a 45 hour work week. This decreased to 35 hours for cutters until Sidney Hillman increased hours to 40 hours during World War II. The hours remained at 40 a week thereafter, with overtime.

Keywords: Careers; Garment industry; Jobs; Occupations; Sydney Hillman; Work; World War II

Subjects: Employment; World War, 1939-1945

00:07:49 - Conflict with boss, I.M. Cohen

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Partial Transcript: One day, the shop cha--we all got fed up with him.

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow and his co-workers approached the boss of the factory, Mr. I.M. Cohen, to air their grievances. He forcibly invited Brosilow to participate in a meeting, where Cohen stated he was "not a communist before 6 and not a communist after 6" and that if people didn't like the job they should quit. Brosilow threatened to strike and later quit.

Keywords: Communism; Communists; Cutters unions; I. M. Cohen; I.M. Cohen

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:15:26 - Employment at After Six and marriage

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Partial Transcript: That's it!

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow begins working at After Six, a clothing manufacturer that is still in business today. He met his future wife through a friend and married her at the age of 34. The boss of After Six allowed him to take off of work, but then fired Brosilow upon his return. Brosilow wrote a letter to the executive board about his continued unemployment and was able to return to work. He also labels the Stetson Hat Company as an exception to the trouble that existed between the employer and the workers.

Keywords: 13th and Hamilton St (Philadelphia, Pa.); After Six; Cutters Local; Cutters unions; John B. Stetson, Jr.; Local executive boards; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions; Marriage

00:20:55 - Childhood and neighborhood

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Partial Transcript: Can you describe the, the neighborhood, Lehigh and 22nd?

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow's family originally lived on 11th and Cherry Street, which is now in Chinatown. He later moved to 22nd and Lehigh Avenue, which is in North Philadelphia. 22nd and Lehigh Avenue was a new neighborhood and was full of Jews, Italians and Irish. Growing up as a young Jewish boy, Brosilow experienced anti-Semitism.

Keywords: 11th and Cherry Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 22nd and Lehigh Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Anti-Semitism; Irish; Italian; Jewish

Subjects: Antisemitism.; Childhood; Discrimination.; Ethnic relations.; Jewish children; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:28:11 - Baseball in the old neighborhood

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Partial Transcript: What did you, um--you mentioned you went up to Shibe Park when you were a kid.

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow's father delivered suits to the club at Shibe Park, otherwise known as Connie Mack Stadium. Connie Mack, the longest serving manager in Major League Baseball history, was alive at the time and managed the Philadelphia Athletics. Brosilow would see at least two games a week and would play "peg baseball" with his friends. He also discusses the creation of the Industrial Leagues and how it increased morale at work.

Keywords: 29th Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 33rd Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); American League; Brewerytown (Philadelphia neighborhood); Connie Mack; Germantown (Philadelphia neighborhood); Industrial League; Jefferson Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Manayunk (Philadelphia neighborhood); Montgomery Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Oxford Team; Philadelphia Athletics; Shibe Park (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Baseball; Childhood; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Recreation

00:34:07 - First labor strike and education

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Partial Transcript: Do--why did your, um, why did your father move up to that location?

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow witnessed the Philadelphia General Strike of 1910, which the Pennsylvania State Police eventually violently broke up. The Jewish community of Philadelphia referred to the state police as the "Cossacks of Pennsylvania." Upon graduating grammar school at the age of 14, Brosilow went to work, a common practice among immigrant families. His mother wanted him to continue attending school, but did not want to fight with his father.

Keywords: 11th and Cherry Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Broad St. and York St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); Hebrew School; Pennsylvania State Police; Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT); Schuylkill River; World War I

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Education; Employment; Families.; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions; Police corruption.; Police.; Violence

00:40:56 - Beginning work in a garment factory

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Partial Transcript: Well anyway, I went to work.

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow began work at his first garment factory at the age of 14. There was no clothing workers union at this time in Philadelphia. He worked as a sweeper, errand boy, and bookkeeper while trying to become a cutter. The tailors were excluded from the existing Cutters Union.

