Julius (Julie) Margolin
Tireless labor organizer. Fierce, fearless advocate of human rights. Champion of the underdog. Trade union officer. Singer. Songwriter. Recording Artist. Julie Margolin is all of these and more.
Born on Manhattan's lower east side in 1916 -- the oldest of five children -- Julie quit school to help support his four younger brothers and sisters. His first job was as a busboy at Thompson's Cafeteria in Grand Central Station. The wage for the 60-hour work week was $10.50, with lots of unpaid overtime. Julie says his "first glimmer of consciousness" came when he found that women doing the same job only received $9 a week.
Because working conditions at Thompson's were grueling, Julie left and went to work at Silver's Cafeteria in Brooklyn. There he was approached by a union organizer, and a whole new world opened to him. Empowered and emboldened by the idea of improving working conditions for himself and others, he helped to organize the Food Workers Industrial Union Local 110 (not a member of AFL-CIO). "We were young and militant," Julie says, "and we were determined to build a strong union." Despite increasing violence supported and financed by employers and directed against union organizers, Julie persevered. Through those efforts, the movement branched out into Manhattan and organized the cafeterias there.
During the beginning of the depression, Julie helped to organize the Worker's Alliance. Around 1938, he worked to organize the Newspaper Guild, walking the picket line with its President, Hayward Broun. In 1940, he got his Seaman's papers and joined the Merchant Marine. Though World War II had not begun, the Germans were torpedoing ships, and Merchant Marine ships often came under attack. Since they were commercial, the ships were not armed. Consequently, they suffered more casualties than did the military ships. Julie lost many friends and received four combat bars while sailing through World War II. During those years, he worked aboard ships as a rank and file organizer to increase the membership of the National Maritime Union, which was in the forefront of the trade union struggle.
During his travels in the Merchant Marine, Julie organized and demonstrated in many different countries, including Italy, Greece and Spain. Later he was in Brazil in '63-64 when the US overthrew President Goulart. He was tear gassed by Peron "thugs" in Buenos Aires at the bank workers' strike. He made many pilgrimages to Cuba, where he helped to build houses, pick fruit and cut sugar cane. Julie laughs when he says, "Cutting sugar cane was the hardest job I ever did in my life."
In 1949, the men of the Merchant Marine were denied the right to sail or work: they were "screened off" ships. After Julie was barred from ship work, he worked on construction and as a machinist for the remainder of his work life.
In the US, he helped organize students at City College. He served three months on Riker's Island for protesting against the Korean War and was arrested many times for civil disobedience actions in protest of the Vietnam War.
Today, Julie continues his lifelong struggles in the labor and peace movements. As he describes it, he is "still fighting phony wars and puppet governments." As a recording artist, he has made three CDs with union activist and fellow Chorus member, George Mann: "Miles to Go before We Sleep" (labor and Civil rights and folk songs); "Hail to the Thief" (songs in protest of the Bush/Gore election results); and "Just a Few Bad Apples" (songs in opposition to the Bush administration policies).
For over 70 years, Julie has fought tirelessly to organize in countries all over the world. Now a retired member of the Motion Picture Studio and Mechanics Union Local 52, he represents that union in the NYC Labor Council.
Julie says he joined the New York City Labor Chorus because he was delighted to find a group which would sing the message of solidarity, not only in concert halls but at labor strikes and demonstrations. He credits Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie with having great influence in the labor movement, and believes the Chorus can build on that momentum to propel the struggle forward. He believes that through art -- in whatever form -- we open people's hearts and minds to hidden truths. He says the Chorus can inspire union members and educate others through our songs of passion and courage, challenge and commitment. Only in this way, Julie maintains, can we effect change in the world.
Julius Margolin represents the best and the brightest of the New York City Labor Chorus.