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AF of L
American Federation of Labor
Founded December 8, 1886
Date dissolved December 4, 1955
Merged into AFL-CIO
Country United States
Key people Samuel Gompers
John McBride
William Green
George Meany
Office location New York City; later Washington, D.C.

The American Federation of Labor (AF of L) was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States. It was founded in Columbus, Ohio in December 1886 by an alliance of craft unions disaffected from the Knights of Labor, a national labor association. Samuel Gompers of the Cigar Makers' International Union was elected president of the Federation at its founding conventon and was reelected every year except one until his death in 1924.

The AF of L was the largest union grouping in the United States for the first half of the twentieth century, even after the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) by unions that were expelled by the AF of L in 1937 over its opposition to industrial unionism. While the Federation was founded and dominated by craft unions throughout the first fifty years of its existence, many of its craft union affiliates turned to organizing on an industrial union basis to meet the challenge from the CIO in the 1940s.

In 1955, the AF of L merged with its longtime rival, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, to form the AFL-CIO, a federation which remains in place to this day. Together with its offspring, the AF of L has comprised the longest lasting and most influential labor federation in the United States.


Organizational history


Terence Powderly, Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor, whose refusal to negotiate with dissident craft unions led to formation of the AF of L.

The American Federation of Labor (AF of L) was organized as an association of trade unions in 1886. The organization emerged out of a dispute with the Knights of Labor (K of L) organization, in which the leadership of that organization solicited locals of various craft unions to withdraw from their International organizations and to affiliate with the K of L directly, action which would have taken funds from the various unions and enriched the K of L's coffers.[1]

One of the organizations embroiled in this controversy was the Cigar Makers' International Union (CMIU), a group subject to competition from a dual union, a rival "Progressive Cigarmakers' Union," organized by members suspended or expelled by the CMIU.[2] The two cigar unions competed with one another in signing contracts with various cigar manufacturers, who were at this same time combining themselves into manufacturers' associations of their own in New York City, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Milwaukee.[2]

In January 1886, the Cigar Manufacturers' Association of New York City attempted to flex its muscle by announcing a 20 percent wage cut in factories around the city. The Cigar Makers' International Union refused to accept the cut and 6,000 of its members in 19 factories were locked out by the owners. A strike lasting four weeks ensued.[3] Just when it appeared that the strike might be won, the New York District Assembly of the Knights of Labor leaped into the breach, offering to settle with the 19 factories at a lower wage scale than that proposed by the CMIU, so long as only the Progressive Cigarmakers' Union was employed.[3]

The leadership of the CMIU was enraged and demanded that the New York District Assembly be investigated and punished by the national officials of the K of L. The committee of investigation was controlled by individuals friendly to the New York District Assembly, however, and the latter was exonerated.[4] The American Federation of Labor was thus originally formed as an alliance of craft unions outside the Knights of Labor as a means of defending themselves against this and similar incursions.[5]

On April 25, 1886, a circular letter was issued by Strasser of the Cigar Makers and P.J. McGuire of the Carpenters, addressed to all national trade unions and calling for their attendance of a conference in Philadelphia on May 18.[6] The call stated that an element of the Knights of Labor was doing "malicious work" and causing "incalculable mischief by arousing antagonisms and dissensions in the labor movement."[5] The call was signed by Strasser and McGuire, along with representatives of the Granite Cutters, the Iron Molders, and the secretary of the Federation of Trades of North America, a forerunner of the AF of L founded in 1881.[5]

Forty-three invitations were mailed, which drew the attendance of 20 delegates and letters of approval from 12 other unions.[7] At this preliminary gathering, held in Donaldson Hall on the corner of Broad and Filbert Streets,[8] the K of L was charged with conspiring with anti-union bosses to provide labor at below going union rates and with making use of individuals who had crossed picket lines or defaulted on payment of union dues.[9] The body authored a "treaty" to be presented to the forthcoming May 24, 1886, convention of the Knights of Labor, which demanded that the K of L cease attempting to organize members of International Unions into its own assemblies without permission of the unions involved and that K of L organizers violating this provision should suffer immediate suspension.[9]

For its part, the Knights of Labor considered the demand for the parcelling of the labor movement into narrow craft-based fiefdoms to be anathema, a violation of the principle of solidarity of all workers across craft lines.[10] Negotiations with the dissident craft unions were nipped in the bud by the governing General Assembly of the K of L, however, with the organization's Grand Master Workman, Terence V. Powderly, refusing to enter into serious discussions on the matter.[11] The actions of the New York District Assembly of the K of L was upheld.

