Social Security: The Long Road

31 Dec

SOCIAL SECURITY: THE LONG ROAD                                                                                          James A. Young

            The human search for security against the disasters of injury, economic collapse, and old age goes back thousands of years – to ancient Egyptian grain storage and public works projects and to medieval Chinese retirement homes and public health clinics.  In more recent times, Founding Brother Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice (1795) proposed that a 10 percent tax inheritance tax on property be used to provide 15 pounds sterling to all persons when they turned 21 years of age and 10 pounds sterling per year to anyone aged 50 or older and to the blind and the lame.  Paine’s proposal didn’t go very far at the time, despite his reminder that liberty is a rather empty concept without a move toward greater economic equality.

Yet, some movement was made in that direction through pensions for soldiers who’d served in the army of the Revolution, and pensions for soldiers in other wars followed.  But the most thorough system – one that may be fairly described as social security and that proved to be largely a model for our Social Security system – came to fruition during and after the American Civil War.  This program provided a pension for any veteran of the U.S. Army who suffered disabilities resulting from military duties and survivor benefits for widows and orphans, as well as old age pensions.  By 1894 such payments accounted for 37 percent of the U.S. federal budget and covered 6 percent of the population – before Confederate veterans and families became eligible after 1900.

Thirty-two other countries, most notably Germany and Great Britain, adopted social insurance programs before the U. S. Congress voted on an American plan, because conservatives continued to oppose the idea.  Leading Republicans argued that it would overburden industry, break the government financially, and/or cut into the profits of private insurance companies.  They and others also felt that the Supreme Court would find such a program unconstitutional.  Even the AFL, many of whose member unions operated insurance plans of their own, didn’t approve of a national plan until 1932.  From the Left, some opposed the plan brought forth by Labor Secretary Frances Perkins’s Committee on Economic Security because its financing was regressive in nature – as it is.  But President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted that workers must be taxed to support the program, in order that politicians of the future could not come along and take it away.

Other, more financially liberal, proposals included Louisiana Senator Huey Long’s “Share Our Wealth” plan, backed by 27,000 supporting clubs and their 7.5 million members, as well as Dr. Francis Townsend’s idea for $200-per-month for senior citizens and his 2.2 million supporters in 7,000 clubs across the land.  Together the two movements brought tremendous pressure to bear upon the Roosevelt Administration and are credited by some for pushing the “Second New Deal” (from 1935) that also produced the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act, the WPA, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and other measures of the period.

In any event, all of the legislative amendments to kill or modify the proposal were defeated, and President Roosevelt signed the bill into law on August 14, 1935.  The new Act provided benefits to the worker who had paid 1 percent of his/her wage (matched by the employer), and monthly benefits were to begin in 1942 (later amended to 1940).  At the insistence of conservative Southern Democrats, however, agricultural and domestic workers – heavily ethnic minorities in number – were excluded from coverage.  The Act did also provide federal grants to states for providing welfare for the poor.  Finally, the Act created an unemployment insurance program against job loss, a step that only seven states – not Pennsylvania – had already taken on their own.  A Social Security Board then took office and got to work quickly, because Senator Huey Long’s “Swan Song Filibuster”* killed funding for the Act and they had to borrow money from the Labor Department to get the program up and running.

In 1939 Congress added child, spouse, and survivor benefits to the Act and in 1950 added regularly employed agricultural and domestic workers and non-farm self-employed persons (but not independent professionals).  Disability benefits followed in 1956, and by the early 1960s 90 percent of the nation’s jobs were covered by the Act.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in the case of Halvering v. Davis (1937) that the Social Security Act is constitutionally sound, based on the government’s right to tax.  The country’s most successful and most popular nation-wide program was secure.

  • Senator Long was assassinated and died in September 1935.
  • Young presented orally a somewhat longer version of this article at the annual conference of the Pennsylvania Labor History Society in October 2015.

The Only Losers Were the Workers

3 Feb

The Only Losers Were the Workers – presented at the joint conference of the Labor and Working Class History Association and the Working Class Studies Association on “Fighting Inequality” at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., May 31, 2015
James A. Young

My long-time mentor Marty Morand asked me not long ago, “What do you think is the main problem of the American labor movement?” I replied quickly and
“It’s American,” I said.
I’ve since thought that over quite a bit, concerned that my response was both too hasty and a bit too fuzzy. But, I’ve come to suspect that I may not have been far
off target, at least insofar as my research into and around the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) has informed me. Just as corporate America
emerged from World War II stronger and wealthier than ever and determined to reclaim their pre-Depression dominance of society from shop floor to White House,
intra-union and inter-union relations reverted to the dog-eat-dog, self-destructive behaviors that major corporations had left behind in the 1920s. In pursuit of personal
and organizational aggrandizement, labor leaders – aided by religious, corporate, journalistic, and political forces – created and seized opportunities to attack other
leaders and unions, and in doing so undermined themselves their own organizations, and the entire labor movement. At the same time, the predominant union
leadership and much of their membership willfully subordinated themselves to the constraints imposed by the U. S. government and its underlying corporate elite, within
the framework of a resurgent Red Scare, which they themselves broadened and deepened. This trend precipitated the long decline of labor union strength generally and
in electrical manufacturing in particular, about which David Fitzmaurice of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE) said “The only losers
were the workers.” This result should not have surprised many, even at the outset of the open struggle.
James Carey understood the risks created by his dissident activities within the UE and later as head of the IUE. Carey, the former UE president defeated for re-
election in 1941, knew the likely costs of the union’s factional strife. At the 1948 UE convention, Carey said that the impact of internal union struggles “. . . means a
reduction in wages, it means longer hours, it means worse working conditions, and above all it means less security for the families of workers” – “. . . poor housing, less
health care and less education for children.” Yet, the Carey-Block (after Harry Block of Philadelphia) group persevered in their disruption of the UE and, having failed
over several years to transform that into a takeover of the union, solicited aid from outside – including corporate and clerical sources – in destroying the UE and
establishing their own organization, the IUE. The role of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (ACTU) in this struggle is rather well-known. But, in addition,
General Electric’s Lemuel Boulware later recalled that very early on “Carey was sending us telegrams that he was starting a new union and that he wanted us to start
dealing with him at once . . . .” Concern for workers and their families was set aside as hyper-individualism took to the saddle in yet another contrived crusade against
communism. What could be more American?
The Carey-Block faction did not enlist in the Red Scare in the early going. In fact, Carey supported and affiliated with leftist groups and causes with sufficient
enthusiasm to provoke ACTU’s executive director, George R. Donahue, to complain to CIO president John L. Lewis about Carey’s having spoken before “such a patently
Communist Front organization as the League for Peace and Democracy.” And a UE business agent in Erie, Pennsylvania, recounted in later years that “When Jimmy
‘Wonder Boy’ Carey was president of UE, we in Local 506 got used to being blasted as Communists because of Carey’s connections with the Civil Rights League,
American Youth for Peace and Democracy, and the American Youth Congress.” Carey did serve for a time as vice president of the American Youth Congress and on the
national board of Americans for Peace and Democracy and – along with Harry Block – was identified as a Communist by the Dies Committee of the U. S. House in 1940
and was so suspected by the FBI. Finally, following his defeat for re-election as UE president in 1941 – an election in which Communist convention delegates were
actually split – Carey made no claim that he was ousted by the Communists; and, he then nominated Julius Emspak for re-election as UE’s secretary-treasurer, in order “.
. . to assure the good continuity of the splendid organization we have all played a part in building.” For, Jim Carey at that time saw his defeat as merely a temporary
setback. Yet, as anti-Communist alarms continued to ring, especially after the end of World War II, the Carey-Block faction moved to take advantage of them.
Jim Carey’s use of the Communist issue seems to have been largely, maybe entirely, opportunistic. The young man – he’d just turned thirty – had shown signs of
megalomania and/or narcissism in his behavior as UE president, a factor in other leaders’ determination to be rid of him, and a continuing cause of troubles in his future
union, the IUE. In addition, Carey had become influenced strongly by Catholic activists, notably the Rev. Charles Owen Rice of the Pittsburgh region, a leader of the
ACTU. Rice, a fervid anti-Communist “labor priest,” played a major role in Carey and Block’s dissident UE group, Members for Democratic Action.

