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The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) Political Action Committee was established in 1943 to educate and mobilize CIO members about political issues of special concern to labor. 
Photo: Public Domain

Labor Organizations

 

Labor organizations have contributed significantly to the history of American social welfare.  The entries below describe various elements of the history of American labor, including the Knights of Labor, Mother Jones, and the labor priest Monsignor George Higgins.

 


  • AFL-CIOThe AFL–CIO is a federation of international labor unions. Since its inception as the American Federation of Labor, the AFL–CIO has supported an image of the federation as the "House of Labor"—an all-inclusive, national federation of "all" labor unions.
  • AFL-CIO & Community ServiceThe extent of trade union activity in community affairs is developed and explained during the course of this lecture.
  • American Association of Labor LegislationThe American Association for Labor Legislation (AALL) was formed to promote uniformity of labor legislation and to encourage the study of labor conditions with a view toward promoting desirable legislation. The Association was founded as a branch of the International Association for Labor Legislation.
  • American Labor Party: 1936The American Labor Party of New York State enters the campaign of 1936 with a three-fold purpose, discussed in this article.
  • Anderson, MaryMary Anderson (1872-1964): Advocate for Working Women, Labor Organizer and First Director of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Auto Workers Strike: 1933Article by Walter Reuther, one of the most prominent labor movement figures of the 20th century, in The Student Outlook, March, 1933. "The challenge to organize the production workers was taken up by the Auto Workers Union, which is organized on a broad industrial basis and is founded on the principle of the class struggle."
  • Black Studies in the Department of Labor, 1897-1907By Jonathan Grossman. "At the dawn of the 20th century, when 8.5 million blacks constituted about 12 percent of the population of the United States...not a single first‑grade college in America undertook to give any considerable scientific attention to the American Negro."
  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Win Over Pullman CompanyArticle by Edward Berman, The Nation, 1935. The Pullman Porters organized and founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. The BSCP was the very first African-American labor union to sign a collective bargaining agreement with a major U.S. corporation.
  • Chávez, César Estrada (1927-1993)César Chávez was a folk hero and symbol of hope to millions of Americans. In 1962, he and a few others set out to organize a union of farm workers. An ardent advocate of nonviolence, Chávez was one of the most inspirational labor leaders of the 20th century, with an influence that stretched far beyond the California fields.
  • Commons, John R.John R. Commons (1862-1945) – Economist, Progressive, Labor Advocate, Professor and Author
  • Company Unions and the American Federation of Labor (AFL)Article by Louis Adamic, The Nation, 1934. "In brief, the A. F. of L. union skates are utilizing, exploiting the workers' hate for company unions, stirring and intensifying it, focusing their thoughts and feelings on the company-union evil, exaggerating the power of company unionism, in order to keep them blind to the faults and shortcomings of the A. F. of L. organizations."
  • Cruikshank, Nelson HaleNelson Hale Cruikshank (1902-1986): Minister, Labor Leader and a Leader for Social Security and Medicare
  • Debs, Eugene V. (1855-1926)Eugene V. Debs (1855 – 1926) – Labor Leader, Socialist and Presidential Candidate
  • Detroit Digs In: 1937Article by Edward Levinson, The Nation, 1937. "General Motors must have known it was making an offer which the union could not consider without inviting a repetition of the collapse of the 1934 strike. While talking peace to Governor Murphy it has thrown up breastworks for a fight to the end."
  • Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938Written by Jonathan Grossman. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 applied to industries whose combined employment represented only about one-fifth of the labor force. In these industries, it banned oppressive child labor and set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and the maximum workweek at 44 hours.
  • Federal Government and Negro Workers Under Woodrow Wilson - J. MacLauryPaper written by Judson MacLaury, U.S. Department of Labor Historian, and delivered at the Annual Meeting for the Society for History in the Federal Government. It reflects another step in the evolution of the civil rights movement and a graphic description of some of the political and governmental obstacles the African-American community faced in becoming an integral part of American society.
  • Flint Faces Civil War: 1937Article by Charles R. Walker, The Nation, 1937. "'We'll stay in till they carry us out on stretchers,' is the message sent out by the sitdowners in Fisher 2. 'We'd rather die than give up.'"
  • Flint Sit-Down Strike (1936-1937)The Flint Sit-Down Strike is known as the most important strike in American history because it changed the United Automobile Workers (UAW) from a collection of isolated individuals into a major union, ultimately leading to the unionization of the United States automobile industry.
  • Goldberg, Arthur JosephArthur J. Goldberg (1908-1990) – Legal Strategist and Adviser to the American Labor Movement
  • Gompers, Samuel (1850-1924)Samuel Gompers, 1850-1924: The Grand Old Man of Labor
