AFL-CIO Department of Organization

AFL-CIO Department of Organization


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996


Compiled by Rudolph Lewis




History of an Agency

By Rudolph Lewis


Established in the 1955 AFL-CIO Constitution at the time of the merger, the Department of Organization during its 18-year history passed through two major periods that followed roughly the administrations of its two directors, namely, John Livingston (1955-1965) and William Kircher (1965-1973). Broadly, these two eras can be described, respectively, as periods of “internal” and “external” organizing.

Livingston inherited two modes of organizing department operations to choose from in structuring the AFL-CIO Department of Organization — that of the old AFL and that of the old CIO. In integrating the two modes, Livingston followed the regional organization approach. By 1957, the Department had developed twenty-three regional offices, each with regional and assistant regional directors, alternately persons with an AFL and CIO backgrounds. Staff previously assigned to DALUs, national, international unions or central bodies were assigned to regional offices.

Initially, the Department of Organization had five assistant national directors of organization, but reduced them to four by 1956 and to two by 1959. They included George Craig (1957-1959), transferred to Public Relations; Carl McPeak (1957-1959), transferred to Legislative Department; William Kircher (1955-1956), sent after one year to an assistant regional director’s post; John F. Schreier (1957-1963) and Franz Daniels (1957-1963). Schreier and Daniels had the longest tenure with Director John Livingston.

Livingston assigned his four national assistant directors (up to 1959), one each for the New England and Mid-Atlantic states, Southern states, Central states, and Western states, to oversee the activities of the regional offices to develop stronger communications between headquarters and field organizers. After 1959, Franz Daniels coordinated activities in the South and West; and John Schreier in New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Central states. During most of the Livingston period (1955-1965), Alan Kistler, was the staff assistant in the Department.

In 1955, Livingston considered three obstacles to organizing workers: 1) “the intractability of the unorganized labor force,” particularly white-collar workers); 2) “the advancing years and diminished spirit of the organizing staff”; 3) “the conflicting jurisdictional claims.”

Livingston set up three projects to deal with it. First, a study and evaluation of existent staff and financial facilities, including national and international unions; two, reduction of general figures into specific information of individual national industries and geographic areas of concentration; and three a study of overlapping and coinciding jurisdictions of two or more unions.

Between 1955 and 1956, AFL-CIO headquarters sent staff members (about 340) each a brief questionnaire to enlist specific information, including amount and type of experience; type of organization work interested in (handbilling, house calls, leaflet writing, speaking, etc.); current assignment and location; union affiliation; and offices held. These materials were studied and catalogued with an additional report from regional directors. This information was used in the assignment of staff to organizational projects on the most “efficient and productive basis.”

During the first year, the Department of Organization staff was “engaged in preparing the most comprehensive organizing survey ever attempted on a national scale, along with the cooperation of AFL-CIO Department of Research and many AFL-CIO international unions. Livingston presented the results of this survey of “organizing potential” to labor’s first united Executive Council meeting in 1956. The survey revealed its findings by industries, by craft, region by region, state by state, “analyzed the total organizing factors involved in the industries and services, pointed up “the major problems and suggested approaches to meeting these problems.” One finding suggested a “more detailed survey” of local areas. Such surveys stimulated organizing activity, for example, in the Miami area, in which 10,000 new members were organized within several months.

The survey also revealed a dynamically changing workforce: the rapid growth rate of white-collar jobs at the expense of blue-collar job; the movement of industry to the South and West. The rate of growth in the South was 25% and ten million of the white-collar positions were located in the South. Partially in response to the importance of the South President Meany appointed a Special Staff Committee on the South. In 1957-1959, Livingston brought attention to the importance of surveys of workers’ attitudes and the need to modify organizing techniques and methods and develop certain qualities in organizers for a new revitalized modern trade union movement.