Keywords: American Federation of Labor; Cutters; Cutters unions; Skilled workers; Sweepers; Tailors; Unskilled workers; Woodrow Wilson

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:44:47 - Philadelphia labor from before World War I to before the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: They only had one solid organization, which was the AF of L, and it was naturally divided into various unions.

Segment Synopsis: Prior to World War I and the Great Depression, Philadelphia was considered an "open town." Unions had a very difficult time recruiting workers and bosses to form an organization. He mentions how the International Ladies Garment Workers of America assisted in the creation of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

Keywords: 13th and Hamilton St (Philadelphia, Pa.); After Six; Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; American Federation of Labor; Chicago (Ill.); Chicago, Illinois; Cutters unions; Great Depression; International Ladies Garment Workers of America (ILGWA); Woodrow Wilson; World War I

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions; World War, 1914-1918

00:50:33 - Philadelphia labor from the Great Depression onwards

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Partial Transcript: Well anyway. Between the wars we had severe depression. We had severe expansion.

Segment Synopsis: After World War I, work was plentiful and the organization of unions was unpopular. Work slowed down during the Great Depression and unions gained traction. The New Deal policies of FDR greatly assisted the labor movement in Philadelphia. The only National Union at this time was John L. Lewis' United Mine Workers of America.

Keywords: 13th and Hamilton St (Philadelphia, Pa.); After Six; Franklin D. Roosevelt; John L. Lewis; Savings and Loans Group; United Garment Workers (UGW); United Mine Workers (UMW); United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:57:02 - Union practices and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America

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Partial Transcript: What sort of resistance did you meet from the, uh, manufacturers?

Segment Synopsis: The Garment Workers Union created a mandatory Savings and Loan group. There was be conflict concerning the money that had already been contributed and the Amalgamated would pay the exact amount to any worker who left and joined them. The cutters would set up death benefits, sick benefits, and unemployment compensation, which would later be taken over by the government. Sydney Hillman, a Jewish labor activist and president of the Amalgamated was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt to the labor commission of the War Production Board. The Amalgamated became a founding member of the CIO.

Keywords: Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; Congress of Industrial Workers (CIO); Franklin D. Roosevelt; Great Depression; Leather industry; Needle industry; Sidney Hillman; Unemployment; World War II

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions; World War, 1939-1945

01:01:07 - The Great Depression hits the needle industry

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Partial Transcript: There was, uh--the Amal--so the--there was no real strong resistance to the formation of the Amalgamated.

Segment Synopsis: The needle and leather industries were hit hard by the Depression. During the Depression, people who could not afford clothing would not buy it, so sales greatly decreased.

Keywords: 12th and Market St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); Great Depression; Leather industry; Leatherworks; Needle industry

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment

01:03:35 - N. Snellenburg & Company's anti-unionism and the organization of the tailors

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Partial Transcript: There's your answer!

Segment Synopsis: The large clothing manufacturer N. Snellenburg & Company had a reputation for fighting unions. When the tailors organized within the Amalgamated, they finally had the numbers to push back against manufacturers like N. Snellenburg & Company.

Keywords: 12th and Market St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; N. Snellenburg & Company; Tailors

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

01:05:07 - Working conditions prior to the 1930s / The Spector Brothers

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Partial Transcript: Can you describe for me the work conditions in the, uh, in the shops prior to 1930, in the teens and the twenties--

Segment Synopsis: Working in the textile industry, it was brutally cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It typically became unbearably hot during the summer due to the steam from the pressing machines. The lint and steam gave some workers "Brown Lung Disease," also known as Byssinosis.

Keywords: 4th and Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); American Woolen Company; Brown lung disease; Byssinosis; Clothing presses; Franklin D. Roosevelt; New Deal; Spector Brothers

Subjects: Employment; Health

01:09:24 - Expansion of labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt and the formation of the Congress of Industrial Workers

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Partial Transcript: You see, it's things like this that change the picture in a great many situations.