Formation and early years

Samuel Gompers in the office of the American Federation of Labor, 1887.

Convinced that no accommodation with the leadership of the Knights of Labor was possible, the heads of the five labor organizations which issued the call for the April 1886 conference issued a new call for a convention to be held December 8, 1886 in Columbus, Ohio in order to construct "an American federation of alliance of all national and international trade unions."[12] Forty-two delegates representing 13 national unions and various other local labor organizations responded to the call, agreeing to form themselves into an American Federation of Labor.[13]

Revenue for the new organization was to be raised on the basis of a "per-capita tax" of its member organizations, set at the rate of one-half cent per member per month (i.e. six cents per year).[14] Governance of the organization was to be by annual conventions, with one delegate allocated for every 4,000 members of each affiliated union.[14] The founding convention voted to make the President of the new federation a full-time official at a salary of $1,000 per year, and Samuel Gompers of the Cigar Makers' International Union was elected to the position.[14] Gompers would ultimately be re-elected to the position by annual conventions of the organization for every year save one until his death nearly four decades later.

Although the founding convention of the AF of L had authorized the establishment of a publication for the new organization, Gompers made use of the existing labor press to generate support for the position of the craft unions against the Knights of Labor. Powerful opinion-makers of the American labor movement such as the Philadelphia Tocsin, Haverhill Labor, the Brooklyn Labor Press, and the Denver Labor Enquirer granted Gompers space in their pages, in which he made the case for the unions against the attacks of employers, "all too often aided by the K of L."[15]

Headway was made in the form of endorsement by various local labor bodies. Some assemblies of the K of L supported the Cigar Makers' position and departed the organization: in Baltimore, 30 locals left the organization, while the membership of the Knights in Chicago fell from 25,000 in 1886 to just 3,500 in 1887.[16] Factional warfare broke out in the K of L, with Terence Powderly blaming the organization's travails on "radicals" in its ranks, while those opposing Powderly called for an end to what they perceived as "autocratic leadership."[17]

In the face of the steady disintegration of its rival, the fledgling American Federation of Labor struggled to maintain itself, with the group showing very slow and incremental growth in its first years, only cracking the 250,000 member mark in 1892.[18] The group from the outset concentrated upon the income and working conditions of its membership as its almost sole focus. The AF of L's founding convention declaring "higher wages and a shorter workday" to be "preliminary steps toward great and accompanying improvements in the condition of the working people." Participation in partisan politics was avoided as inherently divisive, and the group's constitution was structured to prevent the admission of political parties as affiliates.[19]

This fundamentally conservative "pure and simple" approach limited the AF of L to matters pertaining to working conditions and rates of pay, relegating political goals to its allies in the political sphere. The Federation favored pursuit of workers' immediate demands rather than challenging the property rights of owners, and took a pragmatic view of politics which favored tactical support for particular politicians over formation of a party devoted to workers' interests. The AF of L's leadership believed the expansion of the capitalist system was seen as the path to betterment of labor, an orientation making it possible for the AF of L to present itself as what one historian has called "the conservative alternative to working class radicalism."[20]

Early 20th Century

Samuel Gompers with John Mitchell of the United Mine Workers of America.

The AF of L faced its first major reversal when employers launched an open shop movement in 1903 designed to drive unions out of construction, mining, longshore and other industries. Membership in the AF of L's affiliated unions declined between 1904 and 1914 in the face of this concerted anti-union drive, which made effective use of legal injunctions against strikes, court rulings given force when backed with the armed might of the state.

Ever the pragmatist, Gompers argued that labor should "reward its friends and punish its enemies" in both major parties. However, in the first decade of the 20th Century the two parties began to realign, with the main faction of the Republican Party coming to identify with the interests of banks and manufacturers, while a substantial portion of the rival Democratic Party took a more labor-friendly position. While not precluding its members from belonging to the Socialist Party or working with its members, the AF of L traditionally refused to pursue the tactic of independent political action by the workers in the form of the existing Socialist Party or the establishment of a new labor party. After 1908, the organization's tie to the Democratic party grew increasingly strong.

