Saturday, March 9, 2013

Memories of a Veteran

I inherited my love of words, both written and spoken, from my Zaide - my grandfather - Jack Quint. Show him a podium, a microphone or a soapbox, and he would spin yarn after yarn completely off-the-cuff until someone dragged him away. I still can picture him in my grandparents living room, devouring the Montreal Star or a Yiddish-language newspaper. And Zaide also was a writer.

My grandfather was proud to be the Recording Secretary for the executive committee of his Union Local 209 for almost four decades. In 1969, he wrote a retrospective article for L’Aiguille, a union publication. Here is Part One of Jack Quint’s Memories of a Veteran.

As a lad of 16, I arrived in Montreal with my father in 1904 from Vilno, Russia.
Finding it most necessary to obtain a job, I was advised to become an apprentice operator in men’s clothing. According to the arrangement, I paid the contractor ten dollars and worked four weeks without pay. From then on he paid me three dollars a week, which was barely enough to pay for room and board. My dad gave me ten cents a week for spending money.
Six months later I asked my boss for a raise. He refused, saying that he could hire an apprentice who would pay him ten dollars. So, after much effort I found a job for five dollars a week. This was considered pretty good pay and I was quite pleased.
In 1905 I became a member of the United Garment Workers, paying ten cents a week for dues. A couple of years later an Independent Union was organized but it did not last very long. 
In 1911 I worked for H. Kelbert. The shop was on the fifth floor. We were denied the use of the elevator so we went on strike in protest. The United Garment Workers came to our rescue. Sam Gandis organized the tailors. We won the strike. During this episode, I became a member of Local 209. 
A year later I was working at B. Gardner. Mr. Gardner was the president of the Employers Association. The union called a general strike. The bosses hired scabs to replace us. Gardner’s shop had the most scabs. These scabs ate and slept in the shop. The Association hired an agent to bring in scabs from Toronto. When we learned that a large group was coming in, we organized a committee to meet them at the railroad station. There we found numerous police and detectives and the scabs were escorted to the Queen’s Hotel.

A Note of Explanation: My mother found my grandfather's article many years ago while going through some old papers. I made a photocopy of the article, stashed it away and forgot about it. Recently, I came across the piece and felt compelled to share the unedited words of Jack Quint - a man for whom English was, at best, his second language. Please return in a few days to read the conclusion of Memories of a Veteran.

1 comment:

  1. Cuzzie! What a beautiful, valuable gem you have here. Zaide's words. You have me tearing up. I can't wait for part two.