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

  • AFL-CIOIn December of 1886, the same year the Knights of Labor was dealt its fatal blow at Haymarket Square, Samuel Gompers met with the leaders of other craft unions to form the American Federation of Labor. The A.F. of L. was a loose grouping of smaller craft unions, such as the masons' union, the hat makers' union and cigar makers' union. Samuel Gompers quickly learned that the issues that workers cared about most deeply were personal. They wanted higher wages and better working conditions. These "bread and butter" issues would always unite the labor class. Gompers was a committed capitalist and saw no need for a radical restructuring of America. By keeping it simple, unions could avoid the pitfalls that had weakened the National Labor Union and the Knights of Labor.
  • AFL-CIO & Community ServiceThe American trade union movement has always proclaimed that it does not wish to advance at the expense of other segments of the population, and a statement such as made by President Meany helps to counter chargers by labor's enemies that trade unions are interested only in themselves, their officers and members. With the realization of a merger, with the trade union movement representing a membership of 15,000,000 members, employers, newspapers, legislators, radio and television commentators will be ready and willing to point out any so-called misbehavior on the part of labor in maintaining and promoting its rights in the economic and legislative fields.
  • American Labor Party: 1936The present political conflict is not between two parties, nor between two sections of the country. The conflict is between two camps, which are opposed to each other and are fighting for a major stake that concerns us all, everywhere. On the one side are the nation's Tories, the reactionaries of all stripes and kinds, the manipulators of other people's labor, determined to hold on to their unjustly obtained privileges and advantages and seeking to extend them further. On the other side are the people of the United States, the overwhelming majority of the population of our great and rich country, demanding the right to work and live under standards of economic decency and security.
  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Win Over Pullman CompanyThe fight between the new company union and the Brotherhood to secure official recognition from the National Mediation Board began late in 1934. At the direction of the board an election to enable the porters and maids to express their preference was conducted from May 27 to June 27. It resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Brotherhood. Of a total of 8,316 eligible votes, the Brotherhood captured 5,931 and the company union only 1,422. In only three cities, Louisville, Memphis, and Atlanta, did the company union receive a majority of the eligible votes. The Brotherhood won majorities in 25 cities; it also received the overwhelming majority of votes cast by mail. The Brotherhood has already taken steps to initiate negotiations with the Pullman Company. The real fruits of victory will not be realized until a collective agreement is secured, but the chances for such an agreement are excellent.
  • Harlan: Working under the GunHarlan County in eastern Kentucky, which has been brought out into the spotlight this summer by the violence with which the local Coal Operators' Association has carried on this attack, is, as far as I can find out, a pretty good medium exhibit of the entire industry: living conditions are better than in Alabama and perhaps a little worse than in the Pittsburgh district. The fact that the exploited class in Harlan County is of old American pre-Revolutionary stock, that the miners still speak the language of Patrick Henry and Daniel Boone and Andrew Jackson and conserve the pioneer traditions of the Revolutionary War and of the conquest of the West, will perhaps win them more sympathy from the average American than he would waste on the wops and bohunks he is accustomed to see get the dirty end of the stick in labor troubles.
  • Haywood, William "Big Bill" Dudley William D. "Big Bill" Haywood ranks as one of the foremost and perhaps most feared of America's labor radicals. Physically imposing with a thunderous voice and almost total disrespect for law, Haywood mobilized unionists, intimidated company bosses, and repeatedly found himself facing prosecution.
  • Higgins, Monsignor GeorgeHis early writing focused on the idea of “economic citizenship” which suggested that having a job was the pathway to having a voice. Fr. Higgins contended that labor unions were a necessary expression of economic citizenship as well as collective bargaining, and he often drew from Catholic Social Teaching documents, especially encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Populo et Progressio, to support his statements.
  • Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Local 8 (1913-1928?)Also called the Wobblies, the IWW believed in equal treatment for African Americans. Article I, Section I of the IWW Constitution declared that all workers, regardless of color or creed, could join the IWW. The IWW believed that all wage workers, regardless of their ethnic, national, or racial heritage, should identify as workers in opposition to their employers, with whom workers shared “nothing in common.”
  • International Ladies Garment Workers UnionFirst Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became a lifelong friend of the ILGWU and a strong supporter of labor issues beginning in 1922 when she joined the National International_Ladies_Garment_Workers_Union_logoWomen's Trade Union League. She developed a working relationship with the leaders, and the rank and file members and from her position in the White House was able to encourage cooperation with the unions and advocate for stronger labor laws.
