American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

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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, formed in 1955 by the merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). As of 2010, the AFL-CIO included 58 national and international unions that had a U.S. membership of 11.5 million. 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. The AFL-CIO has campaigned actively against the so-called right-to-work laws, which outlawed union shops (see closed shopclosed shop and open shop.
The term "closed shop" is used to signify an establishment employing only members of a labor union.
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), has worked to repeal the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, and has fought other legislation deemed inimical to organized labor's interests.

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.


American Federation of Labor

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 LaborKnights of Labor,
American labor organization, started by Philadelphia tailors in 1869, led by Uriah S. Stephens. It became a body of national scope and importance in 1878 and grew more rapidly after 1881, when its earlier secrecy was abandoned.
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, 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 (see Clayton Antitrust ActClayton Antitrust Act,
1914, passed by the U.S. Congress as an amendment to clarify and supplement the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. It was drafted by Henry De Lamar Clayton.
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). Under the leadership of Samuel Gompers, William GreenGreen, William,
1872–1952, American labor leader, president of the American Federation of Labor (1924–1952), b. Coshocton, Ohio. He rose through the ranks of the United Mine Workers of America, of which organization he was (1912–24) secretary-treasurer.
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, and then George MeanyMeany, George,
1894–1980, American labor leader, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO; 1955–79), b. New York City.
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, 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.

Congress of Industrial Organizations

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. LewisLewis, John Llewellyn,
1880–1969, American labor leader, b. Lucas co., Iowa; son of a Welsh immigrant coal miner. He became a miner and after 1906 rose through the union ranks to become president (1920) of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW).
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 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.

The CIO, under the presidency of Lewis until 1940 and then of Philip MurrayMurray, Philip,
1886–1952, American labor leader, b. Blantyre, Scotland. He emigrated to the United States in 1902 and worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines. After he was discharged for fighting with a foreman, 600 miners struck, formed a local of the United Mine Workers
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 until his death in 1952, followed more militant policies than the AFL. The CIO's Political Action Committee, headed by Sidney HillmanHillman, Sidney,
1887–1946, American labor leader, b. Lithuania. He emigrated to the United States in 1907. Beginning as a garment worker, he became a union leader after his key participation in a successful clothing workers' strike (1910) in Chicago.
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 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.

Merger to the Present

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.

At its first convention the merged organizations, now called the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), elected Meany as its president. In 1957 the AFL-CIO adopted antiracket codes, and the convention expelled the Teamsters UnionTeamsters Union,
U.S. labor union formed in 1903 by the amalgamation of the Team Drivers International Union and the Teamsters National Union. Its full name is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America (IBT).
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 for alleged failure to meet the parent organization's ethical standards. The AFL-CIO took a major step in 1961 in the direction of settling internal disputes by setting up a mandatory arbitration procedure.

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. Meany decided not to run for reelection in 1979 and Lane KirklandKirkland, Lane
(Joseph Lane Kirkland) , 1922–99, American labor leader, president (1979–95) of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), b. Camden, S.C.
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, who had been secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO, was elected president.

From the start of Kirkland's term, the AFL-CIO was forced to adapt to a number of adverse economic trends. Union membership dropped from 33% of all U.S. workers in 1960 to 14% in the late 1990s. To shore up organized labor's declining influence, the AFL-CIO concentrated on organizing service workers and public employees and improving labor unity. In 1981 the UAW rejoined the union; the Teamsters (1988) and United Mine Workers (1989) later followed.

Kirkland retired under pressure in 1995. Thomas R. DonahueDonahue, Thomas R.
(Thomas Reilly Donahue) , 1928–, American labor leader, b. New York City. A long-time member of the Service Employees International Union, he rose from a position as a local organizer to serve as its first vice president (1969–73).
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, the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer, was named interim president, but Donahue was challenged for the federation's presidency by John J. SweeneySweeney, John Joseph,
1934–, U.S. labor leader, b. New York City. An official of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from 1960, he became president of the SEIU in 1980.
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, who won the first contested election for president in the AFL-CIO's history. In 2005, heads of some of the organization's largest and most active unions, led by Andrew SternStern, Andrew L.,
1950–, American labor leader, b. West Orange, N.J., grad., Univ. of Pennsylvania (B.A., 1971). A charismatic and frequently controversial reformer, he became a significant figure in the labor union movement.
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 of the Service Employees International UnionService Employees International Union
(SEIU), labor union representing U.S. and Canadian workers in health care (doctors, nurses, health technicians), public services (government workers, school employees), building services (janitors, elevator operators, security officers) and
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 (SEIU), unsuccessfuly attempted to secure Sweeney's retirement and to implement other organizational changes, such as the merging of the ALF-CIO's member unions into 20 large unions, each representing a segment of the economy, and the refocusing of its energies to stress the unionization of unrepresented workers. The SEIU, Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, Laborers' International, and Unite Here subsequently left the AFL-CIO, and with several other unions formed the Change to Win FederationChange to Win Federation,
coalition of seven labor unions representing primarily American workers. It was founded in 2005 as the Change to Win Coalition by five American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations unions that had united to make changes in the
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. Sweeney retired in 2009 and was succeeded as president by Richard L. TrumkaTrumka, Richard Louis,
1949–, U.S. labor leader, b. Nemacolin, Pa., grad. Pennsylvania State Univ. (B.S., 1971), Villanova Univ. (J.D., 1974). A third-generation miner, he worked as a United Mine Workers (UMW) staff lawyer after graduating from law school then returned to
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, who had previously led the United Mine Workers and then served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer. Unite Here rejoined the AFL-CIO in 2009, and Laborers' International rejoined in 2010.


See W. Galenson, The CIO Challenge to the AFL (1960); S. Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor (1925, repr. 1967); P. Taft, The A. F. of L. from the Death of Gompers to the Merger (1959, repr. 1970); M. Dubofsky, Industrialism and the American Worker (1975); U.S. Dept. of Labor, A History of the American Worker (1983); F. R. Dulles, Labor in American History (1984); M. Goldfield, The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States (1987); K. Moody, Injury to All (1988).

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