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 Association of Labor LegislationThe American Association for Labor Legislation (AALL) was formed to promote uniformity of labor legislation and to encourage the study of labor conditions with a view toward promoting desirable legislation. The Association was founded as a branch of the International Association for Labor Legislation. Preliminary discussions about forming the group occurred during 1905 and culminated in the first meeting of the Association held on February 15, 1906, in New York City.
  • 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.
  • Auto Workers Strike: 1933ONE YEAR AGO a complacent public was shocked by the news of the Ford Riot in which four workers were killed and forty wounded. Added to this tragic method of education comes the latest Briggs' strike and the other related strikes which have all slowly and painfully had their effect in educating the public as to the true conditions in the auto industry.
  • 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.
  • Company Unions and the A. F. of L.
  • Detroit Digs In: 1937The discipline of the strikers is remarkable. Company agents tried to incite a riot Thursday night, when they smashed a strikers' loud-speaker and a meeting near union headquarters, but the riots they hoped to stage did not develop. The sitdown strike leaders tell of other provocation. They have a strict rule that no liquor is to be brought into the occupied plant, and the only time the rule was violated, they say, was on New Years Eve when they permitted some company foremen to enter the plant. Since then there has been no drinking and no foreman has been allowed "to snoop around" among the men. ....Rank-and-file cooperation has made the "chief of police" the best loved man in the plant. There is no grumbling, although the men have been in the plant for eleven days and nights. Wives come to the windows to pass in laundry and food, which goes immediately into the general commissary. Women may not enter, but children may be passed through the windows for brief visits with their fathers. Every night at eight the strikers' band of three guitars, a violin, a mouth organ, and a squeeze box broadcast over a loud-speaker for the strikers and the women and children outside. Spirituals and hill-billy songs fill out the program, which closes with "Solidarity Forever."
  • Flint Faces Civil War: 1937"We'll stay in till they carry us Out on stretchers," is the message sent out by the sitdowners in Fisher 2. "We'd rather die than give up." But will the 400 special police, deputized from Flint Alliance members, actually try to carry out the injunction at the zero hour of three o'clock? Will the 4,200 tin hats of the National Guard, equipped with howitzers, machine-guns, rifles, bayonets, and tear gas, be ordered to enforce the court order? The union does not know. But they mobilize hastily to resist. A picket line of 3,000 forms around Fisher 2, 10,000 citizens gather across the Street, and a stream of cars from all over Michigan brings in automobile workers by the hundreds to reinforce the picket line.
  • Flint Sit-Down Strike (1936-1937)On December 29, 1936 the Union learned that GM was planning to move the dies out of Fisher # 1.Travis immediately called a meeting at lunchtime at the union hall across the street from the plant, explained the situation, then sent the members across the street to occupy the plant. The Flint sit-down strike began. In a conventional strike the union takes its members outside the plant and attempts to prevent the employer from operating by discouraging other employees from entering. In a sit-down strike, the workers physically occupy the plant, keeping management and others out.
  • 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.
  • Profile of General Motors: 1937G. M. has followed the orthodox tradition of the automobile barons in its dealings with its employees. The men, even their private lives, are considered company property. Its espionage organization is almost as highly developed as the feared Ford service; cities like Flint and Pontiac—and Detroit—are completely under its thumb. Long before the notorious Black Legion appeared in the down-river Ford area, G. M. workers in Pontiac dreaded the "Bullet Club," a secret political organization whose officials practically displaced the formal employment agencies in hiring and firing.
  • 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.
  • Robins, Margaret Dreier (1886--1945)In 1904, increasingly interested in workers’ rights, Dreier joined the Women's Trade Union League, then only a small, budding organization. She became the president of its New York chapter in 1905; president of the Chicago chapter 1907-1914; and treasurer of the national organization and rose quickly in its ranks. In 1907, she was elected president of the national organization and began a fifteen-year tenure as its leader. Meanwhile, she married the lawyer and social worker Raymond Robins in 1905.
  • 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...."
  • Schneiderman, Rose By 1907, Schneiderman devoted most of her time to the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), which she later called "the most important influence on my life." Within a year, she was elected vice-president of the New York chapter, and thanks to a stipend provided by a member, she was able to work full-time organizing for the WTUL.
  • 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 Detroit Strike: 1933AT nine o'clock on Wednesday morning, January 11, a worker at the main tool-and-die-making plant of the Briggs Manufacturing Company was told by his foreman to step into the office and receive a wage cut. Instead, the worker went to the head of his shop committee and then, along with the other workers in his department, from floor to floor, announcing that a strike against wage cuts had been called. There were only about 450 men working in the plant then--but every one of them put away his tools and walked out. So began the first major labor struggle in Detroit since the period immediately following the war. Today there are between 10,000 and 14,000 * workers on strike at the four plants of the Briggs Company and at the Murray Manufacturing Company's plant. The huge Ford factories all over the country have shut down--admittedly because they cannot get bodies from the two factories crippled by the strikes; the Hudson Motor Company has shut down; and the Chrysler Motor Company plant is working on part time when ordinarily it would be operating at the peak of production.
  • The Hill-Billies Come to Detroit: 1934The automobile manufacturers' labor policy is this: The industry must not be unionized, and to keep the unions from gaining a foothold, we must take every precaution and spare no expense. Among the experienced automotive workers living in Detroit and the vicinity, only those have been and are being rehired whom the plant employment managers personally know to be "safe," or who can secure personal O.K.'s from prominent citizens in Detroit, such as well-known judges and commanders of American Legion posts. Workers known to be inclined, however slightly, toward unionism or radicalism are almost generally taboo in the production department, whether on relief or not. Those hired are watched by stool pigeons, who in some plants go so far as to search the men's overcoat pockets for possible radical literature.
  • 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.
  • Why Ford Workers Strike: 1933Ford has been applauded by the outside world for the favorable conditions in his factories, but he was referred to with sullen looks and sour noises when the writer questioned the workers about these conditions. The one which the workers protested against most vehemently is the result of circumstances which they are helpless to control. A breakdown on any part of the assembly line means that they all must knack off. The moment this happens, the time is recorded and the worker's pay stops. If the tie-up is for two hours, he must work two hours longer that night. In the meantime he is not permitted to leave his station. He may not smoke, and even conversation is discouraged.
  • 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.