In 1957 and 1958, Livingston carried out staff reductions. The Department began with 340 organizers. By 1957, sixty-seven positions were lost to death, resignation, retirement, or return to internationals, leaving a total of 275 organizers. In 1958, another one hundred organizers were laid off, leaving 175; in 1958, the Department was down to 158 total organizers, including regional directors and headquarters staff. Livingston’s intent was to encourage the internationals to expand its staff and use the AFL-CIO staff as supplements to international staffs or as coordinators of campaigns.

Numerous factors stood against the growth of unionism. Employer sponsored anti-union activity in the form of handbooks, seminars, labor consultants, and public relations experts; their use and abuse of the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), which made organizing in the South more difficult; public hostility against so-called union “corruption” fueled by the McClellan Committee (1958) and the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959).

In 1959, the AFL-CIO Department of Organization sponsored the first national organizing conference in Washington, D.C. The attendants included 75 AFL-CIO unions, 32 international union presidents, 27 vice-presidents, 11 international secretary-treasurers, 21 international union directors. Among the topic discussed were NLRB and court rulings, organizing white-collar workers and the southern states, regional conferences, and the roles central bodies can play in organizing.

The Washington conference was followed by conferences in 44 states. Organizing activities increased among Retail Clerks International Union, American Newspaper Guild, Sheet Metal Workers, Bakers, Plasterers, Communication Workers. By March 1960 more NLRB petitions had been filed than in any single month in 14 years. In 1960, a charter was issued to the Agricultural Workers Organization Committee to organize in California. Franz Daniel coordinated the campaign. John Schreier, coordinated a campaign, to assist IAM to organize the 31 unorganized plants of U.S. Gypsum.

The two-year campaign (1958-1960) to restore legitimate trade unionism to the bakery and confectionery industry was rewarded by 82,920 members joining the American Bakery and Confectionery workers International Union (ABC). Another outcome of the 1959 conference was the publication of the pamphlet “Number 1 Objective,” a compilation of practical organizing suggestions advanced by panelists and delegates. The conference increased the number of signatories to the AFL-CIO No-Raiding Agreement (June 9, 1954) to 104 of the 135 national and international unions.

In 1960, the Department sponsored in Washington, D.C., a conference on state and local central bodies. Delegates formulated programs and procedures to obtain maximum affiliation, developed a reporting system, and established an advisory committee headed by Stanton Smith of the Tennessee Labor Council. President Meany sent a letter of all central bodies encouraging cooperation. The Department sponsored also a legislative conference a few days later, which stressed the importance of the following issues: aid to depressed areas, minimum wage, unemployment insurance, health care for the elderly, housing, education, natural resources, in effect, “a program for the welfare of America.”

Even with its modifications in structure and staff and organizing techniques, the growth of unionism was barely keeping pace, only sufficient enough to offset losses in membership resulting from job elimination. In 1961, Reuther, Raftery, and Suffridge reported that a quarter-million workers were organized per year between 1955 and 1960. The workforce increased by .85 million a year and was expected between 1960 and 1970 to increase by more than one million a year, that is, about 13.5 million were expected to enter the workforce. White-collar workers and service workers, a considerable number of them female, represented over 60% of the workforce, while jobs for its blue-collar members were declining.

In response, the AFL-CIO established in 1961 an Executive Council Committee on Organizing, headed by Paul Hall (Seafarers Union). The Committee would be a vehicle for working meetings, discussion of the problems, and a free exchange of ideas. The Committee directed the Department of Organization to work out specific organizational targets, joint cooperative and coordinated organizational projects, and “provide the practical mechanism for coordinating organizational activities and for achieving the maximum effectiveness in the utilization of manpower and organizational resources.”

Between 1961 and 1963, organizing activities quickened. There were 8,482 NLRB elections, the AFL-CIO unions won 4, 620 of the elections, bringing in 324,000 persons within a 21-month period. Some of this increase was the result of the January 1962 Presidential executive Order that allowed federal employees to organize into unions. Still the net membership gain had been small.

In 1963 the AFL-CIO Executive Council Organizing Committee recommended a pilot program in the Los Angeles- Orange Counties metropolitan area. This project was up and running by September 1965. A similar campaign was developed and carried out in the Baltimore-D.C. metropolitan area. Other cooperative campaigns developed on a smaller scale in other locations.