Segment Synopsis: President Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies helped to create the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). They also propped up the failing automobile workers' union, according to Brosilow. He also briefly discusses the CIA breaking up the coal miners' union.

Keywords: Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; American Federation of Labor (AFL); Automobile workers; Automobiles; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Coal; Coal miners; Congress of Industrial Workers (CIO); Franklin D. Roosevelt; National Labor Union (NLU); Unions; United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions; Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945

01:11:49 - Working conditions and child labor

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Partial Transcript: Was there a, a great deal of, um--amongst the cutters and tailors themselves in the teens and twenties, was there great dissatisfaction with their employment conditions?

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow mentions Brown Lung once more and how the lint from the cloth caused it. He worked at Wilson Home at this time as a spindle boy who switched over cones of threads to smaller cones. During extreme weather, he was not allowed to open a window because the air flow would disturb the string. He also briefly discusses how children worked within the mills.

Keywords: Brown lung disease; Byssinosis; Cotton mills; Men's clothing industry; Spindle boys; Textile mills; Wilson Home; Woolen mills

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment

01:16:06 - Seasonal layoffs in the garment industry and the credit union

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Partial Transcript: If these seasonal layoffs came all the time, did, did the men wor--did the men or women working in the shops, did they plan then--

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow was the secretary treasurer of the credit union at one factory and handled loan applications. The workers were not very good at saving money for the recurring seasonal layoffs. According to Brosilow, they held onto hope that they would not be laid off. Some workers would attempt to take out loans for gambling, which Brosilow did not take part in himself.

Keywords: Credit unions; Gambling; Loans; Savings and Loans; Seasonal layoffs; South Philadelphia

Subjects: Employment; Labor unions

01:20:59 - The process of bundling and cutting

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Partial Transcript: They started a system there where you were working on--like piecework. You were working on standards.

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow discusses how garment workers labored under a system of standards that worked on time schedules. The workload steadily increased as the schedules remained the same, angering men like Brosilow. He also discusses the process of cutting briefly.

Keywords: Bundling; Clothing industry; Cutters; Garment industry; Goldsmith's

Subjects: Employment

01:27:27 - Management and labor in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Now, people think that the economy will be much better when workers and managers cooperate more.

Segment Synopsis: According to Brosilow, when a laborer worked at a small company, there was more room for airing grievances. If a laborer worked at a big company it was significantly harder to have their grievances heard. He labels Philadelphia a "scab town," which means there were a lot of non-union workers. Brosilow also acknowledges the difficulty that unions experienced in Philadelphia.

Keywords: Automobile workers; Coal miners; John L. Lewis; Minimum wage; Russia; Sidney Hillman

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

01:33:13 - Brosilow's son / Brosilow's childhood and his first job in a textile mill

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Partial Transcript: How many kids do you have?

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow's only son is, at this time, head of the chemical engineering program at Case Western Reserve University in Cincinnati. Brosilow discusses his own childhood and how he arrived in America at the age of 3 from Russia. While working at his first job, he made between $5.00 and $7.00 a week.

Keywords: Bobbin boys; Case Western Reserve University; Chemical engineering; Cleveland (Ohio); Cleveland, Ohio; Engineers; Jewish; Judaism; Russia; Textile mills; Textile workers; Ukraine

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment; Families.

01:40:15 - Parents' background

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Partial Transcript: And my father was in business, so he made a fair living.

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow's father was the son of a Jewish widow who lived in what is now Ukraine. He did not want Brosilow to attend high school. He was illiterate himself, explains Brosilow, because his mother was a widow and apprenticed him to a tailor, which he describes as being a slave. He immigrated to New York City in 1899 from Russian-controlled Ukraine. He had escaped from Russia to avoid the draft. Brosilow recalls learning some of his family background from a cousin, but not from his father himself. Brosilow's mother was well-educated. She was the daughter of a Shamas, which is compared to a sexton in a church, and received a Yiddish education and could read Hebrew. His father did not see the purpose of higher education, while his mother did.

