Jews, Diamonds, and Occupational Mobility: The Amsterdam Diamond Industry, 1873-1941

Joris Kok, International Institute of Social History

During the second half of the nineteenth century the number of diamond workers in Amsterdam increased tenfold, expanding its position as the main diamond production centre in the world. Pioneers in Dutch collective action, the 10,000 workers of the industry, consisting of a Jewish majority and a Christian minority, combined forces to create the country’s strongest union in 1894. Despite the influence of the union, or perhaps because of it, over half of the workers were forced to find new livelihoods in the 1920s, as labour demand plummeted in response to the increasing wage competition from the competing centre in Antwerp. What did the career mobility of these workers look like, and how did trajectories differ between Jewish and non-Jewish workers? This paper aims to answer these questions in two ways. First, using the 20,000 membership cards of the diamond workers’ union to describe who stayed and who left the industry. Second, using life courses collected for 400 male and 400 female members of the union born between 1873 and 1922, analyse career mobility both in- and outside of the diamond industry. To place these workers back in the context of Amsterdam, comparisons are made with representative samples of (i) Amsterdam Jews and (ii) Amsterdam’s population as a whole.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 122. Exploring Pathways to Progress: Social Mobility, Occupational Transitions, and Cultural Influences in Historical Contexts