Yet, Rice also understood some of Carey’s limitations. UE’s General Electric Conference Board had officially withdrawn Carey from negotiations with the
company because his “popping off” had provoked GE to suspend the first set of contract talks. Moreover, Carey had displayed a rather dictatorial sense of entitlement
about UE affairs, despite his infrequent attention to UE matters because of his activities as CIO secretary-treasurer and his frequent speaking and other engagements.
Consequently, when the indefatigable Rice returned to the anti-Communist front after the war, he (Rice) approached UE president Albert Fitzgerald, who’d defeated
Carey in 1941 and had won very handily again in 1946 and 1947. According to Fitzgerald, Rice said he didn’t have too much confidence in Carey and that his group
(ACTU) would support Fitz as president of the union, if he’d turn against the other two major UE officers – Julius Emspak and James Matles – alleged Communists. Rice
also made a public plea in the Pittsburgh Catholic that Fitzgerald make such a move. But Fitzgerald didn’t bite, because he didn’t see the Communists as a threat.
Rather, he said, sensibly, “. . . they were in such a minority in every organization” that they could easily be blocked on any specific issue.
Meanwhile, the MDA faction got off the ground, with significant help from Rice and ACTU. His fierce anti-Communism fueled by accounts of the priests and nuns
gunned down by Spanish Communists during that country’s civil war in the 1930s, Rice led the way, accompanied by John Duffy and others who were bankrolled by CIO
president Philip Murray, convinced of the real danger of a Communist takeover of the CIO. So, he and his Catholic activists campaigned for Carey and the MDA, so
openly that Carey lost the support of Harry Phelps, a Protestant vice president of Local 506 sent by Jim Kennedy to support Carey at the national convention. Phelps saw
so many Catholic priests working for Carey that he voted to retain the incumbents. And, Phelps did not stand alone in his concern. David Fitzmaurice and other Carey
supporters worried that ACTU aimed to control the MDA caucus, a charge that Rice later dismissed. Meanwhile, Philip Murray watched and waited.
By 1947, “shy, sad-eyed” Philip Murray, as James Wechsler described him, told UE leaders that he’d become embarrassed by Carey’s use of his CIO office for
MDA purposes; but, he said, he just couldn’t control his secretary-treasurer. Over Emspak’s misgivings, UE had supported Carey’s continuation as full-time CIO officer
following his loss of the UE presidency. But this only provided an irreconcilable Carey with a bully pulpit from which to attack and undermine his former colleagues.
Murray now committed to speak with Carey once again about such behaviors. Yet, it appears that crucial CIO leaders already had decided a decade earlier to move into
“. . . an elite relationship with the Democratic Party,” as Rosemary Feurer phrases it. So, Murray reneged on his commitment after UE leaders broke with CIO directives
that all member unions reject minor-party presidential candidates and support the Democratic Party nominee of 1948 — whoever that might be – and that they support
the Marshall Plan for Western Europe’s economic recovery, as well. That these measures would require some unions to violate their own constitutional requirements
concerning endorsements of political candidates and major policy measures apparently mattered little to Murray, who’d risen through the red-baiting and dictatorial
ranks of John L. Lewis’s United Mine Workers (UMW) bureaucracy and who’d created in the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) a top-down-driven entity that
freely employed Communist and other radical organizers and then dumped them when convenient. The mentality of Murray, in the end, scarcely differed from that of
Carey, and they soon operated openly as allies.
The broad-brush events of the UE’s disaffiliation/expulsion from the CIO are well known. But the effects upon the UE and the CIO at the local level are less
familiar. While my examination of this factor is still a work in progress, the case of Erie County, Pennsylvania, offers a case study that may well relate to other areas
such as Schenectady, New York and elsewhere in which the UE constituted a large percentage of the CIO’s local Industrial Union Council (IUC). In Erie, the UE accounted
for 65.4% of the EIUC’s per capita dues payments for the last quarter of 1947, over 50% from UE locals 506 and 618 at the General Electric plant.
Erie labor first felt the effect of the split over political issues in March 1948. As the CIO political directives reached the local level, amid rumors that UE would be
expelled from the CIO, resistance arose against Murray’s demands. A large segment of the Erie IUC officers, including president Dan Honard of UE Local 616, resigned.
Other resignations included those of the president of United Rubber Workers (URW) Local 61, Joe Luciano; Steel Worker Sharkey Carl, who doubled as chair of the
Political Action Committee (PAC), and secretary Dan Carbone of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, as well as others. These protesters issued a joint statement criticizing
the CIO policy:
We do not believe that the policy set by the national CIO Executive Board in opposing a third-party movement – as decided at the January meeting – was a democratic policy.
Further, the group stated, labor leaders should not tell their rank-and-file how to vote. “My resignation was forced upon me by National CIO,” Honard added; “It
was not my choice.”
New York City’s IUC also refused to adhere to the line of the CIO’s Executive Board, forcing president Michael Quill of the Transit Workers to resign, but Honard
and company found little sympathy locally. Local CIO official Paul Nunes of the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) accused them of having broken their word in
refusing to carry out CIO policies; and, CIO sub-regional director Ralph Tillotson charged them with “a careless distortion of the actual facts.” Beyond that, Tillotson
showed reporters a letter from CIO executive director John Brophy, who insisted that “all local industrial union councils have an obligation to take a forthright stand in
support of national CIO policy against a third party in 1948 and in support of the Marshall Plan.” Clearly, the issue would not go away.
The subsequent struggle within the EIUC continued through early December, during which time a slate led by UE’s Roy Christoph won election to replace Dan
Honard and the other officials. Also, Local 506/618 business agent Jim Kennedy won the Democratic primary for Congress and cut the Republican incumbent’s previous
margin of victory in half; and, UE 506 president John Nelson headed the county’s Henry Wallace campaign and then lost the next election for EIUC president under voting
rules altered by the CIO. This last election occurred after John Brophy agreed that officer elections need not be determined by per capita votes cast; rather, delegate
voting – which severely handicapped UE and its allies – would suffice. Predictably, perhaps, three UE locals and their URW ally then decided to withhold per capita
payments to the IUC, months before the international union took the same action against the CIO, a response that Tillotson had anticipated, noting that “If they pull out
of the Council it will cripple us, but we will be able to carry on in spite of them.”
The EIUC did carry on, but as a fragment of its former self. The council lost not only the fifty percent (plus) that UE 506 and 618 (GE office workers) had paid, but
those UE locals that later went over to the IUE following the nation-wide split between UE and the CIO showed little enthusiasm for sustaining dues payments to the IUC.
Allan Haywood, the CIO’s executive vice president, complained to Jim Carey several years after the break that two IUE locals still paid no dues to the EIUC and that three
others were unreliable. The situation now described by Tillotson, who possibly regretted his brave words of three years earlier, cited the low level of non-USWA
participation in the council and, conversely, the question arising from USWA locals as to why the others – UAW, IUE, URW – held back. “This problem,“ Tillotson
admitted, “has been bothering us mostly ever since the UE expulsion.” Given the $800,000 dollars – 1950s dollars — plus staff time and legal assistance, that Murray had
provided to IUE by the mid-‘50s, it’s little wonder that morale and strength waned in local CIO circles.
Within the national electrical manufacturing industry the factional fallout reached significant proportions. Beginning with the CIO cleavage in 1950, the dozens
of unions – principally the UE, IUE, UAW, Machinists, and IBEW – began to fare poorly while striving on behalf of workers carved out of the previous membership of the
original UE – in the face of Jim Carey’s repeated rejections of UE proposals for combining the unions’ efforts in negotiations. The UE, then, generally held onto contract
language that they had had, including the right to strike over unresolved grievances during the life of a contract; but, as Steve Babson has noted, the weakly led IUE was
“. . . far more accepting of concessionary agreements, signing contracts that weakened seniority rights and granted management wider discretion in [work] timing
jobs.” Further, given the success of take-it-or-leave-it Boulwarist negotiation tactics, first by GE and then other employers in the industry, the divided unions of the
industry’s chains fell behind the wage and benefit gains made by unions in other major industries. In the wake of Jim Carey’s disastrous dictated strike against GE in
1960, workers also lost their cost-of-living (COLA) clause and the principle of annual wage increases. Women also made little progress via the IUE, whose leaders
continued to back protective legislation for women and to support sex-segregated jobs, seniority lists, and wages, while opposing the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII ban
against gender discrimination well into the 1960s, long after the UE and – somewhat later – the UAW had taken forward positions on such issues. The fate of union
democracy fared no better.
Both in battle and in power, the MDA/IUE faction’s concept of democracy differed little from that of that of John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, and many other leaders.
Local 601 in Westinghouse’s East Pittsburgh plant’s previous elections had been so fiercely contested that the procedure agreed upon in 1948 demanded that when a
ballot box was filled with ballots one UE supporter of the Left and one of the Right would jointly accompany the box to a walk-in safe and there deposit the box until the
time for counting. The vote was expected to be very close, and the (MDA) Rightists feared that they would lose their current majority. So they took no chances: After
the boxes were deposited in the safe, Tommy Byrnes emerged from his hiding place in the safe to “take care” of the ballots. Later, Jim Carey’s sense of entitlement
operated during his tenure at IUE as it had earlier at UE, and led Mike Fitzpatrick – leader of the Right in Local 601 – to announce publicly in 1952 his refusal to seek
another term as IUE’s chair of the Westinghouse Conference Board because of “labor czar” Jim Carey’s having met alone with Westinghouse management and
concluded an unsatisfactory contract agreement. Democratic elections did return several shops to UE, including the Elmira, NY, GE plant in 1959, but more trouble
followed. General Electric’s IUE members received their costly taste of Carey’s ineffective but despotic behavior in 1960 when he declared a strike against the company
that had not been approved by the membership – or anyone else – and which led to a disastrous three-week strike that incurred the wage losses noted earlier and was
characterized by labor reporter Abe Raskin of the New York Times as the most devastating defeat of a major American union in the postwar era. But Carey’s and IUE’s troubles were not over.
Carey’s failure in 1960 led secretary-treasurer Al Hartnett to criticize the president in the pages of the IUE News which led in turn to a recall campaign and firing of Hartnett, spearheaded by Harry Block and others. Still another faction arose for the 1964 presidential elections, in which Carey was opposed by former supporter Paul Jennings. Irregularities in the election led to the declaration in 1965 of Jennings’ victory and Carey’s resignation, marking him as the sole American ever to have lost the presidencies of two major labor unions. Only then did IUE embark on a program of coalition that included thirteen unions that now represented some segment of the electrical manufacturing work force at GE. After a false start in 1966, UE and IUE – the only unions with a national contract with GE – engaged in a joint bargaining front against General Electric that included members of the UAW and the Teamsters on UE and IUE negotiating committees. GE continued its Boulwarist negotiating tactics and provoked a strike by the coalition that business commentators include among the most expensive strikes in American history and which won significant benefits for electrical workers, especially UE women. One can only wonder how different the world of those workers might have been had the pursuit of power via Cold War political correctness been less influential among the American people, their leaders, and their institutions.
1 Telephonic interview with David Fitzmaurice by Author, December 29, 1979. Hereafter: Fitzmaurice Interview. Notes in author’s possession.
2 United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Convention, 1948, Box 29ff, 11, IUE President’s Office Papers, ca. 1938-1965, Special Collections, IUE Archives, Rutgers University. Hereafter: IUE Archives.
3 Boulware’s twelve-page reminder of events for the purpose of later writing a book are found in the Herbert R. Northrup Papers, Collection 532, Box 1, Folder 24, University of Pennsylvania Archives. Hereafter: Northrup Papers, Penn Archives. + Also, “GE to Lose Leftist Group, Official Says, Pittsburgh Press, April 14, 1949, citing Boulware.
4 George R. Donahue to John L. Lewis, February 1, 1949, Box 74, Research Files of L. Finnegan, UE Historical Files, 1934-1939, IUE Archives, Also, James Kennedy, “Kennedy Komments,” UE506 Union News, December 8, 1949, and Harry Block interview by Ron Filippelli, September 25, 1967, Special Collections, Microfilm Section, Patee-Paterno Library, Pennsylvania State University. Hereafter: Block Interview, PSU Archives. Also, James J. Matles and Jimmy Higgins, Them and Us (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974), 134. On the Communists’ split over Carey (the CP wanted him re-elected), see The Reminiscences of Julius Emspak, II, interviewed by James N. Perlstein (Oral History Section, Butler Library, Columbia University), 272. Hereafter: Emspak Interview. And, The Reminiscences of James Carey, Interview by John A. Toomey, July 24, 1960, Ibid, 237, 242. Hereafter: Carey Interview.
5 Carey said that he became interested in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI around 1929: Carey Interview, 12. Albert Fitzgerald Interview by Ron Filippelli, October 10, 1968, Microfilm Section, PSU Archives. Hereafter: Fitzgerald Interview. Block had lost his District 1 (Philadelphia area) presidency in 1946.
6 Fitzgerald Interview. Charles Owen Rice, “Tale of Two Cities,” Pittsburgh Catholic, September 16, 1948, Fighter with a Heart: Writings of Charles Owen Rice, ed. Charles J. McCollester (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), 83-4. Hereafter: Rice, Fighter.
7 Fitzmaurice Interview. Also, Msgr. Charles Owen Rice Interview by James A. Young, April 17, 1982, in which Rice noted that Fitzmaurice – then an MDA leader from Cleveland, Ohio – was “unfriendly” at the time. Notes in the author’s possession. On Phelps, see Elizabeth Kennedy-Mary Kennedy Haglund Interview by James A. Young, May 21, 1982. Hereafter: Kennedy-Haglund Interview.
8 James Wechsler, Labor Baron (New York: William Morrow, 1944), 129-30. Emspak Interview, 357; Fitzgerald Interview. Rosemary Feurer, Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 101.
9 Pennsylvania CIO – Industrial Union Councils Papers, 1935-1955, Gentrac/A/14, 17, Microfilm Section, reel1 of 1, PSU Archives. Hereafter: PAIUC Papers, PSU.
10 “Electrical Workers Not Being Ousted by CIO,” Erie Daily Times, February 28, 1948. Also, “6 CIO Members Quit in 3rd Party Protest, Ibid., March 26, 1948, and “Honard, 6 CIO Aides Quit in Dispute Over Third Party,” Erie Dispatch, March 26, 1948.
11 Erie Dispatch, March 27-28, 1948.
12 Erie Daily Times, April 9, 1948. Also, The Reminiscences of John Brophy (Oral History Section, Butler Library, Columbia University, 1955), 946, interviewed by Dean Albertson. Hereafter: Brophy Interview.
13 On the UE, the Kennedy and Wallace campaigns and supporters, see James A. Young, “The Cold War Comes to Erie: Repression and Resistance, 1946-1954,” Fear Itself: Enemies Real and Imagined in American Culture, ed. Nancy L. Schultz (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1999), 267-84; Erie Daily Times, April 22, 24, 27, May 1, September 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 28, 29, October 1, 2, 11, 13, 29, November 1 and 3, 1948; Erie Dispatch. November 6, 1948; Patrick Rafferty, “When UE 506 Ran a Candidate for Congress,” UE 506 Union News, May 15, 1980. Also, Ralph Tillotson and Paul Nunes to John Brophy, April 18, 1948; John Brophy to Wavil See, ed. of People’s Press (Erie County), June 18, 1948; Ralph Tillotson to Allan S. Haywood, CIO vice president, December 14, 1948; and, Ralph Tillotson to John Brophy, August 1, 1949: PAIUC Papers, PSU. Brophy, while supportive of the expulsions, acknowledged it as “a pretty drastic operation,” in Brophy Interview, 949.
14 Ralph Tillotson to Allan S. Haywood, July 10, 1952; Allan Haywood to James B. Carey, July 24, 1952PAIUC Papers, PSU. H. Levenstein and C. Donato Sereseres, Communism, anti-Communism and the CIO (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981), 142.
15 Steve Babson, The Unfinished Struggle: Turning Points in American Labor, 1877 – Present (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 1999), 136. Stephen Tormey, Seventy Years of Struggle: A Brief History of UE Bargaining with GE (Pittsburgh, PA: UERMWA, 2007), 8-9. Judith Stepan-Norris and Maurice Zeitlin, Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), Ch. 5.
16 Dennis A. DeSlippe, Unions and the Rise of Working Class Feminism, 1945-1980 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 112. Also, .
17 “Inter-CIO-IUE Squabble May Have Wide Effect,” Erie Daily Times, February 28, 1952; “Westinghouse Union Board Defends Carey,” Pittsburgh Press, February 27, 1952.
18 “Elmira GE Workers Vote to Return to UE,” UE 506 Union News, April 24, 1959, which notes the continued IUE red-baiting even after UE had been “cleared” by the federal government. On the 1960 strike and settlement: Boulware Papers, Box 7, Folder 145, Penn Archives.
19 The Committee for the Recall of Al Hartnett, “The Conspiracy Against IUE: Its Rise and Fall” pamphlet (Philadelphia: IUE, 1963) in Harry Block Papers, Box 1, PSU Archives. Also, President’s Office Records, MC 690, IUE 1964 Election/Carey-Jennings Elections Dispute Files, IUE Archives.
20 Dan Berman, “6 Strikes That Cost Companies Millions,” and Melanie Hicker, “The Most Expensive Strikes in History,” Business Insider: War Room Long-time UE staffer Stephen Tormey sees the biggest benefit having been the ability to have negotiated several subsequent contracts without the likelihood of having to confront the need to strike GE again. The “UE nickel” – a portion of the overall first-year wage increase added to the lowest rates – served women well.

Draft copy of Labor’s Story in the History of the United States

6 Jan


























                                                            Copyright applied

                                                                             James A. Young, 2013

Published by the Northwest Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation

Franklin, PA, 2013



     I       Preface


     II      Introduction: Labor’s Story in American History


     III     Democracy, Citizenship, and Work in America


     IV     Uncivil War


     V      Twentieth Century Choices: The Carrot and the Stick


     VI     Prosperity and Oppression


     VII   The New Deal and Labor’s Liberation


     VIII   Crusade Against Fascism


       IX      Public Employees and Equality Under the Law


       X       Epilogue


       XI      Footnotes


       XII   Teacher’s Bibliography


       XIII   Glossary of Terms
















While the author recognizes fully that a comprehensive study of labor in America must consider the history of slavery in the United States, that subject lies beyond the purview of this work.

This effort is intended to fill much of the gap often left in Americans’ learning experiences by the lack of attention given to labor studies by standard texts in American history and American society. In particular, the author hopes to assist teachers, instructors, and adult learners at the high school and adult education levels in covering the experiences of organized labor, i.e., unions.





            Students will learn the nature of American labor unions in historical and social context.

            Students will learn about a particular union and/or union leader in a period of crisis.

