Potofsky, Jacob Samuel

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POTOFSKY, JACOB SAMUEL (1894–1979), U.S. labor leader. Potofsky, who was born in the Ukraine, went to Chicago in 1908. His trade union career began almost immediately. From 1916 to 1946 he held a succession of important posts in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union and during these years worked closely with union leader Sidney *Hillman. Upon Hillman's death in 1946, Potofsky was elected as the president of the union and continued the major programs developed under Hillman's leadership. Thus, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers continued the policy of avoiding strikes and substituting arbitration wherever possible, a policy over which it clashed with such militant labor unions as John L. Lewis' United Mine Workers. It expanded its insurance programs, increased the number of its group health centers, maintained two banks, and led in sponsoring cooperative housing. Potofsky headed the United Housing Foundation, a combine of his and other trade unions and organizations, which erected large cooperative housing developments.

Under Potofsky's leadership, the Amalgamated continued to play an active political role in national, state, and municipal elections, normally in support of the candidates of the Democratic Party. As a member of the cio Political Action Committee after 1947 and a vice president of the afl-cio after 1955, as well as a leading figure in New York State's Liberal Party, he was one of the prominent, most influential U.S. labor leaders. Potofsky was a supporter of the State of Israel, and the Amalgamated has established a close relationship with the Histadrut. He was also a delegate to many international labor conferences. A vigorous opponent of all forms of prejudice, Potofsky was closely associated with the efforts of the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. He served on a number of public bodies, including the New York Temporary State Commission on Economic Expansion (1959–1960) and the New York City Temporary Commission on City Finances (1965). In both cases, he dissented freely from recommendations that seemed to compromise the interests of wage earners.


Finkelstein (ed.), American Spiritual Autobiographies, Fifteen Self-portraits (1948), 226–242.

[Irwin Yellowitz]