The Workers Circle Diamond Jubilee 1909-1969

A previous post covered the history of radical Jewish group The Workers Circle and their efforts to fight anti-semitism in Hackney.

Since then I have managed to get hold of a nice booklet they published in 1969 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the organisation. This has now been scanned and uploaded to archive.org where it can be read, downloaded etc.

It’s in good company there – 171 documents about the radical history of Hackney have now been uploaded covering the years from 1969-2011.

The Diamond Jubilee document includes a useful history of the Workers Circle and an overview of its activities. Some highlights for me were:

“Trade Unionism has always been part of the life of Circle members. All applicants for Circle membership were asked if they were Trade Union members. All through the existence of the Circle, leadership and assistance, both financial and in propaganda, were given when on strike or in other difficulties, to the tailors, bakers, cabinet-makers, cap-makers, furriers, shop assistants etc., many of them members of the Circle.”

1917

“This was a year of special significance for the Circle’s members who had different ideas about the events surrounding the Revolution in Russia. One result was the formation of what is still Branch 9, founded by members with similar leanings.”

This branch should probably be contrasted with Branch 15 (Poale Zion) formed in East London in 1922 as an explicitly Zionist group. Unfortunately the booklet does not mention tensions between these two tendencies in the Workers Circle.

The document is also a fascinating overview of the Circle’s mutual aid efforts, including weekly legal advice sessions, a convalescent home and wideranging cultural activities including a drama group and music recitals. Of course, it wasn’t all socialising…

1926 to 1939: FASCISM AND NAZISM

“The rise of Fascism and Nazism for the last 6 years of this period involved the membership, now at its peak, in its greatest efforts.

Our members, in London and in the Provinces, were either initiators of activities, or in the forefront of united progressive action. From 1933 – 1939 they participated in every possible action against Nazi Germany, and against the Fascist movement in England.

In 1934, the Central Committee were instrumental in the formation of the Jewish Labour Council, after initiating a Conference attended by representatives of 21 organisations. This organisation led in 1936 to the formation of the Jewish Peoples’ Council against Fascism and Anti-Semitism which carried on a massive propaganda campaign. Many will remember its influence among East London Jewry and their non Jewish allies on October 4th 1936, when the Fascists were prevented from marching through East London. [i.e The Battle of Cable Street]”

Also solidarity with anti-fascist work in Spain:

“From 1936 – 1939 the Circle helped in every way the Aid for Spain Campaign, with collections of money and food. Circle members fought in Spain and some lost their lives in the fight against Fascism. The Circle was linked too in its special support for the ‘Naftali-Botwin’ Battalion of the International Brigade composed of Jews from Poland and other countries.”

It is interesting that the advent of the NHS and its resourcing through taxation had a terrible impact on radical mutual aid societies:

“The 1948 New Insurance Act (the Beveridge Scheme)) dealt the final blow from which the Circle, (and all similar Socities) has never recovered.

With compulsory Insurance contributions deducted at work, and benefits catered for by the State, the only ties that bound members were the ideological ones, (still very strong), the Convalescent Home and sheer loyalty. The decline in membership over the years, bringing our total in 1969 to under 1000, is the result of inability in the face of outside cultural and economic changes to recruit replacements for the natural diminution through death. “

Finally:

“Since 1961 the Memorial Committee supported by the Circle has campaigned in the Jewish Community for the establishment of a Memorial in London to the memory of the 6 million victims of the Holocaust.”

The UK government is now planning such a memorial.

1 thought on “The Workers Circle Diamond Jubilee 1909-1969

  1. Pingback: The Workers’ Circle – fighting anti-semitism in Hackney | The Radical History of Hackney

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