Keywords: Cherkasy (Ukraine); Cherkasy, Ukraine; Cossacks; Fathers; Jewish; Marriage; New York City (N.Y.); New York City, New York; Shamas; Textile mills; Textile workers; Ukraine; Yiddish

Subjects: Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Religion

01:47:33 - Difficulty of labor to organize in early 1900s

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Partial Transcript: What was--when you, um--uh, when I was listening through the tape, you know, you mentioned that you worked at Epstein's and, uh--

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow returns to his time at the Spector Brothers and how he disliked one of the guys who ran the shop. He also discusses how in the early 1900s, workers could not complain and were forced to leave if they didn't like the job. A lot of these workers were immigrants, and many Jews and Italians worked in the garment industry.

Keywords: After Six; Epstein's; Garment industry; Italian; Jewish; Judaism; Needle industry; Organized labor; Spector Brothers

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

01:52:17 - Opportunities for advancement within the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America

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Partial Transcript: Did you know that, that the, uh, people like Morris Rosenfeld who, uh--that were tailors and poets also, also?

Segment Synopsis: The labor activist Sydney Hillman was a former revolutionary in Russia and left the country because he was Jewish and could not attend a university. He later created and led the Amalgamated. Brosilow also details the founding of the American Federation of Labor and the United Garment Workers. Brosilow also purposefully turned down advancement in the union because he would have to give his life over to the union.

Keywords: Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; American Federation of Labor; Jewish; Labor organizing; Morris Rosenfeld; Poets; Russian Revolution; Spector Brothers; Sydney Hillman; Tailoring shops; Tailors; United Garment Workers; Yiddish

Subjects: Employment; Immigrants; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

01:58:55 - The divide between cutters and tailors within the garment industry / Credit unions

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Partial Transcript: Meanwhile, why don't you look at me for a second so I can--

Segment Synopsis: Brosilow details the difference in responsibilities between cutters and tailors. Cutters considered themselves skilled workers who often looked down on the unskilled tailors. He also discusses more of his experience with corporations and credit unions.

Keywords: Clothing industry; Corporations; Credit unions; Cutters; Cutters unions; Cutting; Julius H. Cohen; Savings and Loan Association; Skilled workers; Tailors; Unskilled workers

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

02:03:52 - Jewish immigration and presence in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Were, were your cousins in Philadelphia too?

Segment Synopsis: During Brosilow's lifetime, his house was often the first destination for family members, from both his mother's and father's side, immigrating to the United States. The children of immigrants moved all over the country, he notes. Brosilow also discusses that there were two major waves of Jewish immigration to Philadelphia. He also states the prevalence of Jewish bosses in factories.

Keywords: 2nd generation immigrants; Chain migration; Jewish; Jewish immigration; Judaism; Padrones; Second generation immigrants

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

02:07:49 - Mechanization and changes within the needle industry

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Partial Transcript: Did the needle trades go through any major--

Segment Synopsis: The mechanization of the needle industry occurred over time. Brosilow believed human cutters were more effective than machines. Earlier in the 1900s, companies used cutting machines, which caused more problems than they were worth. According to Brosilow, the Amalgamated started in part because the garment industry no longer would hire men, as it had begun to mechanize. In order to circumvent the machinery, many factories and mills hired more cheap unskilled labor, typically women. The industry has since advanced.

Keywords: Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; Cutters; Cutting tables; Electric cutting machines; Female workers; Garment industry; Goldsmith's; Knife cutters; Laser cutting machines; Mechanization; Needle industry; Shear cutters

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions; Technological innovations

02:16:00 - Work during the seasonal layoffs of the garment industry

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Partial Transcript: Was, was your, um--during--traditionally, was the, the garment industry a seasonal industry?

Segment Synopsis: During the seasonal layoffs that always occurred in the spring and fall, Brosilow tried to find work doing many odd jobs. He attempted to sell cars, books, and clothing as a door to door salesman.

Keywords: Book salesman; Book salesmen; Car salesman; Car salesmen; Cutters; Door to door salesman; Door to door salesmen

Subjects: Employment