Oral Histories

Interview of William Seligman

Labor leader and arbitrator. Organizer for the Cap and Millinery Workers International Union and the United Shoe Workers of America.
For an Independent Trade Union Movement
Z: Orphan Interviews pre 1999
Social Movements
Labor Movement
Biographical Note:
Labor leader and arbitrator. Organizer for the Cap and Millinery Workers International Union and the United Shoe Workers of America.
Furmanovsky, Michael
Seligman, William
Persons Present:
Seligman and Furmanovsky.
Place Conducted:
Seligman's apartment in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Michael Furmanovsky; B.A., American studies, University of Warwick; M.A., American history, UCLA; C. Phil., American history, UCLA.Furmanovsky prepared for the interview by perusing a number of labor-related documents and letters from the early part of the twentieth century. Most important of these were Seligman's own letters, which provided essential background and suggested directions for interview guestions.
Processing of Interview:
Teresa Barnett, editor, edited the interview. She checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed.
9.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Seligman's early childhood memories of Slupca under Polish-Russian rule--Parents speak Yiddish and German--Singing in synagogue and school chorus--Rebelling against Jewish school teacher--Influenced by Young Socialist Polish Party -- Discussion of Bund General Jewish Labor Union in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia-- Seligman leaves Jewish school and attends progressive school--Expulsion from Jewish Boy Scouts--Organizes a Turnverein--Socialist education--Early days of World War I -- Speaking with Russian prisoners--The Polish national struggle.
Jewish cultural club in Slupca--Seligman writes "The Turnverein Song"--Fighting with Polish Socialist Party--Vladimir Medem, leader of socialist right wing--War over Li thuania--Jozef Pilsudski, then Ignace Jan Paderewski, run Polish government--Russian Revolution polarizes Polish Socialist Party -- Seligman volunteers for Polish army--Decides to leave Poland--Granted passport--Sails to London.
Seligman arrives in Boston--Becomes a millinery worker and joins the Cloth Hat, Cap and Millinery Workers International Union--Joins Communist Labor Party--0rganizes workers in other shops--The fishermen's union supports a strike in Gloucester--Assigned as full-time union organizer--Settles labor dispute in Wi sconsin--Negotiates for unemployment fund--General secretary of strike committee in support of Sacco-Vanzetti case--Arrested and released by Boston police--General walkout in support of Sacco and Vanzetti--Seligman is given the choice of attending Brookwood Labor School in New York or Trade Union College in England.
Polish socialists' response to Russian Revolution--Talks with Russian prisoners--Life under German occupation--Fight over Vilna-- Jozef Pilsudski, leader of Polish Socialist Party--Seligman becomes disillusioned with Polish socialists--Friends arrested for communist activities and sent to concentration camps--Local 7 of the Cloth Hat, Cap and Millinery Workers International Union--Gladys Schechter.
First impressions of Brookwood--Brookwood faculty and board members--History and English classes--Immigrant students--Eva Shafran, fellow student and communist--Jasper Deeter and public speaking class--Daily life at Brookwood--Social interactions between black and white students--Seligman is elected president of Brookwood student body--Fellow students Walter Reuther and Vera Bush.
Brookwood comrade Edward Falkowsky--The United Mine Workers of America--Eva Shafran--Josephine Kazer and the United Textile Workers of America--Harry Bellaver--Communist Party meetings at Brookwood--Communist Party classes--Abraham J. Muste--Seligman promotes worker education in unions--Alice Dodge--More on workers education.
Seligman works as a union organizer--Becomes a cutter in the shoe industry--0rganizes shoe workers in Lynn and establishes the National Shoe Workers of America--0rganizes shoe workers in Boston--Meetings with Alice Dodge--Working with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in workers education--Problems with racketeering--Integration of various nationalities in union-- Seligman is threatened by racketeers.
Seligman moves to Los Angeles--Growth of California shoe industry--Shoe workers' wages in Los Angeles and in Boston--J. W. Bazelle and the labor movement--Seligman becomes a sample cutter at the Fern Shoe Company--Organizes shoe workers--Union changes its name from National Shoe Workers to United Shoe Workers of America--Mike Padgett and formation of the union--Seligman organizes other shop meetings-- Union is recognized as only collective bargaining agent and working conditions are established--Seligman becomes a full-time organizer for the shoe workers.
Progressive members of the AFL in the workers education movement--George Roberts and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)--Bazelle and Central Labor Council meetings--Progressive unions and leaders--Strike at Douglas Aircraft Company--Seligman represents shoe workers in successful meetings with William Henry Joyce, Jr.--Powers Hapgood and the CIO.
Lovestone and the left-wing trade union movement--Seligman1s opposition to dual revolutionary unions and support of AFL unions-- The proposed American labor party--End Poverty in California (EPIC) organization--The New Deal--Union work in Los Angeles--Bazelle1s support of craft unions rather than industrial unions--0pposition to Bazelle--Recruitment of new members into the United Shoe Workers of America--Union arranges jobs for shoe workers from Saint Louis--United Shoe Workers joins the ClO--Support from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILG) and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union--Isadore Ludsky, Sidney Hillman, and David Dubinsky.
Seligman's work as secretary/organizer of the shoe workers union--George Roberts, the ILG, and the formation of the CIO in Los Angeles--The Douglas strike--James Marshall Carter defends the strikers in the Supreme Court--George Wilson and the CIO--Communists assume control of the CIO leadership--Seligman's disagreements with the Communist Party-- Seligman serves on executive committee of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League for the Defense of American Democracy--The Nazi-Soviet pact--Communist criticisms of Seligman as a union leader--Improvements in working conditions in the Los Angeles shoe industry.
Mexican workers in the shoe industry--Wage increases and full employment in the shoe industry--Settling disputes with shop stewards--Wage differentials in the crafts--Explanation of line, from laster to maker-- Opposition to Harry Bridges's appointment as state secretary of the CIO--From trade union leader to arbitrator--The National Labor Relations Board and Town Nylander.
The CIO Executive Committee--Town Nylander and the National Labor Relations Board--The National Board of Arbitrators--The National Labor Relations Act--Seligman goes to work as industrial relations director for Joyce, Inc.-- Comes into contact with the War Labor Board through working at a gas mask factory-- Exemption from military service--Alice Dodge and workers education--Henry Wallace--Work in the liquor industry--CIO expulsions--Lovestone and other leftists eventually become right- wing--Seligman's political opinions after the 1930s--The decline of the American labor movement.