Nelson, Louis

views updated


NELSON, LOUIS (1895–1969), U.S. labor leader. Born in Kharkov, Russia, Nelson immigrated to the United States with his family as a young child. He left school at the age of 12 to work in the needle trade, joining the Raincoat Makers' Union and then the Amalgamated Clothing Workers as a tailor. A member of the Young People's Socialist League and affiliated with the left wing of the Socialist movement, he was active in opposition to the Amalgamated leadership. He was expelled from Amalgamated in the early 1920s, became a dressmaker in a dress shop and worked with the dual, Communist-controlled union, the Needle Trades Industrial Union. Later he reappraised his own position and came to believe that the small shop, which he had supported, permitted employers to avoid enforcing union conditions and that the installation of machines had in fact preserved jobs in those shops where they were installed. Nelson rejoined the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 1931 and took an active part in the successful dressmakers' strike of 1933. In the following year he became manager of Local 155, the Knit Goods Workers' Union, an industrial local with a membership of under 1,000. As manager of this union for 35 years, Nelson built it up to one of the strongest and most responsible of the ilgwu locals and by 1969 it had a membership of about 14,000. In 1952 he was elected a vice president of the ilgwu and served in that post until his death.

Long interested in Yiddish culture and education, Nelson supported the Folksbine theater and the work of yivo. By the 1960s the membership of Local 155 was no longer primarily Jewish but Nelson continued to arrange the appearance of Jewish artists and singers before the local's members. He was prime mover in the establishment of the Jewish Labor Committee. A non-Zionist, he supported the Bund position in regard to a Jewish state.

About this article

Nelson, Louis

Updated About content Print Article