            Students will examine the relationship between unions and democratic process.

            Students will examine the relationship between unions and human rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, and industrial democracy.

            Students will demonstrate their acquired knowledge through a test or quiz and through individual or group projects and/or reports.




            Students must be generally acquainted with American history or be in the process of becoming familiar with that history.




            A standard American History textbook, such as Gary B. Nash and others, The American People, vol. 2, or Howard Zinn, The People’s History of the United States, or Rosensweig, Lichtenstein, and Brown, Who Built America, 3rd ed., vol. 2.

            This booklet

            The students’ resource: James A. Young, ed., Labor History/Liberation History: Case Studies and Activities (Erie, PA: Erie County Central Labor Council, 2013). This includes enrichment materials.

            Access to online resources, such as a History/Social Studies for K-12 Teachers at and, for the Haymarket Affair, and, for the trials of Haywood and Pettibone, and many more.


Description and Procedure


            The lessons rely upon an initial presentation by the instructor on the history of labor unions in the United States, supplemented if possible by films such as “Salt of the Earth,” “With Babies and Banners,” “Deadline for Action,” “Norma Rae,” and “Rosie the Riveter,” and “The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit.”

            Students may be assigned to read one or more of the case studies in the second volume, Labor History/Liberation History, each of which focuses upon a specific labor union in a particular time. The article “Building Mr. Hershey’s Town: Home, Sweet Home?” is the most sweeping of the studies, in terms of chronology. The article raises and to some degree answers questions concerning the ideas and ideals that may go into the creation of a model town or utopian community, the experiences of working in a non-union environment versus a union environment, and the responsibilities of company, workers, stockholders and the community in our modern and post-modern societies. The other readings treat issues of human and civil rights from other viewpoints. “Twenty Years of Fightin’ 506” may be treated as a labor study or may be inserted into the course’s coverage of the so-called McCarthy Era of American history in the 1940s and 1950s. “The Pennsylvania Social Services Union” provides an insight into the rights of public employees in Pennsylvania following the “Little Taft-Hartley Law” of 1947 and the workers’ efforts to overcome legal obstacles and organize their own unions so they could – and can – bargain collectively with their employers. Public employees’ insistence that they be accorded the same rights as other kinds of working people mirrors the struggles of African Americans and others for equality under the law during the same time period. Students may be encouraged to flesh out the theme of expanding workers’ rights as basic human rights in one or more of these case studies and to write or present orally their findings.


            Students who are able to do so may want to make use of some of the enrichment resources, such as playing out a radio or television transcript or conducting an oral history interview, samples of which are contained in the resource booklet. The issues involved in the radio/tv programs may be compared and contrasted to the issues of today, and the concerns that people talk about in the oral history interviews may, similarly, be compared to those of the past and the present.


            So, what approaches are most likely to succeed in engaging students in the examination of workers’ rights as human rights, relevant to their own lives? It’s always difficult to predict, but some of the connections are obvious to teachers and other adults, and connections may be unearthed by students as well.




            Many people and several institutions made these studies possible. Much of the research and composition was facilitated by a grant from the Labor Education Center of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and by its staff, which was led by Dr. Charles McCollester and Cynthia Spielman until its demise during the administration of Gov. Ed Rendell. A grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities also aided the research and writing efforts. Assistance from the United Electrical Workers (especially Local 506), from the Edinboro University, from the Pennsylvania Social Services Union (SEIU local #668), from the Hershey Community Archives, and the Hershey Museum was absolutely crucial and was freely given. Of course, then-president Matthew Gress and administrative staffer Rosann Barker of both the Erie County Central Labor Council (ECCLC) and the Northwest Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation (AFL-CIO) were willing and able in sustaining the project in its crucial stages, and the support of the expanded Erie and Crawford County CLC played a supportive role as well.   Rosann Barker and Audrey Wilson and Jamie Wagner read the manuscript for both content and proofing purposes, and others too numerous to note by name also aided the effort at various junctures. Some of them are to be found in the Endnote section. Of course, any errors or inadequacies are mine.


James A. Young, Ph.D.

Harrisburg, PA, 2013





















The status and impact of organized labor in America is difficult to measure. Most adults may be generally aware of the influence and accomplishments of labor unions and their leaders, although most have little or no knowledge of unions. Adults since the 1930s have experienced organized labor’s dynamic growth, influence, and decline. Students may view labor leaders and their organizations as less relevant than various other political or social leaders of the day. This circumstance stems largely from the scarcity of information concerning labor organizations in most history and social studies curricula, as well as from a consistent decline in the quality and frequency of media coverage of labor unions over the past half-century.   As a result, both adults and students show little awareness of the critical role played by the labor movement in the protection of American liberties and the expansion of democracy and the American middle class. With specific reference to Pennsylvania when appropriate, this unit aims to close the gap in that knowledge.

As students become more intimately involved with the American economy, their lives will be influenced by organized labor, as are the lives of all Americans, either directly or indirectly, especially since the establishment and enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act (1935) that declared workers’ rights to form unions, the Social Security Act (1935) that provided insurance for unemployment and retirement and more, and the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) that regulated hours of work and established the Minimum Wage. That organized labor’s activities created and sustained the modern American middle class should be known and appreciated by students, but they must also be encouraged to assess the labor movement’s shortcomings as well as its successes.

It is also timely to probe behind the images of organized labor and study the interactions between labor and management and the efforts to achieve and maintain a balance in labor-management relations. Students should learn what happens to working people when the balance of power in the workplace shifts too greatly to the side of management – the excerpts from “Fightin’ 506” and from the article “Building Milton Hershey’s Town” should provide a beginning, and the description of welfare offices (ca. 1970) show that very poor working conditions have not been limited to blue collar jobs. Clearly, labor unions alleviated the worst conditions, but considering what more they might have done in terms of internal democracy and of the broadening of democracy in the community and in the country may also be instructive for the future.

The texts and other materials that follow are meant to allow the teacher maximum flexibility in determining the length of time to be spent on labor and democracy as a particular unit. The author anticipates that the instructor may choose a brief lesson that can be covered in one or two class meetings or may wish to devote a week to labor and democracy topics. The following resource materials may be used as a background resource by and for the teacher or may be shared with students from the outset. As should always be the case, the choice remains with the classroom instructor.





Throughout most of American history, business and government both opposed labor unions, often choosing to use the courts, the National Guard, the police, and small armies of “security guards” (i.e., thugs) to prevent the organization of unions and to break up strikes when workers walked off the job in protest of unsafe working conditions, wage cuts, or other inequities. Business executives had a natural interest in preventing the development of unions, because it was easier to deal with the extremely limited power of an individual worker than to negotiate with a committee that represented all of the workers at specific work sites or in a particular industry. Since governments, including the courts, were influenced heavily by businessmen and well-to-do farmers (from whose ranks, often, judges and other government officials had come), workers usually faced opposition from both private and public centers of power when they tried to create organizations that would add to their individual and collective strengths. But workers have never liked to be pushed around, and they’ve continued to fight back.

In North America, workers’ resistance to repression extends at least as far back as the 1670s when slaves, indentured servants, and small farmers took up arms in Bacon’s Rebellion against the domination of wealthy tobacco plantation owners in Virginia. Other acts of resistance emerged, too, against the Stamp Act, the Sugar Tax, and the Tea Tax – the real Tea Party – and New York tailors conducted a strike against wage cuts in 1768. On the verge of the American Revolution, the activist movement of skilled workers, called artisans, wielded considerable power in the cities, and – inspired by Thomas Paine’s democratic radicalism – they contributed strongly to the American Revolution. Soon after the Revolution, American workers formed labor unions, as well, one of the earliest of which consisted of shoemakers in Philadelphia who bargained a contract with their employers in 1799. They sought to protect their wage rates and to improve their working conditions – such as hours worked and the way the work should be done, and by whom. To accomplish these ends they took up collective bargaining with their employers and also resorted to strikes when the bargaining process broke down. For their part, employers resorted sometimes to the lockout – they locked the workers out of the plant or shop – when things weren’t going their way.   Workers also tried to maintain a closed shop arrangement with their employers, i.e., to insist that all workers hired by the boss had to come from the ranks of union members, while most employers favored an open shop, which is to say that union membership would be voluntary (or even prohibited) and they could hire non-union workers.

Labor unions and other workers’ organizations grew rapidly during the early 19th century, but their survival remained questionable. Courts remained hostile, some even ruling that unions were, in and of themselves, a conspiracy in restraint of trade and therefore illegal. The prevailing court rulings, however, held that while unions were legal, many of their actions — such as striking over wage levels — were not. Eight Philadelphia shoemakers were indicted in 1805 for “a combination and conspiracy to raise wages;” and, similarly, New York tailors were found guilty of conspiracy in 1836. Hatters, shoemakers, tailors, and carpet weavers suffered the same fate in the 1820s and ‘30s.1 Nonetheless, many workers persevered in forming political groups and unions, and the National Typographical Union (a printers’ organization) became the first nation-wide labor union. In the late 1820s workers formed the Workingmen’s Party in Philadelphia, Reading, Erie, and elsewhere and persuaded Andrew Jackson and the Democrats to support many of their issues, such as free public education and abolition of convict labor. Leaders emerged from the ranks, leaders such as William Sylvis of the Iron Molders and Ira Steward of the Machinists’ and Blacksmiths’ Union. They appealed to workers’ sense of citizenship and public duty, as well as to their economic interests.

The successes enjoyed by labor unions at the local level led to the establishment in towns and cities of the central labor union (CLU) that served as umbrella coalitions of various local unions. Labor leaders met at the CLUs to discuss common problems and to devise cooperative approaches to resolving outstanding issues. In this way, the American labor movement began. The Central Labor Councils (CLCs) continue to serve much the same role today on a city-wide and regional basis. Eventually, the notion of an umbrella organization expanded.

Further union growth led to the establishment of the first nation-wide labor union umbrella, the National Labor Union (NLU), in 1866. By 1868 the NLU included among its 600,000 members people from the legal and medical professions, farmers, editors, and others who had a great deal of interest in reforms but, unfortunately, not much interest in labor unions as the chief means of effecting social and economic change. Instead, the NLU came to look to the “Greenback” movement of easier credit through currency reform as the panacea for working people’s woes.   Bill Sylvis, a Philadelphia iron worker and Civil War veteran, became the organization’s president in 1868 and campaigned hard for the NLU to organize newly freed black workers and women and to accept them as members; but only after Sylvis’s sudden death at age forty-one in 1869 did the NLU vote to accept all workers. By then, however, the trade union orientation of the NLU had given way to Greenback reformism, and by 1871 only two unions sent delegates to the NLU convention. By the end of 1872 the NLU was dead, slain by its single-minded focus upon the ill-fated currency reform.2

The death of the NLU did not mean the extinction of the labor movement. The 1870s witnessed serious clashes between workers and the forces of “law and order.” The first labor-management contract in the coal industry was signed in 1870, and miners struck under the leadership of John Siney in Clearfield, PA, in 1875. The so-called Molly McGuires organized miners in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania, and the great railroad strike of 1877 exploded into violence in Baltimore, Reading, Scranton, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere as strikers fought militia and federal troops sent in to put down the strike. Forty people died, and the railroad companies lost over one hundred locomotives, a thousand railroad cars, and thirty buildings. In the following years, a crackdown on union activism included the execution by hanging in 1877 of twenty Irish-American miners and their sympathizers, two of them minutes before a governor’s reprieve arrived on the scene. Other activists faced jail and blacklisting, but the movement continued.3

The Irish miners’ bodies were hardly cold when in 1878 the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor expanded out of Philadelphia and formed in Reading, PA, under Uriah Stephens as Grand Master Workman. By 1880, Stephens had been succeeded by Terence V. Powderly, the young mayor of Scranton, yet the Knights of Labor claimed only 28,000 members. Six short years later they numbered 700,000, amid an ongoing labor-management conflict characterized by as much violence on both sides as witnessed by any other country in the world. In Pennsylvania, the legal rights of workers were negligible, while the rights of corporations and managers were virtually sacrosanct. The Pennsylvania state government granted coal-mine operators, railroad owners, and iron works managers the right to hire and arm their own private police forces to uphold those rights and privileges. In many places civil wars raged over labor-management differences, often over owners’ and managers’ refusal to recognize the workers’ union.

Powderly stressed the need for cooperation between management and labor, much as William Green was later to do when president of the American Federation of Labor in the 20th century. The Knights focused largely on organizing working people outside of the workplace in such undertakings as the cooperative movement and in political action. Therefore, the Knights did not operate as rivals of individual unions, and many workers who belonged to the Knights of Labor also belonged to a specific craft union, such as the Boilermakers or the Machinists and Blacksmiths Union.   But circumstances often outran Powderly’s principles and the Knights’ inclinations to oppose strikes.

In 1881, unskilled Knights members joined the skilled trades workers at Homestead, Pennsylvania, in striking against the attempt by Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Works’ managers to force an ironclad contract — an agreement by workers that they wouldn’t join a union – upon their employees; and the strikers won. Further west, four major railroad strikes, the most spectacular strike being the successful action against financier Jay Gould’s several railroads in 1885, won the Knights hundreds of thousands of new members, somewhat to the dismay of an overwhelmed Terence Powderly. In addition, Knights and others swarmed to support agitation for the eight-hour day, despite Powderly’s opposition, and May 1, 1886, was set as the day for nation-wide strikes and agitation for that shorter workday.

