Born Nivose William F Zak in Hendon, then in Middlesex, in 1906, Zak was a leading Communist in the London district of the Party as well as being a furnishing trades union activist for some forty plus years.
The first generation of Zaks born in Britain, in places like Whitechapel at first, are to be seen in the records in the last decade of the 19thcentury and the first of the 20th. A distinctly French flavour to the names bestowed on some early Zak children is evident, although this is a family of French Jews, perhaps via Poland or Lithuania a generation or two before. The father is possibly Ben Zak.
One of the first Zak children born in Britain was called Germinal Henri Zak, surely betraying a progressive leaning. For `Germinal is a gritty novel by Emile Zola that supportively tells the story of a coal miners' strike in northern France in the 1860s. The name was also the seventh month of the calendar, approximately March 21 – April 19, in the French First Republic calendar, that is to say the start of spring. (This is the newly invented but short-lived calendar used by France in the first years after its 1789 revolution.) The original applications of the name `Germinal’ was linked to the Latin root for `seed’ (hence the English word `germinate’) and Zola’s intent was to stress the `seeding’ nature of strikes for revolutions.
In a similar vein, Nivôse – Bill Zak’s actual first given name – was the fourth month in the by now defunct calendar. The month was named after the Latin word nivosus, which means snow, and related to late December and early January – when baby Bill was born.
From the early 1930s, Bill Zak was a contributor to Labour Monthly. In 1939, he was a leading advocate internally in the Communist Party for the imperialist war line.
The union he was especially prominent in, the National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives was formed in 1947 by the amalgamation of the Amalgamated Union of Upholsterers and the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades' Association.
In 1971 it merged with the Amalgamated Society of Woodcutting Machinists to form the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union. In modern times, this merged into the GMB union.
Bill Zak died in 1973 in Greenwich.