  • Harlan: Working under the GunArticle written by John Dos Passos, The New Republic (1931). "Harlan County in eastern Kentucky, which has been brought out into the spotlight this summer by the violence with which the local Coal Operators' Association has carried on this attack, is, as far as I can find out, a pretty good medium exhibit of the entire industry: living conditions are better than in Alabama and perhaps a little worse than in the Pittsburgh district."
  • Haywood, William "Big Bill" DudleyWilliam D. "Big Bill" Haywood ranks as one of the foremost and perhaps most feared of America's labor radicals. Physically imposing with a thunderous voice and almost total disrespect for law, Haywood mobilized unionists, intimidated company bosses, and repeatedly found himself facing prosecution.
  • Higgins, Monsignor GeorgeWritten by Michael Barga. Monsignor George Higgins “The Labor Priest” (1916-2002): Worker’s Rights Advocate, Journalist
  • Hill, Joe (1879-1915) - Labor Folk HeroJoe Hill (1879-1915): Songwriter, Itinerant Laborer, Union Organizer and Labor Folk Hero
  • Hillman, Sidney - (1887-1946)Sidney Hillman, the founder of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (now UNITE!) and its president from 1914 to 1946, invented trade unionism as we know it today.
  • Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Local 8 (1913-1928?)Also called the Wobblies, the IWW believed in equal treatment for African Americans. Article I, Section I of the IWW Constitution declared that all workers, regardless of color or creed, could join the IWW. The IWW believed that all wage workers, regardless of their ethnic, national, or racial heritage, should identify as workers in opposition to their employers, with whom workers shared “nothing in common.”
  • International Ladies Garment Workers UnionAt the height of its power during the 1930s and 1940s, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) was one of the most important and progressive unions in the United States
  • Jane Addams and the 1894 Pullman StrikeChapter 13 from the book: "Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy" by Louise W. Knight. "The strike was a public crisis. Its eruption raised difficult questions for Addams about the ethics of the industrial relationship. What were George Pullman’s obligations to his employees? And what were his employees’ to him? ...Who had betrayed whom? Where did the moral responsibility lie?"
  • Jones, Mary Harris 'Mother'Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones (1837-1930): Labor Activist and Organizer, Speaker, Teacher
  • Knights of LaborArticle by Michael Barga. The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor were the most prominent labor organization of the 1880’s. Characterized by its oath-bound secrecy, its emphasis on autonomy of local Knights and non-violence, and its broad sense of solidarity, it is considered by many to be a failed experiment in the labor movement which did not capitalize on the action-mindedness of the Great Upheaval moment.
  • Labor History Timeline: 1607 - 1999From the earliest days of the American colonies, when apprentice laborers in Charleston, S.C., went on strike for better pay in the 1700s, to the first formal union of workers in 1829 who sought to reduce their time on the job to 60 hours a week, our nation’s working people have recognized that joining together is the most effective means of improving their lives on and off the job.
  • Mason, Lucy Randolph (1882-1959)Lucy Randolph Mason devoted her life to bringing about more humane conditions for working people, ending racial injustice and ensuring that union organizers throughout the South were guaranteed the constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and due process that her ancestor, George Mason, had helped establish.
  • Music & Social ReformWritten by Catherine A. Paul. "Throughout the history of the United States, music has been used to bring people together. By singing together, people are able to form emotional bonds and even shape behavior...Therefore, it is unsurprising that social movements have similarly interwoven music and action to create and sustain commitment to causes and collective activities."
  • National Labor Relations Board The National Labor Relations Board is proud of its history of enforcing the National Labor Relations Act. Starting in the Great Depression and continuing through World War II and the economic growth and challenges that followed, the NLRB has worked to guarantee the rights of employees to bargain collectively, if they choose to do so.
  • National Women's Trade Union LeagueThe National Women’s Trade Union League of America (NWTUL) was established in Boston, MA in 1903, at the convention of the American Federation of Labor. It was organized as a coalition of working-class women, professional reformers, and women from wealthy and prominent families. Its purpose was to “assist in the organization of women wage workers into trade unions and thereby to help them secure conditions necessary for healthful and efficient work and to obtain a just reward for such work.”
  • Negro Wage Earners and Trade UnionsWritten by William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, 1934. "During the past five years Negro wage earners have been turning to the organized labor movement with new conviction. They are becoming responsible union members, sharing the benefits and hardships of union endeavor...These developments are evidence of substantial progress in the growing acceptance of responsibility on the part of Negro workers."