Some unions within the AF of L helped form and participated in the National Civic Federation. The National Civic Federation was formed by several progressive employers who sought to avoid labor disputes by fostering collective bargaining and "responsible" unionism. Labor's participation in this federation, at first tentative, created internal division within the AF of L. Socialists, who believed the only way to help workers was to remove large industry from private ownership, denounced labor's efforts at cooperation with the capitalists in the National Civic Federation. The AF of L nonetheless continued its association with the group, which declined in importance as the decade of the 1910s drew to a close.

The AF of L in World War I

The AF of L reached a zenith of sorts during the administration of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Particularly during the years of World War I, American unions were given considerable government protection and cooperation between capital and labor was actively sought as the best means of rationalizing and increasing American production on behalf of the war effort. Unions, including the AF of L itself, welcomed governmental intervention in favor of collective bargaining during World War I. Unions in the packinghouse industry were able to form due to governmental pressure on the largest employers to recognize the unions rather than face a strike. Expansion of the organized labor movement followed and by 1920 the AF of L had nearly 4 million members.

The 1920s

American Federation of Labor head Samuel Gompers (right) endorsed the pro-labor independent Presidential candidate Robert M. LaFollette in 1924.

After conclusion of the European war in 1919, business launched a vast and coordinated offensive on behalf of the so-called "open shop and the member unions lost membership at an alarming rate. This trend continued throughout the 1920s.

The organization endorsed pro-labor progressive Robert M. LaFollette in 1924. The campaign failed to establish a permanent independent party closely connected to the labor movement, however, and thereafter the Federation embraced ever more closely the Democratic Party, despite the fact that many union leaders remained Republicans.

The New Deal years

By the time the New Deal opened the door again to organized labor, the AF of L — now led by William Green (president, 1924-1952) — was facing increasing dissension within its ranks. Craft unions had proved ineffective as a way of organizing the huge industries, such as auto, rubber, and steel, that now dominated the economy. Many in the AF of L believed that only industrial unions fit the modern pattern of production. In 1935 John L. Lewis led the dissenting unions in forming a new Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) within the AF of L.

A number of member unions pushed a proposal in the 1935 convention for the creation of an independent labor party. The proposal failed.[21] While mainly supporting the Democratic Party, the AF of L continued to concentrate its legislative efforts on obtaining political protection for the right of unions to organize and strike, rather than on obtaining social change through legislative action.

World War II and after

The AF of L retained close ties to the Democratic machines in big cities through the 1940s. Its membership surged during the war and it held on to most of its new members after wartime legal support for labor was removed. Despite its close connections to many in Congress, the AF of L was not able to block the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.

In 1955, the AF of L and CIO merged to form the AFL-CIO, headed by George Meany.

Historical problems


During its first years, the AF of L admitted nearly anyone. Gompers opened the AF of L to radical and socialist workers and to some semiskilled and unskilled workers. Women, African Americans, and immigrants joined in small numbers. But by the 1890s, the Federation had begun to organize only skilled workers in craft unions and became an organization of mostly white men. Although the Federation preached a policy of egalitarianism in regard to African American workers, it actively discriminated against black workers.

The AF of L sanctioned the maintenance of segregated locals within its affiliates — particularly in the construction and railroad industries — a practice which often excluded black workers altogether from union membership and thus from employment in organized industries. The AF of L also actively supported legislation, such as literacy tests, that would reduce unskilled immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe.

In 1901, the AF of L lobbied Congress to reauthorize the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and issued a pamphlet entitled "Some reasons for Chinese exclusion. Which shall survive?" The AF of L also began one of the first organized labor boycotts when they began putting white stickers on the cigars made by unionized white cigar rollers while simultaneously discouraging consumers from purchasing cigars rolled by Chinese workers.


In most ways, the AF of L’s treatment of women workers paralleled its policy towards black workers. The AF of L never adopted a strict policy of gender exclusion and, at times, even came out in favor of women’s unionism. But despite such rhetoric, the Federation only half-heartedly supported women’s attempts to organize and, more often, took pains to keep women out of unions and the workforce altogether. Only two national unions affiliated with the AF of L at its founding openly included women, and others passed by-laws barring women’s membership entirely. The AF of L hired its first female organizer, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, only in 1892, released her after five months, and it did not replace her or hire another women national organizer until 1908. [22] Women who organized their own unions were often turned down in bids to join the Federation, and even women who did join unions found them hostile or intentionally inaccessible. AF of L unions often held meetings at night or in bars when women might find it difficult to attend and where they might feel uncomfortable, and male unionists heckled women who tried to speak at meetings.