Although some 340,000 Americans reportedly paraded and 190,000 struck peacefully on May 1, historians have usually focused upon the events that occurred three days later in Chicago, Illinois, in Haymarket Square. At the end of a day of uneventful demonstrations and speeches, Chicago police unaccountably confronted a peaceful post-May Day gathering near the square and were met with a powerful explosive reply, a bomb that killed eight officers. The response of the press and of the “better” classes of Chicago and elsewhere came swiftly: Arrest and hang those who had organized and spoken at the event! In the vengeful climate created by the press and public spokespersons, four men who clearly had no connection with the bombing – including eight-hour-day leaders Albert Parsons and August Spies – were arrested, tried, and hanged in order to satisfy the manufactured blood lust of their political and economic enemies and to intimidate others from supporting the labor movement. They suffered execution because a heavily biased jury found them guilty of inspiring violent actions, such as the bombing, through their speeches and writings, even though they had not taken part in the bombing. Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of the hangings William Dean Howells, the noted author and editor of the Atlantic Monthly, wrote, “The historical perspective is that this free Republic has killed four men for their opinions.” Yet, as August Spies predicted prior to the imposition of the death sentence by Judge Joseph Gary, “If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement . . . then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.”4

Labor’s fight back began even before the executions on November 11, 1887. Lucy Parsons took up her husband’s cause and remained after his death a formidable spokesperson on behalf of women and workers for decades thereafter. Moreover, the newly emerging American Federation of Labor (AFL) took up the cause of the eight-hour day and quickly began to outstrip the cautious Knights’ leadership as the chief voice of working people. In Philadelphia, Powderly’s timid dealing with employers during a year of crisis caused a plunge in Knights’ membership from 50,000 to 10,000 in a year’s time. But the AFL’s craft unions moved to fill the power vacuum, even though they were narrower in focus than the NLU and the Knights. An AFL craft union member owed first allegiance to his or her union, and few AFL unions extended membership to women, African Americans, other specific ethnic minorities, or to unskilled workers. Nonetheless, the AFL proved effective and provided “a core around which more and more workers could demand a better deal from the wage system” well into the twentieth century.5 Yet, the organization’s emphasis upon limiting recruitment – caused by a short-sighted analysis of the Law of Supply and Demand — deprived many workers of the potential benefits of union membership until the coming of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1930s.6

Just as organized labor’s model for success revolved around craft unions that related best to the environment of small- and medium-scale industrial shops and construction sites, American corporations were expanding operations to unprecedented sizes and degrees of complexity. Based upon the newest technology and the ingenuity of its workers, the American steel industry led the world in steel production from 1886, and the coal industry’s production closed quickly upon the British, whom it surpassed in 1902. As corporations consolidated their control over the nation’s economic activity toward the end of the nineteenth century, so did their owners and managers consolidate control over political and legal decisions – if not without a fight. Andrew Carnegie built a vertical trust in order to better dominate the steel industry, and part of his overall plan included the destruction of the steel workers’ unions, whose density in the industry had rivaled that of the British unions. Despite his public statements and writings upholding workers’ right and interest in forming unions, Carnegie took aim at the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AAISW) at his Homestead Works near Pittsburgh in 1889. But, the skilled AAISW workers and the unskilled members of the Knights of Labor cooperated at the Homestead Works, and Carnegie’s scheme was foiled, in part by large crowds of union supporters who intimidated both strikebreaker workers, known as scabs, and the deputy sheriffs sent to protect them. Where workers and their supporters could muster large-scale community support, they often carried the day.7

This was also the case in coal country in 1887, when a strike against Henry Clay Frick and other southwestern Pennsylvania coal operators won a successful settlement and in 1891 when a crowd of immigrant women drove strikebreakers away from a struck work site in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Other developments had not been so encouraging, however, as when Carnegie forced longer hours and an ironclad contract on steel workers at the Edgar Thompson Works in 1888. Not surprisingly, Carnegie and his ally Frick took aim at the Homestead Works again during the recession of 1892.8


A local civil war erupted in Homestead, PA, following Frick’s construction of a ten-foot, three-mile fence around the steel works, guarding all access to the plant by land, with the Monongahela River forming the other barrier to the works. Two days before the union-management contract was to expire, Frick shut down the open-hearth furnaces and the armor plate mill and locked out eight hundred skilled workers of the AAISW. Shortly thereafter, three thousand mechanics and laborers who were not members of the AAISW voted to strike in support of the locked-out workers, and Frick fired them all. The battle was on.9

The struggle over the Homestead strike and lockout became part of the lore of labor and of the steel industry for generations to come. When Frick attempted to land scabs and Pinkerton private police from barges on the river, they met fierce opposition from steel workers and their sympathizers in the communities of the area. One landing of armed Pinkertons led to a battle in which three of them and seven workers were killed, and Frick’s private army withdrew. Undeterred, Frick and others pressed the governor until he reluctantly released 8,000 National Guard troops to protect strikebreakers, who then entered the plant from the river. Within a week 700 scabs ran portions of the plant, and two sympathy strikes, elsewhere, on behalf of the Homestead workers failed to stem the tide. An attempt on Frick’s life by Alexander Berkman, a sympathizer of the workers, also failed; but, the incident permitted the company and its supporters to demand the arrest of the AAISW’s leader Hugh O’Donnell for murder. Such business leaders’ designs were frustrated, because juries refused to convict the labor leaders who were charged in such cases. However, the use of scabs and the time and money spent on defending union supporters left the AAISW in shambles. Despite other clashes in the future, a generation was to pass before the steel industry would become effectively unionized.10

At the same time, civil war also reigned in the mining country around Coeur d’Alene, in northern Idaho, where workers took over two mines and two people lost their lives. Company property was also destroyed, and President William Henry Harrison responded to the governor’s request for help by sending federal troops into the area. The troops imprisoned over 600 striking miners, 350 of them for over a week, and broke the strike. The attitudes of the “better classes” found expression in the words of judges of the court who in several cases of the time – including Coeur d’Alene Consolidated & Mining Co. v. Miners’ Union of Wardner (1892) – stated their fears of what might happen if workers assumed some of the prerogatives of management. One speculated that “Enterprises employing labor would cease, and, instead of activity and plenty, idleness and want would follow.” In other words, they felt that workers can’t be trusted, and that the concept of industrial democracy is dangerous. In such an atmosphere, workers and their unions could not expect that they would receive a fair hearing or that their freedom of speech or other rights as citizens would be upheld when their aims and actions confronted the organized capital of corporations and their allies. Other situations prior to World War I were to reconfirm that reality.11 As financiers such as J. P. Morgan amalgamated more and more corporate power – the General Electric Corporation formed in 1892 and U. S. Steel was less than a decade away – the law courts became increasingly friendly to the “natural hierarchy” of forces and families that would rule the country as an oligarchy, if they had their way.12

The echoes of the gunfire at Homestead had hardly faded when the struggle began anew elsewhere around the country. Farmers, discontented with the same corporate monopoly of economic and political power that industrial workers faced, joined with small businesspersons and workers in a number of areas in backing the People’s Party. The Populists, as People’s Party supporters were known, crafted a constitutional preamble that declared that “We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin,” and that “The fruits of toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty.” Their platform included some socialistic proposals, such as government ownership of the railroad and telegraph systems, and other planks – the direct election of U. S. senators and a graduated income tax – that were later adopted and served to democratize American society somewhat in the twentieth century. The People’s Party attracted one million votes in 1892 and elected governors in Kansas and Colorado, the latter with the help of hard-rock miners of the West. The depression of 1893 aided the Populists’ cause, and further gains were made among union workers, despite a cool reception of the new party by Samuel Gompers, president of the AFL.13 Meanwhile, however, another labor-management crisis loomed in Pullman, Illinois, the supposedly “model” town of the railroad car manufacturer, George M. Pullman.

Pullman’s town was anything but the utopia its founder claimed it to be. None of the company’s African-American porters was permitted to live there. Moreover, the five thousand employees who did live in Pullman found that their rents averaged 20-25 percent higher than did similar accommodations in nearby Chicago and that the water that Chicago sold to Pullman for four cents per thousand gallons was re-sold to residents at ten cents. Furthermore, in the wake of the 1893 depression, Pullman slashed wages by 25 to 50 percent but held firm on rents and utilities. Secretly at first, the Pullman workers organized and then in May 1894 sent a committee of forty to meet with management about their increasing misery. Pullman responded by firing three of them immediately. Desperate for help, they turned to the new American Railway Union (ARU), which was meeting in convention in nearby Chicago in early June.14

Formed in 1893 as an industrial union (as opposed to the narrowly focused craft union approach of the AFL), the ARU still enjoyed its early successes in the spring of 1894. In the first instance, the union took up the cause of Union Pacific Railway workers and won a legal battle against a cut in wages that had been upheld by a federal judge who also granted an injunction to prevent the workers from striking, but also from even meeting to discuss the wage issue. ARU president Eugene V. Debs had lashed out against the corporation and the judge’s decision as a “deathblow to human liberty” that left Americans no freer than Russians under their absolute monarchy. When Judge Henry C. Caldwell overturned the earlier decision on appeal, the ARU had much to celebrate; but, shortly thereafter they had found themselves in battle against a similar situation created by the Great Northern Railroad of James J. Hill, who had cut workers’ wages three times in an eight-month period. After an 18-day strike the union had prevailed once again, and it was natural for the Pullman workers to look to the ARU for support.15

ARU president Eugene Debs exercised caution concerning the Pullman situation. He was well aware that courts had increased the use of injunctions against strikes and boycotts, extending the feudalistic control of the work force to favor the interests of the owners. Yet, he helped to raise money for the strikers, and he allowed their delegation to speak to the ARU convention. Following several attempts to resolve the strike situation peacefully, the ARU voted to support the strike by calling upon their members to boycott all trains that included Pullman cars. Thus, another labor-management confrontation loomed, one that the area’s twenty-four railroad employers – organized as The General Managers’ Association – welcomed it, as an opportunity to crush the railway unions, with the assistance of the courts and the federal government.16

The strike/boycott began on June 27 and by the 28th 40,000 railroad workers had put down their tools. A day later 129,000 were on strike and had shut down twenty railroads. The key, Debs knew, was to prevent violence. Just as surely, the Managers Association knew that they must provoke violence, in order to win federal intervention at the hands of U. S. Attorney General Richard B. Olney, a railroad corporation lawyer prior to his appointment by President Grover Cleveland. Accordingly, the General Managers’ Association unleashed on June 30 a thousand deputized marshals, characterized by Chicago’s Superintendent of Police as “thugs, thieves, and ex-convicts,” to “protect” railroad companies’ property, and violence ensued. Chicago Police Chief John Brennan testified after the strike ended that these railroad-paid government deputies killed innocent people and some of them had to be arrested for stealing railroad property that they’d been hired to protect. Nonetheless, the Managers’ Association had their violence, and the media cooperated by repeating management’s version of “Debs’ Rebellion,” a perspective spread by the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and many other newspapers. On the basis of such “evidence” and the unfounded charge that the union was interfering with the U. S. mail, federal judges William A. Woods and Peter S. Grosscup issued on July 3 a broad injunction – based, ironically, upon the anti-corporate Sherman Anti-Trust Act — that forbade virtually all strike activities and, if obeyed, would have shut down the union. On the next day, the Managers’ Association announced that the strike and boycott no longer concerned them, as it was now a matter between the United States government and the ARU. The managers’ plan worked, and they slipped away from the responsibility and the expense of the situation that they had helped to create. The strike continued, but few could now question the eventual outcome as the first of 6,000 U. S. Army troops took up positions.17

Eugene Debs, despite his many calls for keeping the peace and remaining law-abiding citizens, was indicted by a grand jury on July 10 and arrested. He made bail as the strike continued, but the arrest of him and other strike leaders again on the 17th effectively beheaded the strike and it floundered as Debs called upon American labor to respond with a general strike. The AFL, instead, sent $1,000 for the ARU legal defense fund and advised its affiliates who had engaged in sympathy strikes to return to work. The strike and the ARU lay ruined by the conflict as Debs and his attorney, Clarence Darrow, prepared to face the criminal charges against him.18

Clarence Darrow, who later called Debs “the bravest man I ever knew,” was to become the most famous trial lawyer of his time. Better known today, perhaps, as the defense attorney in the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial and the Leopold – Loeb Trial in the 1920s, Darrow worked as a reformer and champion of the underdog and was frequently an advocate of labor causes. He took thirty percent of his cases on a pro bono basis and made a long shadow in the legal profession. On the strategy for the more serious of the two cases at hand, Darrow and Debs agreed: The legal jargon and technicalities would be waived in favor of using the trial as a means of continuing the struggle against an unfair legal system stacked against workers and their unions.19

Darrow launched an aggressive attack upon the real conspiracy of the day, the conspiracy of private companies and governmental officials to use the power of the state against workers. Beginning with the trial judge (Peter Grosscup, who had issued the initial injunction) and the prosecutors themselves, he pointed up the conflicts of interest rampant in the prosecutorial team and he savaged their witnesses with verbal assaults that left many shaken. When Darrow then subpoenaed George Pullman himself to appear as a witness – and thereby be subjected to exposure by Darrow — the prosecution found a juror’s illness to be sufficient cause to request that a mistrial be declared, and the case was effectively dismissed. The elation that followed in labor circles proved short-lived, however, as Debs’ second trial did not go well, and he served a six-month sentence in prison in Woodstock, Illinois, as a consequence. And, thereby the courts’ use of the anti-labor injunction was confirmed for a generation to come. Yet, the effort had not been in vain, for President Cleveland’s commission to investigate the events around the ill-fated strike later issued a balanced report on the Pullman strike situation that vindicated much of the workers’ efforts and helped to lead later in the decade to labor reforms and union recognition in the railway industry, including the Erdman Act of 1898.20

The railway workers’ actions in 1894 found a counterpart that year with the coal miners’ struggles in the bituminous coal fields of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. In all, over 500,000 American workers struck in 1894, the largest number since the uprisings of 1877. In coal, as on the rails, workers participated in wide-ranging activities that ranged across state and regional lines. Like their adversaries in management, workers had begun to think along industrial rather than local lines. In the West, the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) sustained the struggle, and they were soon to be led by “Big Bill” Haywood who had been inspired by the example of the Pullman strikers. Such struggles continued into the new century.21




            Events in the 1890s foreshadowed the somewhat schizophrenic approaches to labor-management-government relations that would dog the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Periodically, conditions became intolerable to workers and their sympathizers in the larger community, resulting in outbursts and uprisings of discontent. Management and government officials would then bend every effort, legal and illegal in some cases, to put down the workers’ independent action. When successful in suppressing the workers, steps would follow which were meant to reduce the workers’ misery or at least to appease their leaders. The situation would then continue along the lines of a new status quo until conditions again slipped below the workers’ tolerance, and the cycle would begin anew. Through the early 1970s, however, workers and their organizations reached new heights at the top of each cyclical turn.

