African-Americans in the Early Labor Movement

DYK that labor unions did not allow African-Americans to become members back in the day? Being a member of a union was important to be able to bargain for workers’ rights and fight against the discrimination that black workers faced. Many skilled black workers sought to join unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) between 1881 and 1915. But, white craft union members, who were primarily affiliated with the AFL, were afraid of the competition and didn’t allow African Americans to join. On the other hand, industrial unions were more accepting of black workers.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) union members pose with locomotive firemen, ca. 1940. AFL-CIO Photographic Print Collection (RG96-001)

Who were early allies?

The Knights of Labor, the AFL until 1915, the United Mine Workers of America, the International Longshoreman’s Union, and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Some black workers allowed to join:

The Teamsters, the Cigar Makers, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, the Carpenters, and the Printers.

Very few black workers allowed to join:

The Pressmen, the Lithographers, the Photo-Engravers, the Iron Steel and Tin Workers, the Molders, the Pattern Makers, the Glass Workers, the Boot and Shoe Workers, and the Wood Workers

For more information about the relationship of the civil rights movement and the labor movement, visit our exhibit “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” in person or online or email us at askhornbake@umd.edu.


Jen Eidson is a Special Collections Processing Archivist in the University of Maryland Libraries.

Advertisements

Labor and Civil Rights Leader: A Portrait of A. Philip Randolph

Continuing the efforts of W.E.B. DuBois, Eugene Debs, and others was A. Philip Randolph. Randolph’s election to President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1929 was just the beginning of his life-long fight for civil rights and workers’ rights for African-Americans.

Check out the Civil Rights section of our “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” exhibit!

“Justice is never given; it is exacted and the struggle must be continuous for freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship.”

– A. Philip Randolph

Continue reading

New Exhibit: Un-solicited! Gifts that Spiro T. Agnew received while Vice President

The new exhibit in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library showcases some of the unique gifts received by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew during his time in office, 1969-1973.  It draws upon the work that members of the Maryland and Historical Collections unit at the University libraries have been doing to inventory memorabilia and other three-dimensional objects within the Spiro T. Agnew papers.

IMG_20180109_113141768

Exhibit: Un-solicited! Gifts that Spiro T. Agnew received while Vice President

The U.S. Constitution forbids elected officials from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” “without the Consent of the Congress” (Art. 1, Sec. 9). However, it does not forbid elected officials from accepting unsolicited gifts from private individuals or groups of American people. Apart from gifts from international heads of state which the U.S. Congress has approved, the offices of the President and Vice President each year receive and accept thousands of unasked-for gifts, including artwork, food, souvenirs, posters, even animals. Continue reading

Join us for a pop-up museum celebrating activism

Participate in our pop-up museum celebrating activism on Wednesday, February 21st from 12-4pm in the first floor lobby of Hornbake Library.

Bring your badgers, flyers, posters, pins, photos, audio and music, video and other material from social media, marches and cultural events for our temporary museum.

We want to preserve your stories of activism. Record your story at the event.

Be a part of campus history!

PopUpMuseum

Contact Laura Cleary with questions
lcleary@umd.edu
301-405-9988

Unions Protest the “War on Immigrants”

On June 10, 2002, protesters marched down Constitution Avenue with signs reading “STOP ASHCROFT’S WAR ON IMMIGRANTS” and “ASHCROFT: WHERE IS THE COMPASSION?”  These impassioned union members of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 82 called for fair immigration laws and fair treatment of immigrants. This protest came in response to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s statement four days earlier:

“…arresting aliens who have violated criminal provisions of [the] Immigration and Nationality Act or civil provisions that render an alien deportable … is within the inherent authority of the states.” [1]

Ashcroft delivered this statement in light of the attacks on September 11, 2001, after which President George W. Bush’s administration tightened immigration restrictions in the interests of national security. Ashcroft called this policy a “new war [in which] our enemy’s platoons infiltrate our borders … The vulnerabilities of our immigration system became starkly clear on September 11.”[2] Bush and Ashcroft’s critics, including the SEIU and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) accused the administration of conflating the War on Terror with a war on immigrants in the United States and treating immigrant workers unfairly.

Founded in 1921, the SEIU has a long history of organizing workers in the service industry, including many immigrants. The Labor Collections team selected a photograph from the SEIU’s June 2002 protest in Washington, DC for the exhibit display “Immigrants Get the Job Done” because the SEIU is historically active in support of immigrant worker’s rights. In the photograph, you can see a “Justice for Janitors” banner, referencing one of the SEIU’s most famous campaigns. The Justice for Janitors movement, mainly comprised of low-wage immigrant workers, uses methods such as civil disobedience, in order to achieve social and economic justice, including fair wages, improved working conditions, and better healthcare.[3]

SEIU_Justice for Janitors

SEIU Local 82 marching against criminalization of undocumented immigrants, June 10, 2002. Photographer Bill Burke. Page One, Photography, Inc. Records. You can see this photograph in person in the exhibit “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” in person or online.

Continue reading

The 45th Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade: The “Neutrality” of the Labor Movement

The labor movement has always been involved in social issues. The labor unions may not always start on the most progressive side of the matter, but they end up promoting a mission to better human rights for all. This progression is captured in the displays of the Labor History Collection exhibit “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America.” This pattern is on-going so there are still some debates that the labor movement as a whole have not decided on, such as the legalization of abortion.

CLUW Pro-Choice Button

A Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) button that states their stance is pro-choice. Come check it out in the “Union Feminism: Sisterhood is Powerful” display! AFL-CIO Artifact Collection.

Continue reading

From Protectionism to Inclusion: Unions and Immigrant Labor

The rights of immigrant workers in the United States is not a new debate. For labor unions, immigrant labor was not always viewed as a positive contribution to the fabric of American society. Long before the formation of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) in 1955, major national unions adopted protectionist and often-racist stances against Chinese labor reminiscent of current rhetoric surrounding Mexican immigrant labor in the United States. Examining the correspondence of two national labor union leaders at the beginning of the 20th century provides context for the debate about immigrant labor in the United States.

On February 1, 1905, Samuel Gompers, the President of the AFL (American Federation of Labor) wrote to Frank Duffy, the Secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA), expressing his concerns that local UBCJA unions in Honolulu might support Chinese immigrant labor. He claims,

“My information is that several local unions in Honolulu … are endangering the policy of protection of the American workmen and Caucasian race, by allowing them to be induced … to favor modification of the Chinese Exclusion law.”  (emphasis added)

Gompers was referring to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (renewed in 1892, made permanent in 1902, and repealed in 1943). The law prohibited the immigration of all Chinese laborers for 10 years and was the first law intended to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to, or becoming naturalized citizens of, the United States. Gompers saw the exclusion of Chinese labor from the U.S. Territory of Hawaii, which was not yet a state, as a cause for the labor movement, and even went so far as to describe Japanese labor as “evil.”

The above images are available in Digital Collections: Gompers and Duffy.

 

Continue reading