Generally the AF of L viewed women workers as competition, as strikebreakers, or as an unskilled labor reserve that kept wages low. As such, the Federation often opposed women’s employment entirely. When it did organize women workers, most often it did so to protect men’s jobs and earning power and not to improve the conditions, lives, or wages of women workers. In response, most women workers remained outside the labor movement. In 1900, only 3.3% of working women were organized into unions. In 1910, even as the AF of L surged forward in membership, the number had dipped to 1.5%. And while it improved to 6.6% over the next decade, women remained mostly outside of unions and practically invisible inside of them into the mid-1920s. [23]

Attitudes gradually changed within the AF of L due to the pressure of organized female workers. Female-dominated began to emerge in the first two decades of the 20th Century, including particularly the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. Women organized independent locals among New York hat makers, in the Chicago stockyards, and among Jewish and Italian waist makers, to name only three examples. Through the efforts of middle class reformers and activists, often of the Women's Trade Union League, these unions joined the AF of L.[24]

Conflicts between affiliated unions

The AF of L arbitrated disputes between member unions and enforced its decisions by rescinding charters, when necessary. (1919 Cigar Makers' Union charter certificate.)

From the beginning, unions affiliated with the AF of L found themselves in conflict when both unions claimed jurisdiction over the same groups of workers: both the Brewers and Teamsters claimed to represent beer truck drivers, both the Machinists and the International Typographical Union claimed to represent certain printroom employees, and the Machinists and a fledgling union known as the "Carriage, Wagon and Automobile Workers Union" sought to organize the same employees — even though neither union had made any effort to organize or bargain for those employees. In some cases the AF of L mediated the dispute, usually favoring the larger or more influential union. The AF of L often reversed its jurisdictional rulings over time, as the continuing jurisdictional battles between the Brewers and the Teamsters showed. In other cases the AF of L expelled the offending union, as it did in 1913 in the case of the Carriage, Wagon and Automobile Workers Union (which quickly disappeared).

These jurisdictional disputes were most frequent in the building trades, where a number of different unions might claim the right to have work assigned to their members. The craft unions in this industry organized their own department within the AF of L in 1908, despite the reservations of Gompers and other leaders about creation of a separate body within the AF of L that might function as a federation within a federation. While those fears were partly borne out in practice, as the Building Trades Department did acquire a great deal of practical power gained through resolving jurisdictional disputes between affiliates, the danger that it might serve as the basis for schism never materialized.

Affiliates within the AF of L formed "departments" to help resolve these jurisdictional conflicts and to provide a more effective voice for member unions in given industries. The Metal Trades Department engaged in some organizing of its own, primarily in shipbuilding, where unions such as the Pipefitters, Machinists and Iron Workers joined together through local metal workers' councils to represent a diverse group of workers. The Railway Employees Department dealt with both jurisdictional disputes between affiliates and pursued a common legislative agenda for all of them. Even that sort of structure did not prevent AF of L unions from finding themselves in conflict on political issues. For example, the International Seamen's Union opposed passage of a law applying to workers engaged in interstate transport that railway unions supported. The AF of L bridged these differences on an ad hoc basis.

Historical achievements

Organizing and coordination

The AF of L made efforts in its early years to assist its affiliates in organizing: it advanced funds or provided organizers or, in some cases, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Teamsters and the American Federation of Musicians, helped form the union. The AF of L also used its influence (including refusal of charters or expulsion) to heal splits within affiliated unions, to force separate unions seeking to represent the same or closely related jurisdictions to merge, or to mediate disputes between rival factions where both sides claimed to represent the leadership of an affiliated union. The AF of L also chartered "federal unions" — local unions not affiliated with any international union — in those fields in which no affiliate claimed jurisdiction.

The AF of L also encouraged the formation of local labor bodies (known as central labor councils) in major metropolitan areas in which all of the affiliates could participate. These local labor councils acquired a great deal of influence in some cases. For example, the Chicago Federation of Labor spearheaded efforts to organize packinghouse and steel workers during and immediately after World War I. Local building trades councils also became powerful in some areas. In San Francisco, the local Building Trades Council, led by Carpenters official P. H. McCarthy, not only dominated the local labor council but helped elect McCarthy mayor of San Francisco in 1909. In a very few cases early in the AF of L's history, state and local bodies defied AF of L policy or chose to disaffiliate over policy disputes.

