Jewish Artisans in Poland Meet to Consider Action to Alleviate Difficult Economic Position: Revival

The question of the Guild Law is one of the chief items before the Conference of Jewish Artisans in Poland, which is now in session here. Government circles are projecting a radical reform of the Industrial Law of 1927, it is stated, and Jewish public opinion fears that its enforcement may result in making the economic position of the Jewish population much worse even than it is at present. When the law was originally drafted, a big opposition movement was organised against the idea of compulsory Artisan Guilds which was included in the law, and the entire Jewish artisan class ranged itself with the opposition. This united action resulted in a compromise being arranged under which it was permitted to organise so-called Free Guilds, side by side with the old established and closed Guilds, to which Jews find it impossible to obtain admission. This compromise has been of great benefit to the Jewish artisans, who have been enabled by it to form their own Guilds and to carry out the provisions of the law without being dependent on the antisemitic majority of the old Guilds. It is now intended by the Government, it is stated, to enforce the principle of compulsory guilds as contemplated in 1927.

The situation has changed considerably in the interim, inasmuch as there are now groups of Jewish artisans who have obtained their guild diplomas, and would therefore not be affected by the application of the law, and who have declared themselves in favour of the principle of compulsory guilds. The majority of the delegates to the Conference, regarding the situation from the point of view of general Jewish interests, still consider the compulsory guilds, however, as a danger to the Jewish artisan class, which must be opposed.

The Conference will also deal with the position of the artisan credit co-operatives. The continuing financial crisis in Poland, it is pointed out, has hit worst of all the artisan credit co-operatives. Old and well-established co-operative banks, which used to cater for the Jewish artisan class, and financed their enterprises, banks which have played an important part in Jewish economic life, have crashed. The influence of the Jewish artisans on the Jewish co-operative movement has consequently diminished to a large extent, although it was primarily for the Jewish artisan class that the co-operative banks were formed. The result is that Jewish artisans have been left almost completely without the necessary institutions for supplying them with cheap credits. The Conference will consider what action to take for rebuilding the artisan co-operatives so that they can again exert their influence upon the Jewish co-operative movement in the interests of the Jewish artisan class.

The Conference will also take a stand on the new taxation projects which the Government is introducing into Parliament, the question of Compulsory Sunday Closing, and the extension of technical training courses for artisan apprentices.

This is not the first Jewish artisans’ conference held in Poland, the Jewish press writes, but never before, it says, has a conference of Jewish artisans met at so critical a time, when the entire future of the Jewish artisans of the country is menaced. We know that there are difficulties now all over the world, but we are convinced that nowhere is the situation so desperate as in Poland, that no section of the population of Poland is more hard hit than the Jewish section, and that of the Jewish population the worst sufferers are the Jewish artisans.

THE MENACE OF THE GUILD LAW.

In 1928, when the Government decided to hold up the operation of the Industrial Law and the Guild Law, M. Dobrucki, then Minister of Education, told Engineer Tcherniakov, the Chairman of the Jewish Artisans’ Federation, when he explained to him the reasons for the Jewish opposition, that the Government realised that in the beginning it would impose serious hardship and that it would be impossible to enforce the law strictly in the early stages. The Government saw, he said, that life would compel them during the transition period to overlook certain of the provisions, but the Government intended eventually to have the law carried into force.

The project was originally introduced into Parliament in 1925, when the Jewish spokesmen denounced it as likely to deprive thousands of Jewish artisans and hand-workers of all opportunities of employment, by placing the entire control in the hands of the guilds; which exclude Jews from membership. During the negotiations in connection with the Polish-Jewish Agreement, the Club of Jewish Deputies placed the withdrawal of the Industrial Law, and the Concessions Law among its principal demands in the economic field. The Government undertook in the Agreement to “support the amendments to the proposals of the Industrial Law which will make possible the organisation of Jewish Guilds”.

The Bartel Government, which was set up after the May rising under Marshal Pilsudski, withdrew the Industrial Law which was then before the Sejm awaiting the third reading.

Judge Panken, Chairman of the American Ort (Organisation for Promoting Handicraft and Agriculture among the Jews), who was visiting Poland in July 1925 when the Concessions Bill was passed into law and the danger of the enactment of the Industrial Law was acute, estimated in his report to American Jewry that the Industrial Law would put over 100,000 Jews out of work by preventing them from obtaining employment unless they secured certificates from the Guilds whose policy in regard to Jews offered no hope of their issuing such certificates to Jews. It was intended that under the Law it should not be possible for anyone to carry on a workshop unless both the employer and his journeyman were members of their Guild.

The spirit in which the Act was conceived was illustrated by the resolutions relating to it adopted at the time when it first came up, by the Conference of Polish Artisans and the Council of the Antisemitic Christian Democratic Party, urging its speedy enactment, and declaring that Polish interests demanded such a law to expel Jewish artisans from their economic positions, so that they should be filled by Poles. The Conference of Polish Artisans further demanded in its resolution that Jewish artisans should be barred from the artisans’ guilds and that no representatives of the Jewish artisans should be allowed to be members of the State Artisans’ Council.

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