If the Erdman Act of 1898 signaled an attempt by government and corporate leaders to gain workplace stability in the railroad industry at the price of concessions to the more conservative elements of labor, the intervention of the White House as a neutral in the 1902 Anthracite Coal Strike demonstrated a willingness to apply that approach to other industries. Both the national Republican leader and senator from Ohio, Mark A. Hanna, and President Theodore Roosevelt sought to keep workers within the Republican Party’s majority voting bloc and recognized a role for “responsible” labor leaders in the American economy. Roosevelt counseled businessmen to give way to reform or – as in so many cases of the past and present – face rebellion and, in the future, revolution. For political purposes the Anthracite Strike, which featured a moderate and reasonable union leadership headed by UMW president John Mitchell opposed by an arrogant group of mine operators led by George Baer (who was on record as believing that the owners’ authority issued from God himself), was ideal for the moderate Roosevelt.22

With the 1902 mid-term elections approaching, Roosevelt, several presidents of mine-owning railroads, and John Mitchell met. Mitchell proposed that the President appoint a commission to resolve the strike, which had begun in mid-September, and financier J. P. Morgan – who indirectly controlled many railroads – agreed. Roosevelt then appointed such a body, including a labor representative presented as “an eminent sociologist” to placate management’s sensitivities about serving alongside an actual union man. After three months, the commission awarded a ten percent raise to the miners, decreased the workday to nine hours, and provided the union with de facto recognition by requiring the handling of workers’ grievances (complaints) by a joint labor-management board headed by the U. S. Commissioner of Labor. Yet, official recognition of the union was withheld and owners could still insist upon an open shop. Clearly, workers’ gains were to remain incremental under the moderates’ plan. Meanwhile, Roosevelt would not act on behalf of workers led by the Western Federation of Miners, which he associated with anarchism, socialism, and violence.23

On a number of occasions Roosevelt made clear his disdain for the militant WFM, but none more clearly than in his reference to their leaders as “undesirable citizens” during a case in which Haywood, George Pettibone, and Charles Moyer were kidnapped in Colorado so they could be made to stand trial in Idaho. The attitude of the U. S. Supreme Court was little better when Pettibone brought the kidnapping before that body along with a demand for his release. The court in its wisdom decided that how the defendants arrived in Colorado was not at issue in the trial for the revenge killing of ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg – the trial could proceed! That the separate trials of Haywood and Pettibone – both men defended by Clarence Darrow – ended in verdicts of “Not Guilty” won the admiration and accolades of many Americans (charges against Moyer, then, were dropped). Yet, the WFM had been decapitated for over a year and drained of resources as well. For his part, Pettibone, who with wry wit and determination had withstood the kidnapping, the frame-up, and the trial, succumbed to cancer only a few months after his acquittal. Meanwhile, the recently founded (1905) Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) revived industrial union model of the ARU and still practiced by the United Mine Workers and preached a frankly radical program as they reached out to workers, with the help of such life-long militants as Mary Harris (Mother) Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The struggle continued. 24

Reformers joined the struggle more and more frequently as the world lurched toward war in the years leading to 1914, the period known in American History as the Progressive Era. Herbert Croly wrote in 1909 that a growing and influential group of reformers realized that the Square Deal promised by Theodore Roosevelt didn’t reach millions of workers’ families, that “an unjust political and economic organization” accounted for most poverty, and that workers deserved help in creating a fairer system. Many events and sources of knowledge led the reformers to those conclusions, but the greatest symbol of the time arose from the ashes of a factory fire in New York City that in 1911 killed 146 women who worked for the Triangle Waist Company, whose managers had locked fire escape doors. A host of laws and regulations followed the disaster; but, perhaps more importantly, a new generation of reformers arose, incensed at the injustices done to American workers – reformers who would act as midwives of the great innovations of the New Deal of the 1930s.25

In addition to growing worker militancy, the coming of World War I favored workers and their unions. Managers and politicos remained capable of visiting deadly violence upon workers and their families, as at Ludlow, Colorado, where 13 children lay among the twenty people killed by management forces during a UMW strike against Rockefeller interests. And, the judiciary increased its use of the injunction against labor activities from 1908. Nonetheless, seeking labor stability during wartime, many employers and the federal government took a more tolerant line toward organized labor under the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921, than ever before. A progressive reformer himself, Wilson pressured employers to deal lawfully and effectively with unions and to negotiate a peacetime agreement following the unprecedented bloodshed of the Great War. Wilson, facing re-election in 1916, supported the Seamen’s Act of 1915 and came out in favor of outlawing child labor. He appointed progressive reformer Louis Brandeis to the U. S. Supreme Court and backed the Adamson Act of 1916, which instituted the eight-hour day on the nation’s railways. As a result, Wilson won enthusiastic and – as demonstrated by his narrow 600,000-vote and 23 Electoral College-vote victory – crucial support from organized labor in the electoral campaign.26

Before the United States actually entered the war in April 1917, a labor shortage had developed as American exports to European combatants and a home-grown “Preparedness” campaign stimulated the economy. Workers quickly acted to take advantage of the situation, changing jobs more often than before, joining unions, and striking. Between 1916 and 1920 over one million workers of all ethnicities, genders and skill levels went on strike each year. Metalworkers were especially active, but migrant farm workers of the IWW’s Agricultural Workers’ Organization (AWO) also took to the field and won improvements, as did many others, while a New York City women’s “food riot” forced a reduction in rising prices early in 1917. But greater coordination was needed if the economy was to produce effectively for the war effort. The Council of National Defense was created in 1916, and the body included public members such as the AFL’s Samuel Gompers as well as businessmen. In most instances, the government worked through cooperative arrangements rather than direct control. Wartime regulations forbade employers from interfering with workers’ efforts to create unions, and a series of labor-management-government agencies interpreted and administered federal labor policy, pressuring employers to reduce hours, improve worksite conditions, and raise wages. Among employers who still resisted unions, the agencies made them set up worker-elected shop committees to handle grievances, and occasionally the government required the use of mediation or arbitration to settle labor-management differences. Only rarely, as in the case of the United Railroad Administration, did the government run a portion of the economy directly. 27

Not all labor unions enjoyed the same favor from the Wilson Administration. The anti-war IWW fell under an avalanche of raids and arrests by federal authorities who ultimately put most of their local unions out of business. Meanwhile, the pro-war AFL unions grew from 2.7 million members in 1916 to over 4 million in 1917 and over 5 million by 1920, as the War Labor Board (WLB) leaned toward them in decisions against resistant managers and also worked to prevent the exploitation of women and children. On at least one occasion the WLB took over the factory of an armaments-making company that refused its mandate, but federal authorities usually succeeded in “jaw-boning” employers into doing right by their workers, as in the AFL-organized meatpacking industry centered in Chicago. Under such conditions, the Machinists’ union increased sixfold in membership by 1919 and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers doubled in size.28 Unfortunately, most of these impressive gains were to be lost in the 1920s in the face of a militant employer counter-attack against unions and an indifferent federal government that no longer felt the need of labor’s cooperation on national policy matters.

The height of labor activity in the era of the Great War was reached in 1919 and produced the biggest labor organizing effort in U. S. history to that point — The Steel Workers’ campaign led by 38-year-old William Z. Foster. After months of preparation and attempts to bargain with employers, the organizing campaign – pushed by impatient workers — declared a strike on September 22, 1919. Eventually the walkout involved 365,000 workers in 50 cities and 10 states.   Against them was arrayed the utmost corporate power, a government in the midst of pursuing its own “Red Scare” war against real and imagined radicals, and a war-weary public. The fears created among corporate and middle class circles by the success of the Bolshevik (i.e., Communist) Revolution in Russia, the Seattle General Strike, and other major uprisings earlier in the year made a sympathetic public response very unlikely. Anti-union forces took advantage of such fears and portrayed the strikers as anarchists, communists, and thousands of workers were wounded, beaten, and arrested. U. S. Steel chairman Elbert H. Gary accused strikers of trying “to sovietize the steel industry” and to redistribute wealth and property when, in fact, the workers struck for union recognition, an eight-hour day, a six-day work week, and a wage increase. Nevertheless, the U.S. Army under Major General Leonard Wood took action against strikers in Gary, Indiana, where eighteen workers were killed, and the Justice Department harassed foreign-born strike leaders as “dangerous foreigners,” a portrayal that such forces had used earlier and would employ again and again in trying to suppress unions. Unfortunately, even the AFL fell into red-baiting its rivals and in an ill-fated attempt to distance its conservative unions from more militant organizations.29

In the months of the strike, virtually every United States Steel Corporation facility stood idle, as did the factories of the big independent steel makers. Twenty-two people, including organizer Fannie Sellins of the UMW, were killed, hundreds were arrested or deported. The AFL, meanwhile, although the formal sponsor of the steel organizing effort, failed to provide adequate financing and an appropriate number of organizers. After three and a half months of legendary sacrifices, the strike failed.30



            Labor militancy did not die in the wake of the Great Steel Strike, as witnessed by the growth of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters under A. Philip Randolf’s leadership; but, a full-scale employer assault upon unions through such schemes as The American Plan and “welfare capitalism” continued through the 1920s until perhaps as few as six percent of American workers belonged to unions by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. The “Roaring Twenties” saw a revival of right-wing militancy in the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups amid generally prosperous economic conditions and the failure of the farmer-labor alliance in the Progressive Party presidential race of Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin in 1924. Welfare Capitalism promised to escort the nation to greater prosperity with a union-free economy, tax cuts for the wealthy, and a paternalistic approach to both work site and community. Perhaps the best-known of all such programs was that of Milton S. Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania, near the state capital of Harrisburg [See “Building Mr. Hershey’s Town” in the student/teacher resources volume].31

            The experience of chocolate manufacturing workers at Hershey in the 1920s was not typical of American workers’ experiences, but it reflected some of the best efforts of corporate paternalism and of workers’ responses to that environment. The philanthropic Hershey located his factory and headquarters where only pastureland had existed previously and ran the complex with both an enlightened eye and a clenched fist. For Hershey employees, the control of the boss was never far away, even at home. Like other paternalistic employers, Hershey established sports teams and other recreational opportunities – a huge swimming pool, an amusement park, a rose garden, and more. Aided by the government’s orders for chocolate – a pound for every soldier during the war – the Hershey enterprise prospered and expanded its holdings into Cuba, in order to secure a steady supply of sugar. But, also like other paternalistic employers, the boss’s decisions – invariably without significant input from workers – had the effect of law, both within the plant and out in the community. As long as prosperity continued, Hershey and most other management groups operated with little concerted opposition throughout the 1920s, miners and railway workers aside.