Political action

While the organization was founded by socialists such as Gompers and Peter J. McGuire, it quickly became more conservative. The AF of L adopted a philosophy of "business unionism" that emphasized unions' contribution to businesses' profits and national economic growth. The business unionist approach also focused on skilled workers' immediate job-related interests, while ignoring larger political issues.

In some respects the AF of L leadership took a pragmatic view toward politicians, following Gompers' slogan to "reward your friends and punish your enemies" without regard to party affiliation. Over time, after repeated disappointments with the failure of labor's legislative efforts to protect workers' rights, which the courts had struck down as unconstitutional, Gompers became almost anti-political, opposing some forms of protective legislation, such as limitations on working hours, because they would detract from the efforts of unions to obtain those same benefits through collective bargaining.

Employers discovered the efficacy of labor injunctions, first used with great effect by the Cleveland administration during the Pullman strike in 1894. While the AF of L sought to outlaw "yellow dog contracts," to limit the courts' power to impose "government by injunction" and to obtain exemption from the antitrust laws that were being used to criminalize labor organizing, the courts reversed what few legislative successes the labor movement won.

The AF of L concentrated its political efforts during the last decades of the Gompers administration on securing freedom from state control of unions — in particular an end to the court's use of labor injunctions to block the right to organize or strike and the application of the anti-trust laws to criminalize labor's use of pickets, boycotts and strikes. The AF of L thought that it had achieved the latter with the passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act in 1914 — which Gompers referred to as "Labor's Magna Carta". But in Duplex Printing Press Co. v. Deering, 254 U.S. 443 (1921), the United States Supreme Court narrowly read the Act and codified the federal courts' existing power to issue injunctions rather than limit it. The court read the phrase "between an employer and employees" (contained in the first paragraph of the Act) to refer only to cases involving an employer and its own employees, leaving the courts free to punish unions for engaging in sympathy strikes or secondary boycotts.

The AF of L's pessimistic attitude towards politics did not, on the other hand, prevent affiliated unions from pursuing their own agendas. Construction unions supported legislation that governed entry of contractors into the industry and protected workers' rights to pay, rail and mass production industries sought workplace safety legislation, and unions generally agitated for the passage of workers' compensation statutes.

At the same time, the AF of L took efforts on behalf of women in supporting protective legislation. It advocated fewer hours for women workers, and based its arguments on assumptions of female weakness. Like efforts to unionize, most support for protective legislation for women came out of a desire to protect men’s jobs. If women’s hours could be limited, reasoned AF of L officials, they would infringe less on male employment and earning potential. But the AF of L also took more selfless efforts. Even from the 1890s, the AF of L declared itself vigorously in favor of women’s suffrage. It often printed pro-suffrage articles in its periodical, and in 1918, it supported the National Union of Women’s Suffrage. [25]

The AF of L relaxed its rigid stand against legislation after the death of Gompers. Even so, it remained cautious. Its proposals for unemployment benefits (made in the late 1920s) were too modest to have practical value, as the Great Depression soon showed. The impetus for the major federal labor laws of the 1930s came from the New Deal. The enormous growth in union membership came after Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 and National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The AF of L refused to sanction or participate in the mass strikes led by John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers and other left unions such as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. After the AF of L expelled the CIO in 1936, the CIO undertook a major organizing effort. The AF of L responded with its own massive organizing drive that kept its membership totals 50 percent higher than the CIO's.


  1. ^ Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2: From the Founding of the AF of L to the Emergence of American Imperialism. New York: International Publishers, 1955; pp. 132-133.
  2. ^ a b Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 134.
  3. ^ a b Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 135.
  4. ^ Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pp. 135-136.
  5. ^ a b c Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 136.
  6. ^ In addition to noting authorship, in his posthumously-published memoirs Samuel Gompers provides the complete text of the call. See: Samuel Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor: An Autobiography. In two volumes. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1925; vol. 1, pp. 236-257.
  7. ^ Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor, vol. 1, pg. 258.
  8. ^ Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor, vol. 1, pg. 257.
  9. ^ a b Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 137.
  10. ^ Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 138.
  11. ^ Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 139.
  12. ^ History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 141.
  13. ^ Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pp. 141-142.
  14. ^ a b c Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 143.
  15. ^ Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor, vol. 1, pg. 275.
  16. ^ Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 160.
  17. ^ Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 2, pg. 164.
  18. ^ William C. Roberts (ed.), American Federation of Labor: History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book. Washington, DC: American Federation of Labor, 1919; pg. 63.
  19. ^ Roberts, American Federation of Labor: History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book, pg. 6.
  20. ^ Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000; pp. 5-6.
  21. ^ The Social Economic Foundation, A Labor Party for the United States. New York: The Social Economic Foundation, 1936.
  22. ^ Phillip Foner, Women and the American Labor Movement from Colonial Times to the Eve of World War I. New York: The Free Press, 1979; pg. 214.
  23. ^ Alice Kessler-Harris, "Where Are the Organized Women Workers?" Feminist Studies, vol. 3, no. 1. (Autumn, 1975), pg. 96.
  24. ^ Foner, Women and the American Labor Movement, pp. 304-340.
  25. ^ Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage Earning Women in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982; pp. 200-202.

