AFL CIO Term Paper

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American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a federation of autonomous labor unions in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, and U.S. dependencies, was formed in 1955 by the merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Heavily involved in politics, the AFL-CIO's primary function is to lobby on behalf of organized labor and mediate disputes between its member unions. In 1999 the AFL-CIO included 68 national and international unions that had a U.S. membership of over 13 million people. Individual workers were not members of the AFL but only of the affiliated local or national union. Opposed to the idea of a labor party, the AFL was a relatively conservative political force within the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th cent. (Gompers, 1967)

The CIO's Political Action Committee, headed by Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, played an active role in the CIO's attempt to urge its membership into more active political participation. In 1957 the AFL-CIO adopted antiracket codes, and the convention expelled the Teamsters Union for alleged failure to meet the parent organization's ethical standards. A submerged dispute between George Meany and Walter Reuther, who opposed the AFL-CIO's conservative approach to civil rights and social welfare programs, finally erupted in 1968 and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) withdrew from the union.

The AFL-CIO supported the Democratic presidential candidates in 1956, 1960, 1964, and 1968. In 1972 however, Meany led the AFL-CIO into a neutral stance, supporting neither major candidate. To shore up organized labor's declining influence, the AFL-CIO concentrated on organizing service workers and public employees and improving labor unity. Thomas R. Donahue, the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer, was named interim president, but Donahue was challenged for the federation's presidency by John J. Sweeney, who won the first contested election for president in the AFL-CIO's history.

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a federation of autonomous labor unions in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, and U.S. dependencies, was formed in 1955 by the merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Heavily involved in politics, the AFL-CIO's primary function is to lobby on behalf of organized labor and mediate disputes between its member unions. In 1999 the AFL-CIO included 68 national and international unions that had a U.S. membership of over 13 million people.

The organization has five operating levels. Ultimate authority is vested in those attending its biennial convention, but between conventions the organization is run by an executive council, which is composed of the executive officers (president, secretary-treasurer, and executive vice president) and 51 vice presidents. Executive officers handle the day-to-day operations of the organization, and they are advised by a general board consisting of the executive council members, a chief officer of each affiliated union and of each programmatic department within the AFL-CIO, and four regional representatives from the 51 state federations. In addition to these levels of authority, the AFL-CIO carried over autonomous departments from the AFL (such as the Building Trades Dept.) and added an Industrial Union Dept. To handle the problems of the former CIO unions. The union's 13 programmatic departments handle the work of the federation, including labor organizing, political education, legislation, civil rights, and worker safety and health. (Galenson, 1992)

In 1881 representatives of workers' organizations, meeting in Pittsburgh, formed the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in the United States and Canada. In 1886 at another conference in Columbus, Ohio, this group reorganized as the American Federation of Labor. Opposed to the socialistic and political ideals of the Knights of Labor, the AFL was, instead, a decentralized organization recognizing the autonomy of each of its member national craft unions. Individual workers were not members of the AFL but only of the affiliated local or national union. From its inception the AFL emphasized organization of skilled workers into craft unions (composed of a single occupation such as painters or electricians), as opposed to industrial unions (where all the workers in the automobile or steel industry would belong to one union).

Opposed to the idea of a labor party, the AFL was a relatively conservative political force within the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th cent. But the union did help secure for its members higher wages, shorter hours, workmen's compensation, laws against child labor, an 8-hr day for government employees, and the exemption of labor from antitrust legislation. Under the leadership of Samuel Gompers, William Green, and then George Meany, the AFL became the largest labor federation in the United States, with a membership of over 10 million at the time of its merger with the CIO in 1955. (Gompers, 1967)

Gompers directed the successful battle with the Knights of Labor for supremacy, kept the union free from political entanglements in the early days, and refused to entertain various cooperative business plans, socialistic ideas, and radical programs, maintaining that more wages, shorter hours, and greater freedom were the just aims of labor. He came to be recognized as the leading spokesman for the labor movement, and his pronouncements carried much weight. During World War I, he organized and headed the War Committee on Labor; and as a member of the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense, he helped to hold organized labor loyal to the government program. A man of great personal integrity, he did much to make organized labor respected.

Within the AFL in the early 1930s a strong minority faction evolved, advocating the organization of workers in the basic mass-production industries (such as steel, auto, and rubber) on an industry-wide basis. John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers of America led this faction in forming a Committee for Industrial Organization in 1935. This group (changing its name in 1938 to Congress of Industrial Organizations) immediately launched organizing drives in the basic industries. The spectacular success of those drives, particularly in the automobile and steel industries, enhanced the CIO's prestige to the point where it seriously challenged the AFL's hegemony within U.S. organized labor. After fruitless negotiation the parent body revoked the charters of the 10 dissident international unions. (Dubofsky, 1975)

The CIO, under the presidency of Lewis until 1940 and then of Philip Murray until his death in 1952, followed more militant policies than the AFL. The CIO's Political Action Committee, headed by Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, played an active role in the CIO's attempt to urge its membership into more active political participation. The CIO grew rapidly until its affiliated international unions numbered 32 at the time of the 1955 merger, with an estimated membership of five million. Its growth, however, was marked by internal dissension; the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) withdrew in 1938 and the UMW in 1942. While the AFL was grappling with the problem of gangster-dominated affiliates, the CIO decided in 1948 to bar Communists from holding office in the organization, and in 1949-50 it expelled 11 of its affiliated unions, which were said to be Communist-dominated.

During the entire period of the alienation of the CIO from the AFL, the idea of merger was being considered by elements in both federations, and labor's concern over the apparent antiunion policies of President Eisenhower's administration (the first Republican administration in 20 years) gave new impetus to the movement for labor unity. The death in 1952 of the presidents of both organizations and the appointment of George Meany to head the AFL and Walter P. Reuther to run the CIO paved the way for a merger in 1955. (Goldfield, 1989)

At its first convention the merged organizations, now called the American Federation of Labor and…[continue]

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