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ORGANIZED LABOR’S ROLE IN COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
Background: The extent of trade union activity in community affairs is developed and explained during the course of this lecture. To provide a background for understanding the nature of organized action in community affairs, a brief introduction to the more important social agencies in the United States is given. In the outset, distinction is made between public or tax-supported agencies and private or voluntary financial groups; noting that the former concentrates on direct economic aid and assistance whereas the latter type organizations are most active in the area of recreation, counseling, guidance, and to some extent direct financial relief. Here, a graphic breakdown of the various public and private agencies is given.
Some attention is devoted to the early development of AFL and CIO participation on an organizational level in community affairs. The existence of the AFL’s Labor League of Human Rights during World War I, and the CIO War Relief Committee in 1941 is noted. The principles upon which the present AFL-CIO Community Service Committee program rests are explained. Also, the structure and administration of the Community Services Committee program on the national level and as carried out in the field through state councils and federations, international unions, and full and part-time CSC representatives is developed.
The responsibilities of local union community service committees are enumerated. A brief explanation is representation on agency boards, federated giving (charitable contributions), blood donor programs, programs for the aged, programs for servicemen and veterans, disaster relief, and the all-important strike relief programs. Some facts and figures on trade union contributions, both at home and abroad, are given.
Finally, to point up the unlimited possibilities for trade union activity in community affairs, mention is made of the medical, hospital and welfare program being carried on by the United Mine Workers in the soft coal region of the United State and similarly unique community programs conducted by other trade unions.
Developing good relations with other parts of the community is a comparatively new effort on the part of American trade unions. Up until 15 years ago, American labor was fighting to organize, to achieve better wages, shorter hours and higher living standards, and there was little time to study ways and means of building up influence and prestige in political and social fields.
But today American labor is convinced of the necessity of maintaining good relations with other segments of the community. Recently, President George Meany, in discussing the merger of the A. F. L. and C. I. O. had this to say relative to the responsibility of labor in working for the betterment of the community as a whole, and I quote President Meany:
“We must conduct ourselves in a way that shows we are an integral part of the community. We must take more and more responsibility for the welfare of the country as a whole. We must not think of ourselves as a group apart; and we must bear in mind that there is no such thing as a proletariat in America. I hope that we can continue to do more and more along this like of community responsibility.”
The American trade union movement has always proclaimed that it does not wish to advance at the expense of other segments of the population, and a statement such as made by President Meany helps to counter chargers by labor’s enemies that trade unions are interested only in themselves, their officers and members. With the realization of a merger, with the trade union movement representing a membership of 15,000,000 members, employers, newspapers, legislators, radio and television commentators will be ready and willing to point out any so-called misbehavior on the part of labor in maintaining and promoting its rights in the economic and legislative fields.
It is more important than ever, now, with the merger a reality, to place heavy emphasis on improving and expanding labor’s relations with every other segment of the community.
Now, just how do we do this?
It will be helpful, I think, to outline how American labor formally began to develop its community relations. It began, actually, at the period when Hitler was threatening to cross the channel and invade England. At that time the American Federation of Labor organized the Labor League for Human Rights, dedicated to aiding refugees from Nazism. One of the first projects of the Labor League for Human Rights was to raise, form A. F. of L. unions, $350,000 to be spent in establishing rest homes and recreation centers for British soldiers and sailors.
As the world crisis continued to develop, the United States became embroiled in the war, and the Labor League for Human Rights became increasingly important as the relief arm of the American Federation of Labor. At the same time the C.IO. had formed its relief arm, the C.I.O. Community Services Committee. By relief arm, I mean its role as an agency to help all sorts of organizations created because of the war situation. One such organization was called to the U.S.O., United Service Organizations, providing entertainment and recreation for soldiers and sailors. Another was the American Red Cross.
Soon an organization called the National War Fund was formed, and the A. F. of L. and the C. I. O. were invited to become participating organizations.
At this point, Organized Labor began to take stock of its positions in the fund-raising fields. It began to realize that the members of organized labor were giving a substantial part of the money to operate charitable and public service projects.
For many years labor had given to these funds and never have been given credit for raising money. In all these drives for money the company would get the credit for the giving, even though its employes gave a large part of the money. In the new situation, brought about by the war crisis, labor realized its fund-raising potentialities, and that is was in a good position to achieve recognition for its efforts in this field. Consequently is insisted on an agreement with the newly-formed National War Fund. This agreement called for:
- Full public credit for all contributions.
- Labor representation on all committees and board of the National War Fund, Red Cross and Community Chests.
- Labor staff on a national level to integrate labor participation in this new field. Local stuff was gradually added until today perhaps 200 local staff representatives are on the job, aided by perhaps as many as 60,000 volunteers serving on Boards of Health, Welfare and recreation agencies.
Creation of a Committee on Community Service
The AFL-CIO’s Committee on Community Services was formally adopted December 2, 1955
The Committee on Community Services shall stimulate the active participation by members and affiliated unions in the affairs of their communities and the development of sound relationships with social agencies in such communities.