Presidents of the American Federation of Labor

Affiliated unions and brotherhoods

Sources: American Federation of Labor: History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book, pp. 434-446. American Labor Year Book, 1926, pp. 85-87, 103-172.
Union Date Organized Date Affiliated 1925 Members Comments
Asbestos Workers, International Union of Heat and Frost Insulators and 1887 1887 2,400
Actors and Artistes of America, Associated 1919 1919 10,100
Auto Workers, United 1935 1935 N/A Suspended 1936 due to Communist influence; helped form CIO.
Bakery and Confectionery Workers of America, International Union of 1886 1887 21,800 Started as Journeymen Bakers' Union.
Barbers International Union, Journeymen 1887 1888 48,000
Bill Posters and Billers of United States and Canada International Alliance 1902 1903 1,600
Blacksmiths, Drop Forgers and Helpers, International Brotherhood of 1890 1890 5,000
Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders, International Brotherhood of 1880 1882 17,100 Two Boilermakers unions amalgamated in 1893, considered the start date of this union by some.
Bookbinders, International Brotherhood of 1892 1892 13,600
Boot and Shoe Workers' Union 1895 1895 36,200
Brewery, Flour, Cereal and Soft Drink Workers of America 1884 1887 16,000
Brick and Clay Workers of America, United 1894 1898 5,000
Bricklayers', Masons and Plasterers' International Union of America 1865 1916 70,000
Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers, International Association of 1896 1903 16,300
Broom and Whisk Makers' Union, International 1893 1893 700
Building Service Employees' International Union 1921 1921 6,200
Carpenters and Joiners, Amalgamated Association of 1869 1890 N/A AF of L charter revoked by 1912 convention for refusing to amalgamate with Brotherhood of Carpenters.
Carpenters and Joiners of America, United Brotherhood of 1867 1886 317,000
Cigarmakers' International Union 1864 1887 23,500
Cloth Hat, Cap and Millinery Workers' International Union 1901 1902 7,800 Suspended for protracted period in early 1920s for failure to comply with convention decision.
Conductors, Order of Sleeping Car 1918 1919 2,300
Coopers' International Union of North America 1864 1892 1,300
Cutting Die and Cutter Makers of America, International Union of N/A Suspended for non-payment of dues, 1923 on.
Diamond Workers' Protective Union of America 1910 1912 400
Elastic Goring Weavers, Amalgamated Association of 1894 1894 100
Electrical Workers, International Brotherhood of 1891 1891 142,000
Elevator Constuctors, International Union of 1901 1903 8,100
Federal Employees, National Federation of 1917 1917 20,200 Disaffiliated from AF of L, December 1931.
Fire Fighters, International Association of 1918 1918 16,000
Foundry Employees, International Brotherhood of 1904 1904 3,500 Later amalgamated with the Molders.
Fur Workers' Union of the United States and Canada, International 1913 1913 11,400
Garmernt Workers of America, United 1891 1891 47,500
Glass Bottle Blowers' Association 1847 1899 6,000
Glass Workers' Union, American Flint 1878 1912 5,300
Glass Workers, National Window 1872 1918 2,000
Glove Workers' Union of America, International 1902 1902 300
Granite Cutters' International Union 1877 1886 8,500
Hatters of North America, United 1854 1886 11,500
Hod Carriers, Building and Common Laborers' Union, International 1903 1903 61,500 Now Laborers' International Union of North America.
Horseshoers of United States and Canada, International Union of Journeymen 1874 1893 2,000
Hotel and Restaurant Employees' International Alliance and Bartenders' League of America 1890 1890 38,500
Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, Amalgamated Association of 1876 1887 11,400
Jewelry Workers' Union, International 1916 1916 800
Lace Operatives of America, The Chartered Association of N/A Suspended c. 1920 for failure to comply with decisions of convention.
Ladies' Garment Workers Union, International 1900 1900 90,000
Lathers, International Union of Wood, Wire and Metal 1899 1899 8,900
Laundry Workers' International Union 1900 1900 5,500
Leather Workers' International Union, United 1896 1896 2,000
Letter Carriers, National Association of 1889 1917 32,500
Letter Carriers, National Association of Rural 1919 1919 300
Lithographers of America, Amalgamated 1882 1906 5,300
Longshoremen's Association, International 1892 1896 31,800
Machinists, International Association of 1888 1895 71,400
Maintenance of Way Employees, United Brotherhood of 1886 1900 37,400
Marble, Slate and Stone Polishers, Rubbers and Sawyers, Tile and Marble Setters' Helpers, International Association of 1916 1916 3,200
Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, National 1875 N/A Disaffiliated with AF of L, 1923.
Masters, Mates and Pilots of America 1897 1914 3,900
Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, Amalgamated 1897 1897 12,200