In 1929 the bottom began to fall out of American prosperity, because the increased productivity of industry and farm failed to be met by a corresponding increase in the incomes of ordinary people who, then, couldn’t purchase the increased goods and services of the productive side of the economy. The growing gap between rich and others had simply become too great for the economy to remain stable. A huge disaster then followed, known as the Great Depression. Unlike most other employers, Milton Hershey attempted to shield his employees and the community at large from the worst effects of the depression. He continued a building program that had begun shortly before the economic collapse and the company tried to avoid laying off factory workers on a permanent basis. Few lost their jobs, but workless days became ever more common, and workless weeks were by no means unknown. Elsewhere, the situation was the same or worse, as people truly faced the prospect of starvation and exposure to the elements as they lost everything. In Pennsylvania 37 percent of the workforce lacked work by 1933. Workers and others began looking for answers from outside the business and government circles. After all, those who had claimed credit for the earlier prosperity could not escape blame for its cruel disappearance as the so-called free market economy collapsed.32

The labor movement began a clear revival from 1932. After Americans overcame the knee-jerk reaction of blaming themselves for the misfortune visited upon them by financial and other economic persons and forces beyond their control, many began to turn to unions as a possible vehicle of salvation, and other organizations – illegal “bootleg” coal mining operations, tenants’ and homeowners’ and farmers’ organizations against evictions and foreclosures, unemployed councils, and more – arose to meet the needs of depression victims. The small, left-led Auto Workers’ Union organized a Ford Hunger March in Dearborn, Michigan, in March 1932, only to be set upon by police and the private Ford security force who killed four and wounded sixty marchers. Undeterred, some 20,000 or more marched with the caskets of the slain on the following Sunday and lowered them into the ground as the “Internationale” – anthem of the Communists – reverberated through the crowd. The Auto Workers’ Union also achieved in 1932 the organization of Toledo, Ohio’s, Chevrolet Transmission Plant, the first General Motors factory to be organized. Yet, the road out of the depression proved long and steep, and only the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal legislative coalition of Democrats and maverick Republicans showed much promise for the future for working people.33




The victory of Roosevelt and the Democrats in Congress in 1932 resulted in a surge of reform and recovery legislation during the spring of 1933. First, the nation’s banks were closed until the Emergency Banking Relief Act could be passed, thus restoring a measure of confidence and preventing a “run” on the banks. Further, the Federal Reserve System was strengthened and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was established, insuring people’s deposits up to five thousand dollars. The Beer-Wine Revenue Act sought to create job possibilities in reviving the alcoholic beverages industry, and the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, nullifying the 18th Amendment, abolished the Prohibition (against alcoholic beverages) experiment as national policy. More directly aimed at benefiting workers was the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which established the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to set codes for fair competition in industries and created the National Labor Board to assure the rights of workers. The early months of 1933 also saw the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which employed hundreds of thousands of workers in environmental and power-generating projects, respectively.34

The NIRA provided little help for workers looking to form unions, however, because the section of the law that guaranteed workers’ rights (7a) contained no enforcement machinery. But the law had encouraged workers, as had the President’s statement that if he were a factory worker, he would join a union. In 1933 the United Mine Workers made rapid progress in the bituminous coal fields of central and western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers (ACW) and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) made gains quickly in Philadelphia and other cities of the Northeast, and teenage shirt-makers in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley walked out in the “Baby Strike.” Electrical manufacturing workers in Lynn, Massachusetts, and Schenectady, New York, formed local unions. Labor organizers moved into the South and the Midwest, too, recruiting tenant farmers, teamsters, and others, while on the West Coast longshoremen organized themselves on the docks and in shipping warehouses. These workers and organizers, however, continued to encounter stiff employer resistance and the familiar tactics of firings, blacklistings, company spies, and thugs disguised as security forces. Tensions mounted, and in 1934 they exploded in a series of worker actions and employer – government backlashes that brought class-based civil war to many American communities.35

In 1933 about 900,000 frustrated workers struck their employers, but the figure increased by more than 50 percent the next year. Those owners and managers of business and industry who had claimed credit for the “permanent prosperity” predicted in the 1920s could not escape blame for the depression that followed. In 1934 the United States witnessed the “Great Uprising” of 450,000 striking textile workers in several states in the South, the violent Auto Lite strike in Toledo, Ohio, Teamsters’ strikes in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, the general (all workers) strike in San Francisco, California. Workers rejected the arbitrary authority of “the boss” and demanded fair treatment through one or another version of industrial democracy. In the wake of such militancy, President Franklin Roosevelt decided to support the legislation proposed by Senator Robert Wagner of New York that would put some teeth into workers’ rights and, therefore, also promised to channel the growing tide of worker activism into less disruptive behaviors. Consequently, the National Labor Relations Act (commonly known as the Wagner Act or the NLRA) became law in 1935 over the strong objections of much of the business community. Although much amended and interpreted since its passage, in ways that have made the law less helpful to workers, the Wagner Act remains the legal basis of the nation’s labor-management relations in the 21st century.36

Based in part on the labor provisions of the Transportation Act of 1920 that governed railway and other workers, the Wagner Act prohibited employers from interfering in workers’ union organizing activities and required that employers bargain in good faith with representatives selected by the union. In order to administer these provisions, the Act created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which exercised the authority of an administrative court and developed regulations and procedures for the new system. As they did during the NIRA period, many employers sought to end-run the law by setting up “company unions,” that is, organizations dominated by managers through their favorite employees and company financial assistance, such as the Loyal Workers’ Association at Hershey Chocolate and the Employees Economic Association at General Electric, but the NLRB found these in violation of the law and ordered them abolished. The U. S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the NLRA in a 1937 decision, NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin Steel, in which the historic common-law governance of labor-management relations was repudiated as the basis for national policy.37 This, of course, did not mean that the struggle for workers’ rights as human rights had ended, but the ruling gave labor a legal standing that had been missing from the beginning of the United States.

The rapid changes of the 1930s affected profoundly the ways in which workers sought to achieve their rights, although some of the basic struggles were contested over the same turf as earlier fights. Freedom of speech and association still had to be won in many communities, such as Camden, New Jersey, where the local judge declared an electrical workers’ strike a Communist plot and sentenced workers to prison terms. The old dispute over the better method of organizing workers – by craft or by industry and work site – resurfaced as eight member unions of the AFL formed a Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) and sought to persuade the AFL to permit industry-wide organization. This disagreement led to violence on the floor of the 1935 AFL convention in Atlantic City when UMW president and CIO leader John L. Lewis, convinced that a split in the AFL over the organizing issue was inevitable, chose a suitable moment provided by Old Guard leader William Hutcheson’s indiscretion and punched the Carpenters’ union president in the nose. After the predictable refusal of the majority of AFL convention delegates to approve industrial organization, Lewis and the seven other union presidents – including Sidney Hillman of the ACW, David Dubinsky of the ILGWU, and Charles P. Howard of the Typographical Union – walked out of the AFL convention and met in a nearby hotel to form the Committee for (later, the Congress of) Industrial Organizations (CIO), a rival then to the AFL.38 The new organization was also soon to develop new tactics for dealing with resistant employers. Struggling against corporate refusal to recognize unions, which was a common posture taken by managers prior to the Supreme Court ruling in NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin, workers in the rubber and auto industries (followed quickly by others) adapted a tactic used some years earlier by Italian and Belgian workers. In Italy the method was simply called “the occupation of the factories.” In America it became known as “the sit-down strike,” which meant that workers stayed inside the struck facilities and, therefore, could not be replaced.

Akron, Ohio, rubber workers employed the sit-down strike successfully against the Firestone Rubber and Tire Corporation as early as January 1936, but it was the United Automobile Workers’ Union (UAW) whose success against General Motors in Flint, Michigan, that captured the imagination of American workers. The strike waged in Flint in December 1936 and January 1937 resulted in the workers’ victory over the largest and wealthiest corporation in the world at that time. General Motors recognized the union as the legal voice of the workers and undertook collective bargaining with the UAW. From Flint the sit-down strike swept the country like a prairie fire, including the model town of Hershey, and by May 1937 over a million workers had struck over the previous nine months. The sit-down strikers provoked the most emotional response from business and conservative circles, of course, because the occupation of company property offended conventional values about the sanctity of private property and raised the specter of communism and anarchism in the minds of traditionalists. Yet, the Chrysler Corporation also succumbed to the UAW after a brief sit-down strike, and mighty United States Steel then reached an accord with the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee (SWOC) without a fight. Meanwhile, General Electric’s forty plants around the country came into the fold of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), one location at a time. By 1940 the one million members of CIO-affiliated unions in 1936 was to reach four million, and the AFL’s affiliated membership increased just as rapidly.39 Such relentless expansion of workers’ rights and powers, in the wake of Franklin Roosevelt’s smashing electoral victory in November 1936, raised the prospect of workers leading the further democratization of the nation. This possibility – already accomplished to some degree by recent gains – inspired hope in many Americans, but others were not so pleased.

Among those who fought the CIO’s expansion were leaders of the AFL, and they did so in a way that harmed themselves and the entire labor movement: They red-baited their rivals as fiercely as did the spokesmen of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the revived Ku Klux Klan, and others hostile to all unions. Ultimately, of course, the AFL unions would sometimes find themselves red-baited successfully by anti-union forces, before a public who knew little about labor identifications or affiliations. So, when John P. Frey, president of the AFL’s Metal Trades Department, testified before the House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in August 1938, he charged (falsely) that Communist Party members and sympathizers dominated the CIO, and he provided the committee with 248 names. The press headlined this accusation across the nation without checking on its accuracy. In his testimony at the next session, Frey added the names of 59 delegates to a recent SWOC convention whom he identified as Communist Party members. He then identified himself as politically non-partisan! Frey’s red-baiting failed to deter CIO leaders and members, who simply continued organizing and agitating for reforms as they had done in support of Social Security, unemployment compensation, Fair Labor Standards (minimum wage, 40-hour week), and the abolition of child labor. John L. Lewis branded those who labeled the CIO as Communist-dominated as men who “lie in their beard and lie in their bowels,” and he praised “liberty for common people – freedom from economic bondage . . . freedom that arises from economic security and human self-respect.” But HUAC chairman Martin Dies of Texas and other headline-hunters continued to encourage outrageous accusations against organized labor.40 While these charges caused little damage to the labor movement at the time, their revival during the latter 1940s and the 1950s – when fear of Communism flitted through the American public like a bat in a dark room – would ruin several unions and countless individual Americans.

The challenge of the CIO stemmed from its democratizing influence, not from Communist or other ideologies. Unlike many AFL unions, the CIO refused to discriminate against prospective members on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, or political preference. CIO unions were, in that sense, democratic. Many, such as the UE, were also democratic in the conduct of union elections and operations, and virtually all supported political and social programs that benefited ordinary Americans, whether they were union members or not. Most CIO unions contained Communist members, and some of them became leaders, but usually because they served as active members of the union who also happened to be Communists. This was certainly the case with the UE’s Bill Sentner and Wilbur White, the UAW’s Bob Travis and Wyndham Mortimer, and the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) head, Mike Quill. When Communist union leaders had to choose between the union and the party, they almost always chose in favor of the union. If anything characterizes the Left-led (that is, those most often branded as “Communist-dominated”) unions of the CIO, it’s to be found in their organizing and leadership development of people of color and of women, in the UE’s successful pursuit of equal pay for equal work, and their persistence in organizing the unorganized. In a very literal sense, the first multi-ethnic civil rights movement on behalf of minorities and women in the 20th century was the CIO side of the labor movement.41 During the years of the Great Depression, 1929-1940, a great many people became disillusioned with the complacent, crony-filled capitalism that had visited this disaster upon the nation. Millions of them turned to unions and other organizations to help them out. Some of these – about 75,000 in 1938 – turned for a time to the Communist Party. This didn’t make them supporters of bloody Stalinist oppression such as had developed in Soviet Russia, but the enemies of labor and of the reforms of Roosevelt’s New Deal later tried to make it appear so.


The American economy was emerging slowly from the depression when war broke out in Europe and Asia in the late 1930s. By 1941 the economy hummed at an unprecedented rate, and unemployment and profit-making figures reassured even the wary that the worst was past; in effect, a Super New Deal of government deficit spending and regulation, accompanied by another burst of successful union organizing, finally ended the Great Depression. Orders for war materials further enhanced industrial activity, and many began to prepare for another U. S. military intervention on the world stage. With the introduction of a peacetime military draft in 1940 in response to the spread of war throughout the world, a labor shortage began to make itself felt. And, in the wake of American entry into World War II following Japan’s surprise attack on U.S. forces in Hawaii, the shortage became more serious. Women and minorities realized increased opportunities in the wartime economy, and unions began to add greater numbers of them as members. As in the first World War with President Wilson, the majority of U.S. labor supported President Roosevelt’s preparedness policies as they’d supported his unprecedented bid for a third term as president in 1940. A major exception to this stance was John L. Lewis, who resigned the presidency of the CIO after that organization had endorsed Roosevelt’s re-election. Philip Murray, a UMW official and head of the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee, became the new CIO chief.

The opposition of the Roosevelt Administration and of the bulk of the American labor movement to the military aggression of fascist governments in Europe and Asia stemmed from the democratic and liberal impulses of the New Deal and the labor organizations. While some notable Americans, such as Lewis and Charles Lindbergh (of aviation fame), joined or sympathized with the America First Committee in opposing a U. S. confrontation against Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan, Roosevelt and his supporters, within and outside labor circles, understood that the vaulting ambitions of these countries’ elitist leaders threatened the interests of the United States and of democracy. In the early stages of the conflict labor leaders backed efforts to help Britain and France and China in resisting the aggressors’ onslaught, and eventually they rallied behind an Anglo-American-Russian alliance to defeat the aggressors totally. Labor leaders knew well that fascists destroyed independent labor unions as one of their first steps in establishing dictatorial power. An exception arose among some Communists and Communist-influenced unionists who balked at aid to the Anglo-French alliance during the period of September 1939 – June 1941 when Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany lived temporarily by a non-aggression treaty between them. After Germany violated that treaty by invading Russia in June 1941, the left in the labor movement produced little opposition to Roosevelt’s policies. Roosevelt, for his part, sought labor’s assistance in preparing the American economy for wartime production and in maintaining political support for his administration, even though the war effort meant an end to further expansion of the New Deal and the strengthening of corporate influence in America.