  • Jones, Mary Harris 'Mother' Norton, Virginia was the site of ‘Mother’ Jones’ first coalmine strike in 1891. She held her meeting on the highway since the Dietz mining company had threatened most of the establishments favorable for her assembly. Despite her efforts to avoid troubles, she ended up getting arrested anyhow. In her autobiography, Jones recalls that paying a related $25 fine may have saved her life. Many in the town believed there was a plot to place her in jail and secretly kill her if she had not paid the amount due.
  • Knights of LaborThe Union Pacific Railroad had cut wages, yet through the aggressive leadership of Joseph R. Buchanan the original wages were restored. Buchanan reproduced the success in a number of other railroad strike incidents, all of which became associated nationally with the Knights of Labor despite their mostly local nature. The Knights of Labor had an explicitly anti-strike mentality, but the local autonomy of assemblies had allowed their name to become known as a powerful and assertive group, including financially, which could create sensational successes in assertive worker action. This hyped image was reinforced when local Knights called for help in an effort against notorious and unscrupulous railroad financier Jay Gould.
  • National Women's Trade Union League Women working in factories often faced terrible working conditions and low wages. During the Progressive Era, working-class women, alone and in concert with middle-class women, fought to raise wages and improve working conditions. The National Women's Trade Union League of America (NWTUL) was established in Boston, MA in 1903, at the convention of the American Federation of Labor. It was organized as a coalition of working-class women, professional reformers, and women from wealthy and prominent families. Its purpose was to "assist in the organization of women wage workers into trade unions and thereby to help them secure conditions necessary for healthful and efficient work and to obtain a just reward for such work."
  • Negro Wage Earners and Trade UnionsThe President of the American Federation of Labor ventures some advice to Negro workers and their role in the present crisis (1934). --The Editor of Opportunity, Journal of Negro Life Published by the National Urban League
  • Negro Workers and Recovery: 1934For many months in the midst of the depression, Negroes saw all municipal work in building trades turned over to white union workers who steadfastly refused to allow a Negro mechanic to work with them. In the 17 Negro schools of the city, no Negro was allowed to earn a single dime on building or repair work. Representation to and conferences with city and union officials brought only evasive rejoinders and no action. Finally, the Negroes' patience snapped at sight of a $2,000,000 colored hospital being erected in the middle of their own neighborhood, built with municipal and Federal funds, with no Negro carpenters, bricklayers, painters, or other skilled workers, allowed on the job. Out of this resentment, guided and advised by the St. Louis Urban League, grew a Negro labor organization of building trades workers whose avowed aim was to protect the interests of Negro workers under the recovery program.
  • Public Relief in the Sit-Down Strike: 1937In the first days of hope for an early strike settlement, it seemed that the regular staff of the relief organization might be able to "absorb" the extra load. But as soon as the first peace parley failed the scene took on a different color. On that day, the office swarmed with applicants for relief; many could not be taken care of at all; facilities were inadequate; feelings were tense.
  • Rose Schneiderman: N.Y. Senators vs. Working Women"...Can it be that our Senators do not realize that we have women working in every trade but nine? We have women working in the foundries, stripped to the waist, if you please, because of the heat. Yet the Senator says nothing about these women losing their charm. They have got to retain their charm and delicacy and work in foundries. Of course, you know the reason they are employed in foundries is that they are cheaper and work longer hours than men. Women in the laundries, for instance, stand for 13 or 14 hours in the terrible steam and heat with their hands in hot starch. Surely these women won't lose any more of their beauty and charm by putting a ballot in a ballot box once a year than they are likely to lose standing in foundries or laundries all year round...."
  • Social Work and the Labor Movement: 1937Here, however, a word of warning must be given. This broad labor movement, expressive of the needs of the masses, is impatient with techniques and will not tolerate any assumption of superior wisdom by experts. This impatience will be the greater if social workers are identified through their institutions with reactionary forces. For example, if a school of training for social work is part of a university which is reactionary in its attitude, social workers identified with it will be under suspicion and may not claim the right to determine policies for the labor movement. The expert contribution which social work ought to make will not be accepted if labor is suspicious of the philosophy of social workers.
  • The Urban League and the A.F. of L.It is unnecessary to repeat in detail a recital of the various types of discrimination which Negroes suffer when they attempt to join the organized labor movement. It is sufficient to say that experiences of the past several years are conclusive proof that the liberal position taken by the American Federation of Labor and by a few enlightened and progressive unions has not been effective in decreasing appreciably the organized resistance in many internationals and numerous locals against the full participation of Negro membership.
  • Women's Trade Union League From 1907 through 1922, the WTUL achieved a number of its legislative goals, including an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage, and the abolition of child labor. After the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory, the WTUL took part in a four-year investigation that ultimately helped establish new industrial safety regulations. In addition, the league helped women gain access to labor unions, trained women for leadership positions within unions, and even provided temporary assistance for unemployed trade union women.