Metal Engravers' International Union 1920 1921 100
Metal Polishers Union of North America, International 1891 1896 6,000
Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, International Union of 1893 1896 8,500
Mine Workers of America, United 1890 1890 400,000
Molders' Union of America, International 1859 1886 27,500 Later amalgamated with Foundry Employees.
Musicians, American Federation of 1896 1896 80,000
Office Employees International Union 1942 1945 N/A
Oil Field, Gas Well and Refinery Workers of America, International Association of 1919 1919 1,200
Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers of America, Brotherhood of 1887 1887 107,600 Now International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
Papermakers, International Brotherhood of 1892 1897 5,000
Pattern Makers' League of North America 1887 1894 7,000
Pavers, Rammersmen, Flag Layers, Bridge and Stone Setters, International Union of 1860 1905 2,000
Paving Cutters' Union of the United States 1901 1904 2,400
Photo-Engravers' Union of North America, International 1900 1904 7,200
Piano, Organ and Musical Instrument Workers' Union of America, International 1898 1902 600
Plasterers and Cement Finishers' International Association of the United States and Canada, Operative 1862 1908 30,000
Plate Printers' and Die Stampers' Union of North America, International 1891 1898 1,200 Amalgamated wih Steel and Copper Plate Engravers' League, late 1925.
Plumbers and Steamfitters of the United States and Canada, United Association of 1889 1897 39,200
Pocketbook Workers of America, International 1923 1925 N/A
Postal Employees, National Federation of 1906 1906 23,700 Was National Federation of Postal Employees.
Potters, National Brotherhood of Operative 1899 1899 8,100
Powder and High Explosive Workers, United 1902 1902 200
Print Cutters' Association of America, International N/A Amalgamated with Timber Workers, 1923.
Printers and Color Mixers of the United States, International Association of Machine N/A Amalgamated with Timber Workers, 1923.
Printing Pressman and Assistants' Union of North America, International 1889 1890 40,000
Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers, International Brotherhood of 1906 1909 5,000
Quarry Workers' International Union of North America 1903 1903 3,000
Railroad Carmen, Brotherhood of 1888 1900 125,000
Railroad Signalmen of America, Brotherhood of 1908 1914 8,000
Railroad Telegraphers, Order of 1886 1899 39,200
Railway Clerks, Brotherhood of 1899 1908 91,200
Railway Mail Association 1898 1917 19,100
Retail Clerks' International Protective Association 1890 1891 10,000
Roofers, United Slate, Tile and Composition + Damp and Waterproof Workers' Association 1902 1903 3,000 Amalgamated with Slate and Tile Roofers in 1919. Now United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers.
Sawsmiths' National Union N/A Apparently defunct from 1924.
Seamen's International Union of America 1892 1893 16,000
Sheet Metal Workers' Union, Amalgamated 1888 1890 25,000
Spinners' Union, International N/A Apparently absorbed through amalgamation or defunct by 1925.
Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada 1893 1894 20,000
Stationary Firemen and Oilers, International Brotherhood of 1898 1898 10,000
Steam and Operating Engineers, International Union of 1896 1897 25,300 Now International Union of Operating Engineers.
Steam Shovel and Dredgemen, International Brotherhood of 1896 1915 N/A Suspended by AF of L in 1920 due to jurisdictional dispute with Steam Engineers.
Stereotypers and Electrotypers' Union, International 1902 1902 6,800
Stonecutters' Association, Journeymen 1853 1907 5,100
Stove Mounters' International Union 1892 1894 1,600
Street and Electric Railway Employees of America, Amalgamated Association of 1892 1893 101,000 Now Amalgamated Transit Union.
Switchmen's Union of America 1894 1906 8,900
Tailors' Union of America, Journeymen 1883 1887 9,300
Teachers, American Federation of 1916 1916 3,500
Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Stablemen and Helpers, International Brotherhood of 1899 1899 78,900
Technical Engineers', Architects' and Draftsmen's Unions, International Federation of 1916 1916 600
Telegraphers' Union of America, Commercial 1902 1902 4,100
Textile Workers of America, United 1901 1901 30,000
Timber Workers, International Union of N/A Disbanded 1923.
Tobacco Workers' International Union 1895 1895 1,400
Transferrers' Association of America, International Steel Plate N/A Apparently absorbed through amalgamation or defunct by 1925.
Tunnel and Subway Constructors 1910 1910 3,000
Typographical Union, International 1852 1881 71,000
Upholsters' International Union of North America 1882 1892 7,600
Wall Paper Crafts of North America, United 1923 1923 600
Wire Weavers' Protective Association, America 1876 1895 400
Wood Carvers' Association of North America, International 1883 1896 1,000

