The Trades Advisory Council – countering antisemitism and fascism in 20th-century Britain
By Kurt M Jameson, on 3 February 2022
The Trades Advisory Council of British Jewry (TAC) was formed in 1938, to counter antisemitism in the sphere of trade. The TAC archives capture the history of fascism and antisemitism in mid-20th century Britain, and the history of those who fought back.
UCL has a collection of TAC archives, which has recently been fully catalogued. This collection appears to have originally been accumulated by Maurice Orbach (pictured), who was General Secretary of the TAC from 1940 until his death in 1979. The TAC began as a sub-committee of the Defence Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, but it became more independent over time. In their own words, the TAC’s aim was “eliminating friction in industry between Jews and non-Jews”. From the surviving TAC minute books, correspondence, and a large case book from the 1940s, we are able to see what this meant in practice.
The TAC would often intervene to apply pressure on businesses, if Jewish workers or Jewish customers were experiencing discrimination. Some of these people that the TAC helped in the 1940s were Jewish refugees fleeing mainland Europe due to the spread of fascism. In other cases, the TAC would act as mediators in disputes involving Jewish businesses. Their work therefore also involved forming relationships with various unions and trade bodies. Another aspect of the TAC’s work was to challenge antisemitic statements and characterisations that appeared in the media.
The TAC’s activities have resulted in a vast collection of press cuttings and antisemitic material, and the creation of files about individuals and organisations which the TAC suspected of being fascist. Many of these people were openly fascist, such as Oswald Mosley (who founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932). It is not entirely clear whether all of this material was collected for the TAC’s activities, or if some of it was collected for Maurice Orbach’s personal files (he was also an MP and a campaigner against racial discrimination), but regardless this collection now provides a vast trove of newspaper cuttings, leaflets, newsletters, pamphlets, and letters regarding antisemitism and fascism in Europe in the mid-20th century. Large scrapbooks have been filled with hundreds of newspaper cuttings reporting the activities of fascist groups, and of instances of antisemitism in the press. These files also include letters containing antisemitic abuse and threats, some of which had been sent directly to Orbach. The far-right leaflets and pamphlets in this collection demonstrate that many of the antisemitic conspiracy theories around on the internet today were also circulating in Britain in the mid-20th century.
The creator of these files and scrapbooks (probably Orbach himself) also collected material on those who fought back, and many of the scrapbooks have been given the title ‘Anti-Fascist’. The press cuttings capture the activities of individuals and groups who protested at fascist events, and who broke up meetings of fascist groups. For example, this material covers the actions of those who confronted Mosley and the Blackshirts in the streets in the 1930s, and it also includes a file on the Yellow Star movement, who opposed Mosley and his Union Movement on the streets in the 1960s.
Although much of the material in this collection consists of newspaper cuttings, which have already been published, the fact that such a comprehensive collection of articles has been carefully arranged means that the scrapbooks could be a useful resource for researchers into fascism, antisemitism, and anti-fascist organising. The internal TAC archives on the other hand offer a unique insight into the activities of some of those who worked to counter antisemitism in mid-20th century Britain.
The catalogue description for the TAC collection can be viewed online via this page, by searching for ‘TAC’: https://archives.ucl.ac.uk/CalmView/
To make an appointment to view any of the files in the TAC collection, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org