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The Kheel Center ILGWU Collection

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ILGWU Presidents

David Dubinsky

  • Years in office: 1932 - 1966
  • Born: 1892
  • Died: 1982
  • Nationality: Russian

David Dubinsky was the longest-serving president of the ILGWU, leading the union from 1932 to 1966.

After being imprisoned and later exiled for his involvement in a bakers' union of the General Jewish Workers Union, also known as the Bund, in 1908, he escaped from the small Siberian village to which he had been exiled, returned to Lodz, and resumed work as a baker with an assumed name. In 1911, Dubinsky arrived in New York City and became a member of Local 10, the cutters' union of the ILGWU.

Dubinsky's rise in the ILGWU was swift, after having been elected to Local 10's executive board in 1918. He rose as the local's vice-president (1919), chairman (1920), and president and general manager (1921). He was soon elected a vice president of the ILGWU and a member of the International's General Executive Board (1922) and then General Secretary-Treasurer (1929-1959). He was elected President of the ILGWU in 1932, and served in that position until 1966. Dubinsky was labor advisor to the National Recovery Administration (1933-1935), vice-president and executive council member of the AFL (1935-1937, and again after 1945).

Under Dubinsky's leadership, the ILGWU's membership grew tremendously. Reaching over 450,000 in 1957, the ILGWU was indisputably one of the largest and most powerful unions in the United States. This growth translated into significant benefits established for union members, including the establishment of a Death Benefit Fund (1937), negotiation of the ILGWU's first contract with a retirement plan (1943), and creation an ILGWU Staff Retirement Fund (1946). The union's central office also grew during this period, including the creation of the Management-Engineering Department (1941), Legal Department (1947), Political Department (1947), and Investment Department (1956). The ILGWU's Labor Stage, WFDR, and other cultural programs flourished during this period.

While president of the ILGWU, Dubinsky was deeply involved in state, national, and international politics. In 1936, he joined in founding the American Labor Party in New York State and served as Democratic Party elector for the ticket of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John N. Garner. In 1944, he participated in the founding of the Liberal Party of New York. He helped to found the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and was an important figure in the Free Trade Union Committee. Also, he served on the board of the Labor League for Human Rights, the Jewish Labor Committee, and the Post-War Planning Committee.

After retiring from the presidency of the ILGWU in 1966, Dubinsky became the founding director of the Retiree Services Department. He held that position until his death in 1982.

View a copy of Dubinsky's letter of resignation

David Dubinsky portrait