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

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

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

Curator’s Choice: Favorite Item in the Labor History Exhibit

Asking an archivist to pick their favorite item in their exhibit may be the most challenging question you could ever ask them. After spending the past year assisting in all aspects of the exhibit For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America, I noticed that one of the most popular items I selected for the exhibit was the United Farm Workers flag. The flag, signed by famous figures Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, commemorates the historic Delano grape strike. The five-year strike started on September 8, 1965 and changed the face of the American labor movement and its attitude towards immigrant workers.

20171020_174609926_iOS

Jen Wachtel with the United Farm Workers flag commemorating the Delano grape strike.

Continue reading

The Equal Rights Amendment: Labor’s Fight for True Gender Equality

Today we are celebrating National Women’s Equality Day! Gender equality in the workplace is a social justice issue that the labor movement has always been involved in.  In the spirit of this holiday, we will be highlighting some of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) items that will be featured in the Labor History Collections’ exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America”!

Continue reading

Upcoming Exhibit: Fall 2017

For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America

Opening in September, we are pleased to present Hornbake Library’s first major exhibit about labor history.  The exhibit will feature materials from the AFL-CIO Archive that were transferred to University of Maryland’s Special Collections four years ago in 2013.

ExhibitPoster_FinalRev2

The exhibit explores the labor movement’s involvement with issues of economic equality, including the struggle for the eight-hour day and a living wage; reveals its deep roots with the civil rights’ and women’s movements; and documents lesser-known connections with the movements for LGBTQ equality, immigrant rights, religious freedom, environmental justice and international workers’ solidarity.

We hope you will join us as we explore how the labor movement has evolved from discriminatory positions to progressive ones, fighting for equality for all people. Hundreds of unique documents, images, videos, and artifacts will be on display from the Labor History Collections within the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland Libraries.

The exhibition will run from September 2017 – July 2018 in the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery, located in Hornbake Library at the University of Maryland, College Park.

For more information, email us at askhornbake@umd.edu, and visit the online exhibition.

Follow us here, on Twitter, and Instagram to learn more about the exhibit.
@hornbakelibrary #UMDlabor

Nancy Wohlforth: Uniting the Labor and LGBT Movements

“Since 1979, when the Gay and Lesbian Labor Alliance was formed, Nancy Wohlforth has been working to bring gay issues into the labor movement. Now the organization is called Pride At Work and is a full-fledged constituency group in the AFL-CIO. National cochair Wohlforth and the newly hired executive director, Kipukai Kuali’i, will fight for domestic-partner pension benefits, greater employment protection, and transgender inclusion. They also want gays and lesbians to understand the power and benefit of unions. ‘Frankly, a lot of people still see the union as a bunch of old white boys who want nothing to do with their interests,’ Wohlforth says, ‘clearly that’s not the case.’

-The Advocate on Nancy Wohlforth in the Best and Brightest Activists collection, August 17, 1999. Continue reading