Preparing the economy for wartime production meant that most Americans had to break away from their normal routines and expectations in a major way. Entire industries had to be re-oriented. The automobile industry’s executives, for example, had hoped to continue making cars for American consumers, but UAW leader Walter Reuther’s urging that automobile factories could be re-tooled to produce trucks, tanks, and airplanes won the day. Auto plants could be converted, he said, to produce 500 planes per day. To fill the labor needs in such plants, would-be workers flooded in from the South and from the countryside in the rest of the nation. Women found themselves actively recruited and encouraged to model themselves after Rosie the Riveter by a propaganda campaign that would direct them just as strongly after the war’s end to switch to the model of Helen the Housewife. African-Americans streamed northward along with Appalachian whites and Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (Chicanos) to fill the needs of industries that would have refused to employ them a short time earlier. Americans of all types experienced wartime rationing and the encouragement to salvage paper and metals and other crucial materials. In the end, they produced the greatest war production machine in the history of the world, an industrial behemoth that dwarfed the pretensions of the enemy (Axis) countries and their allies and led to total victory.42

From the beginning of American involvement in the war in December 1941, political enemies of labor and of the New Deal – chiefly Republicans and Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) – took aim at workers’ rights. Virginia’s Howard Smith and Georgia’s Carl Vinson drummed up significant congressional support to abolish premium pay (for example, double-time wages for Sunday work) and even overtime rates for work past 40 hours for the duration of the war. They offered no such provisions for excessive profits, such as was levied in World War I. Union leaders, who called for “Equality of Sacrifice,” nonetheless found themselves virtually forced to give up premium pay to ward off the arch-conservative wolves and gave a “No Strike” pledge to the country’s leaders. Industrial disputes were to be settled by the War Labor Board, which wielded the power to arbitrate differences over contract language, to set wage levels, and to enforce “maintenance of membership” for unions – providing that all workers be enrolled in unions unless they objected within their first fifteen days of employment. Limitations on salaries, price controls, and rationing schedules were all undermined by conservative congressional forces on behalf of traditional business interests, whose profits were to increase to 250 percent of prewar figures while wages remained at 15 percent above the 1941 level.43

Despite real differences between the participants, the anti-fascist coalitions held together on both the national and international levels. The Clothing Workers’ Sidney Hillman served as associate director of the Office of Production Management, and other labor leaders took on other governmental duties and responsibilities. American workers turned out 300,000 airplanes, 3 million machine guns, 40 billion rounds of small arms ammunition, 65,000 naval vessels, and nearly a million trucks. Almost 5,000 union merchant seamen died in delivering war materials to soldiers and sailors, a casualty rate second only to that of the U.S. Marines. Five hundred thousand women worked in the aircraft industry alone, and women comprised one-third of the factory work force by 1944. For the first years of American participation in the war, the “no strike pledge” largely survived, contrasting starkly with the massive strike totals of 1940-41 that had brought 1.5 million new union members to the CIO and the AFL. Workers commonly labored fifty and sixty hours per week, and forty-eight hours became standard. Yet, as the war drew toward a close in 1945, workers grew weary of the workload and became restless about the future as inflation ate into their real income gains amid huge corporate profit margins and threats often voiced by managers that “things will be different after the war.”44

Workers’ discontent inspired an increase in “wildcat” strikes (spontaneous strikes not authorized by the union’s leadership) in 1944-45; and, once the war ended, labor leaders came under an avalanche of worker demands for action. This pressure resulted in the UAW’s strike against General Motors in November 1945, a step that led to the great strike wave of 1946 when, one after another, the CIO unions struck their principal employers in the closest approximation of a nation-wide general strike that the United States had ever experienced. To business leaders such as the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association president G. Mason Owlett, who saw the New Deal in general as a “disaster-bound communist trend,” the huge, well-disciplined strike wave must have been frightening, indeed. Auto was followed by steel which was followed by electrical manufacturing which was followed by rubber, then meatpacking, and on and on. Against the employers’ initial offer of a dime-per-hour raise, almost all CIO unions – and some AFL unions, too – won 18 cents per hour increases, or more. Especially troubling to corporate leaders was the strong support that the strikers received from their communities across the country. Afterward, Charles E. Wilson of General Electric proclaimed that “The problems of the United States can be captiously summed up in two words: Russia abroad, labor at home.” Wilson and other corporate leaders then set about a massive public relations plan to extol the business community and to disparage labor and liberals. Within a year, corporate America would win its first victory in this counter-attack with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.45

The stage was set by the Republican congressional victories in the 1946 elections, following the winter-spring strike wave, because many voters stayed home on Election Day. For the first time since 1930, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and many of the party faithful hoped to repeal the New Deal at the first opportunity. Instead, their leaders initiated efforts to undermine its provision and protections. Curtailing workers’ rights ranked high on their list. Meanwhile, their allies on the political Right, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, contributed to a growing effort to turn the opening stages of the Cold War with Soviet Russia into another Red Scare within the United States and to turn the Red Scare against organized labor and the supporters of the New Deal. Consequently, the Chamber published and circulated a million brochures in 1946, titled Communist Infiltration in the United States, to be followed in 1947 by Communists Within the Labor Movement and Communists in the Government. According to Representative John McCormack of Massachusetts, the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Bill was written by William Ingles, a lobbyist for several large corporations including General Electric, and three other corporate figures who were aided by lawyers and consultants of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber. When Congress passed the bill in June 1947, thus thoroughly amending and weakening the workers’ protections under the Wagner Act, President Harry S. Truman vetoed the bill, but Congress quickly passed Taft-Hartley over the veto, and it became law. Many of the bill’s supporters justified their position by citing the Cold War, that is, concerns for national defense and national security, and emphasizing those aspects of the bill that were anti-Communist in nature.46

The Taft-Hartley Act did contain measures against Communists, but the overall effect of the law – which forbade secondary boycotts, allowed individual states to outlaw the union shop via so-called “right-to-work” laws, prevented supervisors from joining unions, and much more – had nothing to do with Communism or the developing Cold War. It had everything to do with limiting the flexibility and power of workers’ unions. Because of the prohibition of boycotts (historically, one of the most effective of labor’s weapons) one union could not pressure an employer on behalf of another union with a sympathy strike, nor could a union boycott, say, a retailer in order to get him or her to press their supplier company for a settlement with their workers’ union. The bill also revived the use of the injunction against strikers by permitting the President or Attorney General to ask courts to order a strike that threatened “the national interest” to be suspended for a period of 60 days. It prohibited mass picketing, which had served the labor movement very well in recent years, and it permitted lawsuits against “unfair labor practices” by unions! Finally, it encouraged skilled craftspersons and professionals to separate themselves from the larger body of semi-skilled and unskilled labor. Immediately after the passage of the bill, Business Week magazine proclaimed “A New Deal for America’s Employers.”47

The years after passage of the Taft-Hartley Act witnessed a near-halt in the growth of unions, and in many instances the Act helped to create a climate of opportunistic rivalry between unions. At the very time that corporate America consolidated its strength with the unprecedented profits of World War II and its international advantage following that war, the U. S. labor movement splintered along political and business lines, helping its adversaries to weaken union labor ever since. The chief vehicle for attacks upon labor and for attacks between labor unions proved to be the Taft-Hartley requirement that no person could be a union officer who was a Communist, a Nazi, or a fascist, that is, that there would now be a political-correctness test for union office-holders. The stick used to force compliance was that a union that could or would not certify the political correctness of its officers would have no standing or rights under the jurisdiction of the NLRB. Many unions announced that they refused to comply with this provision, but one by one most unions came around out of fear that other unions could “raid” them and attempt to represent their former members. The United Mine Workers and the Typographical Union stood among those AFL unions that resisted longest, while the United Electrical Workers (UE) and other CIO unions fought the good fight as long as they could, too. Other unions, however, began to view the crises created by the “non-Communist oath” requirement as an opportunity to raid non-complying or late-complying unions, and some business and political leaders saw in these crises the chance to weaken labor and to grab headlines for themselves at the same time.48

Perhaps chief among the targets of anti-union and intra-union animosities stood the UE, fifth largest American union in the late 1940s and known for the leftist orientation of its leadership, as well as the militancy of both its shop floor and political activities. The UE had formed as a coalition of existing locals and had expanded from that base to include representation at most General Electric (GE) and Westinghouse Electric plants, at RCA, King Radio, Philco Radio, and a multitude of machine and smaller electrical manufacturing shops. The union’s constitution specifically called for the unity of “all workers in our industry on an industrial basis, and rank and file control, regardless of craft, age, sex, nationality, race, creed, or political belief.” While the union held out against the non-Communist oath for longer than any other CIO union, the raids of fellow CIO unions – Steel Workers (USWA) and the UAW in particular – forced the UE leaders to begin signing the required affidavits in 1949.49

Signing the non-Communist documents failed to save the UE from the self-destructive policies of the CIO. Having already experienced differences with CIO policies favoring the Marshal Plan and the re-election of Harry S. Truman as president, the UE announced that it would no longer continue to pay affiliation dues to the CIO in 1949 because of the continuation of raids by other CIO unions, a practice that CIO president Philip Murray could not or would not stop. The CIO then proceeded in October 1949 to expel the UE, not specifically for non-payment of dues but on the grounds that UE was a Communist-dominated union. The CIO then created a new union, the International Union of Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (IUE), for the purpose of raiding the UE membership and destroying that union. They also expelled the small Farm Equipment Workers. Shortly thereafter, they expelled nine others on the same basis. The blood-letting began.50

The impact of the so-called McCarthy Era, the country’s second “Red Scare” period (from about 1948 to 1957), when in the name of anti-Communism opportunists like Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin fanned the public’s fears and persecuted radical and liberal Americans in the name of freedom, remained with the United States for a very long time. Its legacy remains in the 21st century in the form of a crippled labor movement, the difficulty of obtaining universal health care coverage, and the ease with which many Americans can be angered at any groups or individuals who challenge the status quo. The origins of this easily invoked backlash mentality long predate McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, Richard Nixon, journalists Westbrook Pegler and Victor Riesel, and the many others who made fame and profit from persecuting their fellow Americans during the early years of the U. S. – Soviet Cold War and its counterpart at home. Spasms of intolerance and paranoia mark many pages of American history from the earliest times. Yet, that individuals and groups of Americans stood up against this tide of witch hunting and pressure to conform to “conservative” values gave future generations examples by which to live free in troubled times. Among U. S. labor unions that withstood the McCarthy Era in this manner stand the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the United Electrical Workers.

The UE continued to suffer from attacks from several sources – rival unions, corporations, church officials, and governmental figures. As the largest of the so-called “Communist-dominated” unions, the UE made an attractive target. The union had opposed the Marshall Plan and had refused to endorse Harry Truman’s re-election, both of which had been high priorities for the CIO’s top leaders. The UE had held out longest against requiring their leaders to sign the affidavits on Communist or Nazi or fascist membership, which had given opponents of the current leadership – President Albert Fitzgerald, Secretary-Treasurer Julius Emspak, and Organizing Director James Matles – a volatile issue with which to organize the oppositional Members for a Democratic Union (in one of the country’s most democratic unions) and then the organize IUE behind former UE president James Carey, the CIO’s secretary-treasurer. The fact that the UE already was an exceptionally democratic union didn’t retard the campaign of the IUE, whose partisans were heavily financed by Philip Murray even prior to the official break. Finally, the anti-UE forces learned early that they could count on the cooperation of the House un-American Activities Committee and other government investigatory bodies, which would hold hearings at which local UE leaders could be attacked just prior to an election challenge against them from the IUE and whose attacks would be widely publicized in the media. Such became the common pattern of events from 1950 until 1958.51

The UE survived dozens of onslaughts in which powerful enemies attacked the union. In Pennsylvania, home to many electrical manufacturing locals, UE held about one-half of its locals – including the huge General Electric plant in Erie – well into the 1950s; and, even in locals that were lost, such as GE plants in Lynn, Massachusetts, and in Schenectady, New York, an ongoing UE minority held leaders’ feet to the fire on many issues. Eventually, the fighting subsided and UE survived, but at a fraction of its former membership, owing to corporate downsizing and the exporting of work as well as to the loss of locals because of political correctness. James Carey, a most vehement anti-UE partisan, lost his IUE presidency in the mid-1960s, which removed a major obstacle to inter-union cooperation, and in 1969-70 a UE-IUE-IAM-UAW coalition fought the first successful large-scale strike against GE since 1946. Still, the workers’ lives had been injured by the splits in their ranks, and the American union movement had been irretrievably weakened. Thousands of working people lost their jobs to the witch-hunt juggernaut and electrical manufacturing workers in particular lost ground in wages and benefits, compared to workers in auto and steel. That the UE and the West Coast longshoremen’s union survived, however, remained signal events in the preservation of liberty in the United States.52 The next task for American labor was to recapture the rights of public employees – government-paid workers – which had been circumscribed in the wake of the Taft-Hartley Act and its state-enacted counterparts some years earlier.





            Although private sector unionism had declined by the 1960s from its zenith in the post-World War II era, labor retained a great deal of political clout at that decade. And, when public sector workers began to demonstrate their frustration with their third-class status – many could neither participate fully as citizens in political affairs because of the federal Hatch Act and its many state-legislated imitators nor could they in most areas participate meaningfully as labor union members because of the many state-sanctioned laws following passage of the Taft-Hartley Act. Like other workers throughout the world, American public employees arose in militant determination in the latter 1960s and organized labor – slipping in the percentage of workers they represented – looked to helping public employees attain the most basic of rights of workers.

In Pennsylvania, recent Democratic governors George M. Leader (1955-59) and David L. Lawrence (1959-63) had displayed sympathy with the plight of state employees and – like President John F. Kennedy at the federal level – had allowed state workers’ representatives to “meet and discuss” working conditions and wages with government officials.53 Yet, these workers remained second-class employees in terms of rights at the workplace. As a consequence, toward the end of the turbulent 1960s, public employees – led chiefly by teachers – began to rebel against their treatment and to engage in strike activities, illegal though they were in most places. In 1968 teachers struck thirty-eight times in Pennsylvania, in contrast to a handful of strikes over the previous ten years. Welfare workers, unemployment compensation workers, and others quickly followed, and pressure increased on political leaders to find an answer to this new turmoil in a tumultuous era.

