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Sara Wesker is peripherally famous today as the aunt of playwright
Born in 1901, she lived in the Rothschild Buildings, a block of flats in Spitalfields tenanted mainly by Jewish families, having been designed and funded by members of the Anglo-Jewish aristocracy. Sarah was by no means alone in being radicalised by her community environment. The flats produced a number of Communists who played an important role in the labour movement of the east end.
Sarah Wesker was an executive committee member of the National Union of Tailor and Garment Workers (NUTGW), before trying the United Ladies' Tailors' Trade Union (ULTTU), a Jewish union founded before the First World War. She was enabled to gain a leading role within ULTTU and then a formidable reputation as a trade union organiser in
In 1926, she became, briefly, an
In 1927 she had organised the young women at the Rego factory (see entry for Sam Elsbury). In 1929 she took a leading part in the strike at Polikoff's; and in 1930 she led a strike at the Simpson factory in Hackney.
Less than five feet tall, Sarah has been described as being “arrestingly sallow”, so much so that she might be deceptively thought of as being permanently ill. The Communist Party would later despatch her to a Crimean spa in a bid to improve her health but the Soviet doctors could find no wrong. But, when she spoke, audiences felt moved beyond belief. She was a ferocious speaker, “as if the energy of five men was balled up inside that miniature frame of hers”. She was as fluent in Yiddish as English, making it easy for her to relate to the older women in the sweatshops.
Despite the considerable progress made by Sarah Wesker in organising women workers, the view taken by most male members of the ULTTU (it may have been almost exclusively Jewish but, despite its name, it was by no means exclusively female) was that the organising of female labour, especially in an era dominated by the concept of the `family wage’, was of peripheral importance. The economic collapse and consequential mass unemployment, and the structure of the industry – with many small workshops and sweated labour conditions – seemed much more significant issues to confront.
In 1929, Sarah was one of those who founded the United Clothing Workers'
Mick Mindel (see entry) met her when he was but 19 and she an accomplished activist of 27. She became his teacher, allowing him to see the world through her eyes. Such an age gap was relatively unheard of then, even in the Communist movement.
Sarah was elected to the Communist Party’s Central Committee at the 12th Congress in 1932.
Following the decline of the UCWU, it was largely as a result of her efforts that its members were mostly absorbed into the NUTGW in 1935. The following year she was elected to the women's committee of the
But Mick would desert Sara in a deceitful way, some say that the first she knew of his new romance was when she visited Party headquarters on
Sara died of a stroke in 1971 but Mick spoke at her funeral. He broke down as he addressed her coffin: "I always loved you, Sara, and I always will."
Sources: include Jonathan Freedland `Jacob's Gift - A Journey Into The Heart Of Belonging’ and “