From the Constitution of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (Article XIII, Section (i) Adopted December 2, 1955
RESOLUTION ON COMMUNITY SERVICES
The AFL-CIO is dedicated to the proposition that what is good for the community is good for labor.
It is in this spirit that members of the AFL-CIO function first and foremost as citizens of their communities.
Further to encourage the active participation and total integration of union members and their families in community affairs, the AFL-CIO, by constitutional provisions, has established a permanent national committee on community services.
The objectives of the AFL-CIO in the area of community organization for health, welfare and recreation shall be as follows:
- Encourage equitable labor representation on agency boards and committees.
- Stimulate labor participation in formulating agency policies and programs.
- Develop techniques and methods to interpret for union members agency programs and practices.
- Assist union members, their families and other citizens in time of need.
- Plan for union participation in civil defense and disaster relief programs and operations.
- Help in the development of health and welfare services, such as blood banks and mutliple screening
- Coordinate fund-raising drives, through voluntary federation wherever possible, for voluntary health and welfare services.
- Cooperate with other agencies in dealing with and in solving social and health problmes.
- Participate in all genuine efforts designed to improve social work standards and practices; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, The AFL-CIO urges:
- All national and international affiliates to establish community services departments with full-time staff wherever possible.
- All state and city central bodies to establish community services committee with full-time staff wherever possible.
- All local unions to establish community services committees.
- All affiliates to extend full cooperation to the National Committee in the development of its policies and programs.
In a January 1956 letter to union leaders, it was announced: “Mr. Leo Perlis will act as the National Director of the Committee. As you know, there is no longer an AFL or a CIO as such. We now have a new organization which combines both. This structure applies to our Community Services program and to all personnel engaged in this work. I would urge you, therefore, to integrate your functions and to give Mr. Perlis your complete cooperation. All AFL-CIO full time representatives working on the staffs of community agencies, such as United Funds, Chests, Councils of Social Agencies and others, should cooperate fully with Mr. Perlis and his staff assigned for this purpose…”.
WHEREAS, Organized labor, from its inception, has recognized its responsibility for the health and welfare of union members beyond the place of employment. This responsibility not only includes helping the union member in an emergency caused by strike, unemployment or disaster, but extends to helping to meet the personal and social needs of employed union members and their families; and
WHEREAS, Organized labor has long been aware that it cannot advance the personal and social well-being of its members without working for a
wholesome community which provides decent housing, good schools, adequate health facilities, sufficient recreational opportunities and good social service programs for all the people; and
WHEREAS, To this end the AFL-CIO, through its community services programs, has fostered and encouraged over-increasing participation and integration of union members in community affairs. Through the community services program, union members in communities across the nation:
A) Serve on policy-making boards and committees of voluntary health and welfare agencies, community welfare planning groups, federated fund-raising bodies and on advisory committees of public welfare agencies and on quasi-governmental committees and commissions created by the elected heads of local and state governments
B) Participate in and give leadership to federated fund drives which in turn support the major community voluntary social services.
C) Participate in planning to meet new problems by creating new services or the realignment of existing services, while at the same time working for the improvement of existing services.
D) Know about and use available community agencies to help them meet personal and family problems so that they can live more productive and satisfying lives; and
WHEREAS, The AFL-CIO is committed on the one hand to strengthening community social service programs so that they can more effectively meet existing social problems, and in some instances prevent them. On the other hand, AFL-CIO is committed to strengthening the participation of unions in community life. To these ends the AFL-CIO will carry forward the following programs and activities:
1. Encourage equitable labor representation on agency boards and committees, both public and voluntary.
2. Stimulate labor participation in formulating agency policies and programs through specialized training programs.
3. Assist union members, their families and other citizens in time of need, particularly during strikes, layoffs and unemployment.
4. Plan for union participation in local Civil Defense and disaster relief programs and operations.
5. Assist in the planning and development of health and welfare services to meet existing community needs in such areas as mental health, alcoholism, aging and the aged, youth, recreation, blood banks, rehabilitation, fluoridation and health education.
6. Coordinate fund-raising drives, through voluntary federation wherever possible, for voluntary health and welfare services.
7. Cooperate with other agencies in dealing with and in solving social and health problems.
8. Participate in all genuine efforts designed to improve social work standards and practices.
9. Participate in international social welfare programs.
10. Assist union members to carry forward their community responsibility more effectively through specialized community leadership training programs; therefore be it
RESOLVED: That this Convention urge:
1. All national and international affiliates to establish community services departments with full-time staff wherever possible.
2. All state and city central bodies to establish community services committees with full-time staff wherever possible.
3. All local unions to establish community services committees.
4. All affiliates to extend full cooperation to the National Committee and Department in the development of its policies and programs.
Adopted Fourth Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO, Florida, December 13, 1961
Source: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN: https://www.lib.umn.edu/swha