Teachers followed breakthroughs by their colleagues in New York City in late 1961 and in Philadelphia in 1965, where and when the American Federation of Teachers – aided heavily by the United Automobile Workers – had won collective bargaining rights for public school teachers. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the California Nurses’ Association (CNA) gained its first contracts in 1965. In Pennsylvania, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) entered the field in search of winning bargaining rights for other public workers. Welfare workers in Philadelphia, angered by the fact that their “offices” – sometimes hastily-converted warehouses – were colder than the outdoors on a sunny spring day in 1970, gathered their files and set up tables and chairs outside, in front of the buildings. They formed the Reform Organization for Communication and Change (ROCC) in Philadelphia, SEIU Local 406 in Scranton, and the Caseworkers’ Study Group (CSG) in the Pittsburgh area. Postal workers launched a nation-wide wildcat strike in March 1970. Clearly, the inadequacies of the laws of 1935 and 1947 were transcended as public employees took matters into their own hands and organized resistance to the complacent supporters of the status quo.54

Elected officials sought answers to the growing militancy of public employees. In New York, the Taylor Commission struggled with the problem under the leadership ofGeorge Taylor of the University of Pennsylvania and concluded that teachers should vote on the question of whether or not they wanted to have collective bargaining. As noted above, the New York City teachers voted in favor of collective bargaining – by 85 to 15 percent. Yet, the Taylor Act that accompanied the new right to bargain forbade strikes and imposed very stiff penalties for would-be strikers, a measure that Steel Workers president Leo Gerard has likened to the behavior of dictatorial governments.55 Pennsylvanians searched for a less draconian solution.

Mike Johnson, the executive vice president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, led the fight to extend to public employees the right to collective bargaining. He gathered the lobbyists and other activists of member unions every week and made sure that all of them continued to turn the legislative pages at the same pace and that no private deals were cut in order to benefit one union over others. The opportunity to open to public employees the rights enjoyed by private-sector workers – the right to choose a union without employer interference and the right to participate in deciding about their work-life futures – was not sought by the Republican governor, Raymond Shafer. Rather, the pressure to do something about the unrest among public employees continued to build, and Shafer and others began to bend as strikes persisted. Initially, the Democratic majority in the state house of representatives passed a bill allowing collective bargaining and according public workers the same right to strike enjoyed by private-sector workers. The bill then went to the state senate.56

In the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania Senate, Senator Richard Frame advocated the public employees’ cause. As AFSCME president Gerry McEntee phrased it much later, Frame “carried all the water” for Act 195 in the state senate. Senator Buddy Cianfrani helped to keep Senate Democrats in line, despite a last-minute call from Philadelphia mayor James Tate who asked Cianfrani to vote against the bill, because of the Catholic Church hierarchy’s opposition to the bill’s inclusion of hospitals and hospital workers. In the end, Governor Shafer signed the bill, but only after agency shop – a requirement that non-union-members would have to pay a fee for the representation services that the union would be required to provide to them – was dropped from the final version of Act 195. Pennsylvania public employees had won their right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining, but they would do so within the context of an open shop.57


The years since 1970 have not been kind to organized labor in the United States. A corporate counter-offensive against the gains won by labor militancy in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s began during the latter decade and intensified in the 1980s, encouraged by President Ronald Reagan’s firing of illegally striking air traffic control workers in the U. S., even as he praised illegally striking Solidarity workers in Poland. On occasion, as during negotiations at Hershey Foods, the change became crystal clear: In the wake of Reagan’s electoral victory over President Jimmy Carter, Hershey managers told the Bakery and Confectionery Workers’ negotiators that things would soon be very different because “Our guy is in now.” Meanwhile, the deregulation and de-industrialization of the American economy proceeded with renewed vigor with the resultant loss of huge numbers of private-sector union jobs, through corporate downsizing, the export of jobs to low-wage countries, and a militant and sustained anti-union campaign by American-based corporate managers. As a consequence, American workers’ incomes in real dollars declined from 1972 through the mid-1990s and stagnated thereafter, and union members as a proportion of the non-agricultural work force declined to little over 11 percent by 2010. Only a little more than 6 percent of the private sector workers belonged to a union by that time, just about the same fraction as remained unionized prior to the onset of the Great Depression two generations earlier. From 2005 the public sector also experienced major setbacks. In Missouri and Indiana newly-elected Republican governors rescinded public employees’ rights to collective bargaining, measures that were duplicated in 2011 by laws in Wisconsin and Ohio and elsewhere, and both Indiana and Texas public assistance workers found their jobs privatized shortly thereafter. In each of these latter occasions the assaults on public employees’ rights was hypocritically justified by the onset of the Great Recession of 2008 and its ongoing hardships, caused chiefly by the deregulation of the economy in the 1980s and ‘90s. From the standpoint of public policy and practice, then, United States politics and law threatened a return to the late 19th century mentality that privileged the ambitions of the existing elite as desirable “rugged individualism” and treated militant labor actions as unacceptable and illegal. Economists, journalists, and other social commentators began to wonder publicly whether American society and its democracy can sustain a continual widening of the gap between the very rich and the rest of society without risking another steep recession or depression. As the economist Robert Lekachman had asserted in the title of his study of American society, Greed Is Not Enough as a means of sustaining a prosperous and democratic republic.58

In 2005 a number of unions belonging to the AFL-CIO split from that umbrella organization over much the same issues that had led the CIO unions to leave the AFL in the 1930s: Organizing priorities and strategies.  Led


1   Ronald L. Filipelli, “Colonial Work, Colonial Workers,” in Keystone of Democracy: A History of Pennsylvania Workers, ed. Howard Harris (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1999), 1-31. Also: Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor’s Untold Story (3rd ed.; New York: United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, 1984), 16.

2   Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Labor Relations, An Outline of Pennsylvania Labor History (Indiana, PA: Indiana University of PA Press, 2001), 1. Also, Boyer and Morais., 29-37.

3   Outline, 2, and Boyer and Morais, 56-58.

4   Boyer and Morais, 91-106. Perry K. Blatz, “Titanic Struggles, 1873-1916,” in Harris, 83-148.

5   Blatz, 104-05.

6   Ibid., 105. Boyer and Morais, 108.

7 Patricia Cayo Sexton, The War Against Labor and the Left (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), 77. Blatz, 109.

8   Sexton, 80ff. Blatz, 109.

9   Les Standiford, Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America (New York: Crown Publishers, 2005), 146ff. Sexton, 80. Blatz, 109-10.

10 Melvyn Dubofsky, The State and Labor in Modern America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 21-22. Sexton, 80-83. Standiford, 199ff.

11 Karen Orren, Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law, and Liberal Development in the United States (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991, 146. Dubofsky, 23-24.

12   Ronald W. Schatz, The Electrical Workers (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 4. Boyer and Morais, 133-34.

13   Stephen Brier, ed., Who Built America?, 2 (2 vols.; New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 148-49. Also, Boyer and Morais, 112.

14 Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Urbana: University of Illinois Press), 127. Brier, 141. Boyer and Morais, 124. On Pullman-car porters, see Larry Tye, Rising from the Rails (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).

15   Salvatore, 118-23. Boyer and Morais, 122-23.

16   Orren, 160-61. Salvatore, 128-30.

17   Boyer and Morais, 128-29; Salvatore, 130-31; Dubofsky, 29-31.

18   Brier, 141-43; Salvatore, 133-35; Boyer and Morais, 129-30; Sexton, 69.

19   James A. Young, “Clarence Darrow,” Advocates and Activists, 1919-1941, ed. David G. Izzo (West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 2003), 9.

20   Ibid. Also, Dubofsky, 32-33.

21   Brier, 143-44; Boyer and Morais, 149.

22   Dubofsky, 40-42.

23   Blatz, 121-22; Dubofsky, 42-43.

24   Young, “Darrow.” Boyer and Morais, 157-70.

25   David Von Drehle, The Triangle Fire (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003).   Boyer and Morais, 179. Brier, 210-11.

26   Dubofsky, 44-48, 52-58. Brier, 225-27. Schatz, 14.

27   Orren, 205. Brier, 234-38. The Railroad Administration operated the entire U. S. rail system as a single unit.

28   Gary B. Nash, and others, The American People, II (2 vols.; New York: Harper Collins, 1996), 492-93. Brier, 235-38.

29   Boyer and Morais, 204.

30   Ibid., 207-09. Brier, 262-64.

31 On the all-black Sleeping Car Porters, see Larry Tye, Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class (New York: Henry Holt, 2004). On Hershey: James A. Young and Michelle E. Myers, “Building Milton Hershey’s Town: Home, Sweet Home?” in Labor History/Liberation History: Case Studies (Erie: Erie County Central Labor Union and Industrial Union Council, 2012).

32   Nash, 521-26. Young and Myers. Peter Gottlieb, “Shaping a New Labor Movement, 1917-1941,” in Harris, 161-201.

33   Brier, 240-41. Gottlieb, 185-88.

34   Nash, 527-29. Gottlieb, 189. Boyer and Morais, 275-77. Brier, 341, 345-49.

35   Schatz, 63. Gottlieb, 190-91. Brier, 350-51.

36   Boyer and Morais, 276-91. Brier, 365, puts the number of strikers in the South at 376,000.

37   Orren, 202-09. Dubofsky, Ch. 5.

38   Boyer and Morais, 290ff. Brier, 378-79.

39   On electrical workers, see James J. Matles and James Higgins, Them and Us (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974), Chs. 4 and 5. Matles was Director of Organization for the UE for many years. Also, Schatz, Chs. 3 and 4. Boyer and Morais, 298-317. Brier, 383-96.

40   Matles and Higgins, 104-05, 117. Boyer and Morais, 296, 318. Brier, 415.

41   Ellen Schrecker, “Labor and the Cold War: The Legacy of McCarthyism,” in Robert W. Cherny, William Issel, and Kieran Walsh Taylor (eds.), American Labor and the Cold War (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 7-24. Also, Steve Rosswurm (ed.), The CIO’s Left-Led Unions (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 12.

42   Nelson Lichtenstein, “Walter Reuther and the Rise of Labor-Liberalism,” in Labor Leaders in America, ed. Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 280-302. Boyer and Morais, 329-35.

43   Nelson Lichtenstein, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995), 196-97. Brier, 433-35, 460. Boyer and Morais, 331.

44   Steven Fraser, “Sidney Hillman: Labor’s Machiavelli,” in Dubofsky and Van Tine, 207-33. Brier, 460-61. Dubofsky, 178. Boyer and Morais, 334-35. World War II-era retirees have often related management’s threats about postwar expectations to the author: John Savelli and Wilbur White Interview by James A. Young, April 1, 1981; Tom Brown, Tom Rafter, and Gus Conti Interview by James A. Young, December 27, 1979. Notes and tapes in the author’s possession.

45   Marc McCullough, “Glory Days: 1941-1969,” in Harris, 213-59. James A. Young, “The Cold War Comes to Erie,” in Fear Itself: Enemies Real and Imagined in American Culture, ed. Nancy L. Schultz (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1999), 267-284. Brier, 473-76. Boyer and Morais, 344-45.

46   Sexton, 220-21. Brier, 491-93. Boyer and Morais, 345-47.

47   McCullough, 224. Boyer and Morais, 348. Brier, 492. Matles and Higgins, 167, 170-71.

48   Brier, 501. Matles and Higgins, 188. Boyer and Morais, 355-58.

49   Matles and Higgins, 192-94.

50   Ronald W. Schatz, “Philip Murray and the Subordination of the Industrial Unions to the United States Government,” in Dubofsky and Van Tine, 234-57. Matles and Higgins, 194-97. McCullough, 226.

51   McCullough, 226. Young, “Erie.” Also, John Hoerr, Harry, Tom, and Father Rice: Accusation and Betrayal in America’s Cold War (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005) focuses upon matters in western Pennsylvania.

52   Young, “Erie.” Boyer and Morais, 369-70.

53   On the “meet and discuss” committees: Claude Saracino’s remarks at the PSSU Leadership Assembly, June 1991, at Bucknell University. Notes in the author’s possession. Also, Claude Saracino Interview with Susan Phillips, 1981. Tape in the author’s possession.

54   On the teachers, see David Selden, The Teacher Rebellion (Washington, D. C.: Howard University Press, 1985), 67, 117. On CNA, see Paul Johnston, Success While Others Fail: Social Movement Unionism and the Public Workplace (Ithaca, N. Y.: ILR Press, 1994), 118. On the postal workers’ strike: Glenn Perusek and Kent Worcester (eds.), Trade Union Politics: American Unions and Economic Change, 1960s-1980s (Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Humanities Press, 1995), 8.

55   Selden, 51-52. Gerard’s remarks reported to the author by Martin J. Morand, retired labor leader.

56   Remarks of Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, at the Pennsylvania Labor History Society’s annual conference, September 10, 2005, in Harrisburg, PA. McEntee was involved in the process at this time. See, also, Saracino Interview.

57   McEntee remarks. Also: Martin J. Morand Interview by James A. Young, February 14, 1991, Martin J. Morand Interview by James A. Young, July 15, 2008, and Michael Johnson Interview by Susan Phillips, 1981. Tapes and transcripts in the author’s possession

58   Robert Lekachman, Greed Is Not Enough (New York: Pantheon, 1982). Also: Dubofsky, 231, and Joi Preciphs, “Three Republican Governors Hit Unions,” The Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2005.