Are you ready to vote on November 8th? Voting is your opportunity to make your voice heard in this year’s presidential election. For the month of November, the Labor Collections staff at University of Maryland are highlighting an organization that encouraged the youth and minority vote: Frontlash.
Visit the temporary exhibit in the Maryland Room for a sampling of the posters and canvassing materials Frontlash used to mobilize and educate the youth and minority vote during presidential election seasons. Perhaps they will inspire you to vote!
Poster sponsored by Frontlash displayed at a booth or college campus
In 1968, the non-profit organization Frontlash was founded with the mission to help minority groups and young people register to vote. Frontlash stepped up their voter education efforts for young people when the 26th Amendment was passed, in 1971. The 26th Amendment changed the voting age from 21 to 18 years old. At the time, many young voters were not aware of the registration process. Frontlash worked towards promoting voter education by going door-to-door, putting up poster displays, and setting up public stands on sidewalks and college campuses to assist young voters with the registering process. Continue reading
By Margot Willis, Labor Collections Volunteer
In 2013, the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) donated the entire holdings of the George Meany Memorial Archives to the Special Collections and University Archives Department of University of Maryland Libraries. This collection contains the most important documentation of the history of America’s largest federation of labor unions, founded in 1955. Comprising over 20,000 linear shelf feet of a wide variety material, including documents, photographs, audiovisual materials and artifacts, it represents the single largest donation of archival material to the University to date.
Until this summer, the artifacts portion of the AFL-CIO collection had gone almost entirely untouched by university archival staff due to other higher priorities. Packed away in the same bubble wrap and cardboard boxes in which they were transferred to the University three years ago, the AFL-CIO artifacts sat in out-of-the-way corners of Hornbake Library.
Back in April, when I first spoke with University of Maryland Labor Archivists Jen Eidson and Ben Blake about a possible volunteer project over the summer, I mentioned that I have an interest in museum studies, and would like to learn more about the care and organization of artifacts in an archive. Because they needed immediate help in verifying identifications and locations of AFL-CIO artifacts in anticipation of an upcoming exhibit and due to the fact I was willing to work for free, they granted my wish and set me to work.
I worked wherever there were boxes, which happened to be in the very bottom and the very top floors of Hornbake library. Oftentimes, the spaces I worked in were very small, and the boxes very large.
Originally, the plan was for me to go through the boxes, locate each object in the original Meany Archives inventory of over 2500 records and enter the object’s new location in Hornbake. However, after about five minutes on the job, it became clear that the project would be a bit more complicated than that. There were items in the boxes that were not on the spreadsheet. There were items whose accession numbers appeared on the spreadsheet but whose descriptions did not match the items. There were boxes of dozens of items inside other boxes that had not been recorded as being there. The original inventory indicated that some boxes contained certain items, which, upon further examination, were not there at all. In other cases, boxes should have had only one object, but ended up containing six.
Join a community interested in promoting labor history by editing the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Part celebration and part workshop, Edit-a-Thons are organized around a single topic as a means to build awareness and community. We’ll draw content from labor-related collections at the University of Maryland, including the AFL-CIO Archives. No editing experience necessary, however participants should have basic computer skills. All participants will receive complimentary issues of Labor’s Heritage journal.
The AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of trade unions, represents over 12.5 million workers. Before 1955, the AFL (American Federation of Labor) and the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) were separate, competing organizations. The two organizations chose to merge in 1955 in order to strengthen the labor movement and eliminate competition between different unions and workers. This mini-exhibit, on display in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library, tells the story from the formation of the joint Unity Committee to the December 5, 1955 merger in commemoration of AFL-CIO’s 60th anniversary.
In 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and leader of the civil rights movement, spoke at the AFL-CIO’s Fourth Constitutional Convention. Though the early labor movement had a complicated history with race relations, by the 1960s the AFL-CIO and the civil rights movement had fully embraced each other in solidarity. President George Meany introduced King as “a courageous fighter for human rights” and “a fine example of American citizenry.”
In his speech, King commented on the similarities between the labor movement and the civil rights movement:
“Negroes in the United States read this history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the good will and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us.”
“Our needs are identical with labor’s needs, decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”
Dr. King also drew attention to the need for solidarity between the two movements: “The duality of interests of labor and Negroes makes any crisis which lacerates you, a crisis from which we bleed.”
King asked two things of the AFL-CIO in his speech: root out racial discrimination in labor unions and provide financial assistance to the civil rights movement. King’s message did not fall on deaf ears: he received a standing ovation from the delegates.
Read Dr. King’s full speech online
Watch a clip from Dr. King’s speech (starts at 15:33)
Read more about the labor movement’s relationship with the civil rights movement
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:
- Archie Robinson, George Meany and His Times (Simon and Schuster, New York: 1981).
- Archie Robinson, George Meany and His Times (Simon and Schuster, New York: 1981).
- “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.
Today, the AFL-CIO’s commentary on Thanksgiving revolves around the discussion over whether retailers should open on the holiday, which Thanksgiving treats are union-made, and how working Americans give back to others during the holiday season. You can read the AFL-CIO’s most-recent Thanksgiving posts online on their blog.
In the 1960s and 1970s, editorial cartoonist John Stampone delivered a different message in the Thanksgiving cartoons that he drew for the AFL-CIO News, the AFL-CIO’s main news publication. Stampone portrays Thanksgiving and its tasty bounties as both symbolic of and the result of American democracy. In a cartoon that Stampone drew to commemorate the holiday in 1966, a family says grace over a turkey that represents the “benefits of democracy.”
In a similar cartoon that Stampone drew in 1974, rays of light bearing the label “Freedom and Democracy” shine down on a family who are also gathered around their Thanksgiving table in prayer.
The cartoons’ overt patriotic message is open for interpretation and leave us with many questions. What did freedom and democracy mean to people in the 1960s and 1970s? What’s the relationship between the benefits of democracy and America’s labor movement? Why don’t Americans today color Thanksgiving with such strong shades of red, white, and blue?
Even though Stampone’s patriotic message seems so different from our modern discussions of the Thanksgiving holiday, the AFL-CIO News cartoons and the AFL-CIO’s more-recent discussions convey a similar and important message: Thanksgiving remains a beloved and cherished family holiday today.
UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives has the original cartoons drawn for the AFL-CIO News by LeBaron Coakley “Coak”, John Stampone “Stam”, Bernard Seaman, and Ben Yomen. Contact Us for more information about this collection and other items in the AFL-CIO archive.