  • Negro Workers and Recovery: 1934Written by Lester B. Granger. "Negro labor in St. Louis, MO., has shown the way for colored workers throughout the country to make an aggressive attack against prejudiced and discriminatory policies on the part of certain sections of the American labor movement."
  • Peterson, Esther (1906–1997)Esther Peterson was a trailblazer—as a woman and an advocate for workers’ rights. She was honored by the National Women’s Hall of Fame as “one of the nation’s most effective and beloved catalysts for change.” In 1981, Esther received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award, to honor her more than 50 years of activism.
  • Profile of General Motors: 1937Article written by Samuel Romer, The Nation, 1937. "When sitdown strikes in five General Motors automobile and parts plants resulted in a practical paralysis of production operations and forced direct negotiations between national officers of both the corporation and the union, few of the workers involved realized that they were participating in the first important battle of a civil war which will largely determine the industrial progress of America during the next decade."
  • Public Relief in the Sit-Down Strike: 1937An Editorial in The Survey, March, 1937. "A sharp reminder that 'emergency' is the middle name of public relief agencies came home to the Genesee County, Mich. Welfare Relief Commission last month with the 'sit-down strike' in Flint of the United Automobile Workers."
  • Randolph, A. PhillipA. Philip Randolph: Founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Chair of the Committee that Organized the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”
  • Reuther, Walter (1907 - 1970)Walter Reuther, Labor Organizer and President of the United Automobile Workers from 1946 to 1970
  • Robins, Margaret Dreier (1886--1945)Margaret Dreier Robins (1886–1945): American Labor Leader and Advocate for Women’s Rights
  • Rose Schneiderman: N.Y. Senators vs. Working WomenRose Schneiderman, an organizer for the New York Women’s Trade Union League, worked to bring together middle and working-class women in support of women’s right to vote. She makes a good case here against male politicians’ opposition to woman suffrage and she supports working women’s efforts to reduce the hours of labor and secure protective legislation.
  • Rustin, Bayard (1912-1987)Bayard Rustin: Trade Union and Civil Rights Organizer and Activist
  • Schneiderman, Rose"Rose Schneiderman, the labor organizer who taught Eleanor Roosevelt everything she 'knew about trade unionism.'”
  • Social Work and the Labor Movement: 1937"The Social Program of the Labor Movement," a presentation by Mary van Kleek, Director, Division of Industrial Studies, Russell Sage Foundation New York City, at the National Conference of Social Work, 1937. "It is true that the movement has been divided as between the craft unions and the great masses of unorganized workers. Every day, however, brings evidence of the present vital unity."
  • The Detroit Strike: 1933Article by Samuel Romer, The Nation, 1933. "...There were only about 450 men working in the plant then--but every one of them put away his tools and walked out. So began the first major labor struggle in Detroit since the period immediately following the war."
  • The Hill-Billies Come to Detroit: 1934Article by Louis Adamic, The Nation, 1934. "In recent months, with production increasing, it has been necessary for the companies to bring in tens of thousands of people from outside, principally from the South, and put them to work in the busy plants. For months now the companies have been sending their labor agents to recruit hill-billies from Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama."
  • The Urban League and the A.F. of L."A Statement on Racial Discrimination," read by Reginald A. Johnson, executive secretary of the Atlanta Urban League, at the Hearing of the American Federation of Labor Committee of Five to Deal with Negro Problems, 1935. "...the American Federation of Labor has stood firmly behind its position that the ranks of organized labor must be open to all workers regardless of color or creed. "
  • U.S. Department of Labor History"A Brief History, "written by Judson MacLaury
  • United We Eat (1934)Article written by John S. Gambs, Survey Graphic, 1934. "In this fashion, carrying on their banners the device used by men in the Continental Navy—-the coiled rattlesnake and the militant words, Don't Tread on Me—thousands of men and women are protesting the inadequacies of unemployment relief."
  • Washington Sweatshop (1937)by Robert S. Allen, The Nation July 17, 1937. Wage-hour legislation was a campaign issue in the 1936 Presidential race.
  • Why Ford Workers Strike: 1933Article written by Carl Mydans, The Nation, 1933. "The real object of the strike at the Edgewater, New Jersey, plant of the Ford Motor Car Company was, of course, a wage increase. The workers seized the opportunity, however, to protest against a number of the conditions under which they had been working."
  • Women's BureauThe Women's Bureau was established in the Department of Labor by Public Law No. 259 of June 5, 1920. It is the only federal agency mandated to represent the needs of wage-earning women in the public policy process.
  • Women's Trade Union LeagueFounded in 1903 by Jane Addams, Mary Anderson and other trade unionists, the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) devoted itself to securing better occupational conditions for women and encouraging women to join the labor movement. The WTUL had a strong reformist agenda, “sponsored a combination of vocational training and protective legislation,” and quickly emerged as one of the most liberal organizations of its kind.