Non-affiliated railroad brotherhoods

Union Date Organized Date Affiliated Members Comments
Locomotive Engineers, Brotherhood of 1863 N/A
Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, Brotherhood of 1873 N/A Now part of United Transportation Union.
Railroad Conductors, Order of 1868 N/A
Railroad Trainmen, Brotherhood of 1883 N/A
Railroad Yardmasters, Brotherhood of 1918 N/A
Sleeping Car Porters, Brotherhood of 1924 N/A
Train Dispatchers Association 1917 N/A

Additional reading

Primary sources

  • American Federation of Labor. Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion. Meat vs. Rice. American Manhood against Asiatic Coolieism. Which Shall Survive? Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Labor, 1901.
  • Gompers, Samuel. American Labor and the War. New York: George H. Doran Co., n.d. [1918].
  • Gompers, Samuel. Labor and the Employer. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1920.
  • Gompers, Samuel. Seventy Years of Life and Labor: An Autobiography. In two volumes. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. , 1925.
  • The Samuel Gompers Papers. Currently published in 11 volumes, coverage to 1921. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991-2009.

Secondary sources

  • Brooks, George W.; Derber, Milton; McCabe, David A.; and Taft, Philip (eds.), Interpreting the Labor Movement. Madison: Industrial Relations Research Association, 1952.
  • Commons, John R, et al. History of Labour in the United States. In 4 volumes. New York City: Macmillan, 1918-1935.
    • Vol. 2: 1860-1896 (1918).
    • Vol. 4: Labor Movements, 1896-1932 (1935).
  • Currarino, Rosanne. "The Politics of 'More': The Labor Question and the Idea of Economic Liberty in Industrial America." Journal of American History. vol. 93, no. 1 (June 2006). Abstract.
  • Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. In 10 volumes. New York: International Publishers, 1947-1994.
    • Vol. 2: From the Founding of the American Federation of Labor to the Emergence of American Imperialism (1955).
    • Vol. 3: The Policies and Practices of the American Federation of Labor, 1900-1909 (1964).
    • Vol. 5: The AFL in the Progressive Era, 1910-1915 (1980).
    • Vol. 6: On the Eve of America's Entrance into World War I, 1915-1916 (1982).
    • Vol. 7: Labor and World War I, 1914-1918 (1987).
    • Vol. 8: Post-war Struggles, 1918-1920 (1988).
  • Galenson, Walter. The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960.
  • Greene, Julie. Pure and Simple Politics: The American Federation of Labor and Political Activism, 1881-1917. New York City: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Karson, Marc. American Labor Unions and Politics, 1900-1918. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958.
  • McCartin, Joseph A. Labor's Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912-21. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Orth, Samuel Peter. The Armies of Labor: A Chronicle of the Organized Wage-Earners. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1919.
  • Roberts, William C. (ed.), American Federation of Labor: History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book. Washington, DC: American Federation of Labor, 1919.
  • Taft, Philip. The AF of L in the Time of Gompers. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957.
  • Taft, Philip. The AF of L from the Death of Gompers to the Merger. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959.

See also

External links

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