December 5th is the AFL-CIO’s 60th Anniversary!

On November 25, 1952, George Meany was elected as President of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).  During the later years of former AFL President William Green’s life, Meany was gradually handling more and more of the responsibilities of president.  As such, Meany was intent on his first priority being to strengthen the labor movement through a merger of the AFL and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  Within six days he was sharing his early plans with the press.  He told them that the AFL and CIO had to meet and “get at this problem as trade unionists” and expressed hope “that we’ll have sense enough to unify the American labor movement in the near future.”  The AFL and the CIO were often “striving for competitive advantage” and that there was “too much effort wasted in competition between unions.” (1)

In 1952, Walter Reuther was elected President of the CIO after the death of his predecessor Philip Murray.  Reuther was also in favor of unity, and Meany arranged to meet with him in January of 1953.  According to an oral history interview by Archie Robinson, Meany recalls the meeting in Reuther’s Washington hotel room:

The two of us met, just by ourselves.  Reuther was CIO president for only about four weeks and I was AFL president for about six weeks; we were brand-new presidents.  I told him that I was not going to waste a lot of time unless there was some chance of success.

I put forward the proposition that we should try to end the raiding – that you could never get a merger unless you created the atmosphere for a merger.  And the way to do that was to stop the raiding, to whatever extent we could stop it.  Reuther agreed.

I proposed exploring what the actual situation was in regard to the warfare.  The warfare between the AFL and CIO was confined to a few unions; certain unions in the CIO didn’t bother us, we didn’t bother them.  A great many of the AFL unions had no interest in raiding; they didn’t have to defend themselves.  But there was extensive activity within a few unions. (2)

The next two years included several milestones leading up to the AFL and CIO merger.  The AFL and CIO formed a joint Unity Committee, made up of AFL and CIO representatives, to explore the possibility of merging. On October 15, 1954, the Committee made the “unanimous decision… to create a single trade union center in America through the process of merger…” (3) After the AFL and CIO each individually voted for merger on December 1 and December 2, 1955. The AFL-CIO held their first joint convention on December 5, 1955.

George Meany’s May 2, 1955 draft of the AFL-CIO Constitution. Contains handwritten notes from Meany and others. Office of the President, President’s Files, George Meany, 1947-1960 (2014-001-RG1-027), Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

The University of Maryland’s Special Collections in Labor Studies has archival materials about the AFL-CIO merger, including audio and film recordings.  Here are some audio clips from AFL-CIO’s first ever convention, held on December 5, 1955:


 

  1.  Archie Robinson, George Meany and His Times (Simon and Schuster, New York: 1981).
  2. Archie Robinson, George Meany and His Times (Simon and Schuster, New York: 1981).
  3. “Report and Recommendations of the Joint AFL-CIO Unity Committee,” 9 February 1955. Office of the President, President’s Files, George Meany, 1947-1960 (2014-001-RG1-027), Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.
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One thought on “December 5th is the AFL-CIO’s 60th Anniversary!

  1. Pingback: AFL-CIO Merger | Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland

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