Jack Sheinkman... , a former head of America’s largest clothing-workers’ union and a leading strategist of the post-Vietnam-era labor movement, died in New York in 2004. He was 77.
Sheinkman was president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union from 1987 to 1995, after serving for three decades as the union’s secretary-treasurer and top lawyer. He retired after negotiating the union’s merger with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, or Unite.
A champion of aggressive union organizing, Sheinkman was the chief architect of the 1980 victory in which the union won recognition from the JP Stevens textile company, following a lengthy struggle that was fictionalized in the 1979 movie “Norma Rae.”
That victory followed a similarly dramatic fight to win recognition from the Texas-based Farah Manufacturing Co., in which the union pioneered the use of nontraditional tactics such as consumer boycotts and labor-civil rights coalitions.
“Jack was a very far-sighted labor leader who led the way in finding the weapons that labor would need to win in the post-Reagan era,” said the president of Unite, Bruce Raynor. “The Farah and Stevens campaigns were the first ones to involve consumer boycotts and civil-rights coalitions on a national scale, and he was the architect.”
Sheinkman was also a leading advocate of international labor cooperation and played a strong labor role in shaping foreign policy. He served three terms as president of the Jewish Labor Committee during the 1970s, and lobbied actively for strong U.S.-Israel ties.
Jacob Sheinkman was born in 1926 in the Bronx. His parents were Russian socialist activists who had fled the Bolshevik regime three years earlier. He was educated in the New York City public schools and in the Yiddish supplementary schools and summer camps of the Workmen’s Circle.
After serving in the Navy in World War II, Sheinkman entered Cornell University, where he was one of the first graduates of the School of Labor and Industrial Relations. After graduation he became an organizer for the International Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers. He joined the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America as a lawyer in 1953, becoming general counsel in 1958. The clothing workers merged in 1975 with the smaller Textile Workers Union of America to form the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union.
Sheinkman was elected secretary-treasurer of the union in 1972 as part of a new leadership team that included Chicago attorney Murray Finley as president. The election of the two American-born lawyers, following the retirement of longtime union president Jacob Potofsky, a Russian immigrant who had risen from the shop floor, represented a historic generational transition within the union.
“Jack was probably the last major labor statesman on the national stage to emerge directly from the old world of Yiddish-speaking social democrats,” said Jo-Ann Mort, who was the union’s spokeswoman under Sheinkman. He was also a key link to the next generation of post-1960s activists.
During the 1980s Sheinkman emerged as a leading opponent of U.S. policy in Central America. He founded and co-chaired a national committee on labor rights in Central America, which served as an organizing base for union activists opposing U.S. military intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The committee also helped union organizers threatened by right-wing militias in El Salvador to escape to safety in this country.
Sheinkman’s foreign policy activism frequently put him at odds with the hawkish leadership of the AFL-CIO, then led by Lane Kirkland. That role, together with his earlier role in the Stevens campaign, cemented Sheinkman’s image as a galvanizing figure for a younger generation of liberals drawn to union activism. His union “became a real repository for the energies of progressives who wanted to be part of the labor movement,” Mort said.
“Jack’s career was marked throughout by incredible integrity, seriousness and hard work,” Raynor said. “If the rest of the American labor movement had leaders like that, the movement would be in better shape than it is.”
Socialist Debs award
Every year since the mid 1960s the Indiana based Eugene V. Debs Foundation holds Eugene Debs Award Banquet in Terre Haute, to honor an approved social or labor activist. The 1985 honoree, was Jack Sheinkman.
New Directions conference
- The conference, supported by DSA, will bring together activists, analysts and elected officials to develop new directions for the Democratic Party and the broad democratic left.
Initial sponsors of the event included Reps. Charles Hayes and Barney Frank, labor leaders William Winpisinger and Jack Sheinkman (ACTWU), Joyce Miller (ACTWU and CLUW) and Jack Joyce, (Bricklayers), feminist leaders Gloria Steinem and Judy Goldsmith and policy analysts Robert Kuttner, Jeff Faux and Eleanor Holmes Norton.
National Rainbow Coalition 1990 conference
In May 3-6, 1990 the National Rainbow Coalition held a successful conference in Atlanta, attended by over 1,000.
Bernie Demczuk, national labor coordinator of the Rainbow, organized a contingent. Jack Sheinkman, president of the ACTWU, hosted a labor breakfast.
Led by Bogdan Denitch, DSA's permanent representative to the Socialist International, the Democratic Socialists of America delegation to the October 1990 Socialist International meeting in New York, included DSA Honorary Chair, Cornel West, Pat Belcon, a DSA NPC member, Motl Zelmanowicz, a "DSAer active in the Jewish Labor Bund", Jo-Ann Mort, a DSA NPC member, Jack Sheinkman, president of ACTWU, NYC Commissioner of Finance, Carol O'Cleireacain, Terri Burgess, chair of the DSA youth Section, Skip Roberts, Chair of DSA's Socialist International Committee, welcomed the Council to the United States on behalf of Democratic Socialists of America.
DSA Latin American leaders meeting
On April 17, 1993 Democratic Socialists of America hosted a reception for an "extremely distinguished delegation of democratic socialist leaders from Latin America". The guests, all of whom would be running for president of their respective countries within the next year, included Ruben Zamora of El Salvador, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of Mexico, Antonio Navarro Wolff of Colombia, and Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva (Lula) of Brazil.
Campaign for America's Future
- Unionist Jack Sheinkman, 77 February 6, 2004
- Unionist Jack Sheinkman, 77 February 6, 2004
- Eugene V. Debs Foundation homepage, accessed March 14, 2011
- Democratic Left, Sep./Oct. 1986, page 7
- Our Struggle/Nuestra Lucha. Vol. 8, No 2-3, summer 1990
- Democratic Left, November/december 1990, page 7
- Dem.Left, May/June 1993, page 14.
- [Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, William J. Clinton, page Appendix A page 1359]
- CAF Co-Founders