In 1964, Regional Director Fred C. Pieper pointed out that the union movement still had a number of internal problems that needed to be addressed before the desired advances in growth could be made. Pieper sketched out the problems. There was a lack of sufficient staff to survey, study, and organize; jurisdictional problems, that is, “inter-union rivalry” continued; congressional committees acted as propagandists for employers; service to members at local union level resulted in negative publicity and decertifications.

Pieper suggested actions to improve the organizing efficiency of union campaigns: 1) careful survey and research of both community and organizational projects; 2) adequate, trained, and qualified staff available throughout the campaign; and 3) improved communication skills of organizers. In December 1965 Livingston resigned after ten years at the helm of the AFL-CIO Department of Organization and returned to his native Missouri and his cattle farm.

After a year (1964-1965) as national assistant director of organizing, William Kircher became the Director of the Department of Organization. Under Kircher’s directorship (1965-1973), Alan Kistler (1962-1974) and Edward Haines (1966-1971) were the two assistant directors. Many of the programs and approaches started under Livingston were continued under Kircher’s regime. In 1966, Kircher kicked off a coordinated campaign against Standard Oil, with the cooperation of the Petroleum Workers Union, Oil Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union, and the Western States Service Station Employees (unaffiliated).

At the 1967 Organizing Conference in Bal Harbour, Florida, Kircher emphasized changing the hostile image of unionism and developing new approaches to attract into unions young men and women who have no memory of the 30s and 40s labor struggles and triumphs and the depression era. He also placed an emphasis on organizing farm workers in California. He supported “qualitative” rather than “quantitative” organizing. He thought the AFL-CIO unions should reduce the number of organizing campaigns and increase “organizing efficiency.”

In addition Kircher outlined the increased services that would be offered by the Department of Organization. They included 60 Leaflets of the Month (LOMs), staff training of international unions, development of audio-visual aids, and a clearinghouse for new programs and ideas. By 1968, the Department increased staff time spent on organizing from 50% to 75%. Much of this activity was spent in training conferences and the development of literature.

But the AFL-CIO staff spent half of that 75% on the farm worker campaign in California and Texas, which was coordinated by Kircher, directed to assume that position of responsibility by President Meany.

By 1970, three other large cooperative campaigns were underway. Locals affiliated with the Metal Trades Department organized federal workers in naval shipyards (CCOFE). Assistant Director Ed Haines coordinated by a multi-state campaign with four unions in the graphic arts field (CODE). Alan Kistler coordinated eight unions in a campaign to organize all non-union General Electric facilities.

By 1970, Kircher had developed a corps of Organizing Specialists that were easily shifted from campaign to campaign, depending on their special abilities (ethnic relations, pamphlets, coordinators, home contacts, etc.). Kircher’s emphasis on staff training led him to develop internship programs for field staff and for developing young NLRB lawyers. By 1970 three interns had completed the legal intern program.

During all this activity some restructuring of the Department continued. Regional offices were reduced to eighteen by 1970. Kircher reduced the department staff from 155 in 1967 to 138 in 1971. As a result of such staff cuts, including at headquarters, Kircher reported in 1973 a curtailment of training sessions for international unions. Kircher tried to decentralize this program, directing field staff to conduct such training programs.

Kircher also created a program for developing more effective in-plant committees. The union organizer’s performance record with smaller groups, Kircher argued, was better than with larger. The bigger the plant the harder the union falls. Not as a leader but as an educator the organizer too often lacks the necessary qualifications. This is the area of skill in which organizers have to be trained today more than any other time, Kircher persuaded his staff.

In his Executive Council Report, Kircher revealed that the NLRB case load exceeded in the period ending June 1972 with 41,039 cases. The union won 55% of 8,472 elections in which 286,365 became members. By his estimates nearly 20 million workers belonged to unions. One of the curious items Kircher noted was that the union performance was greater in smaller units. The average size of units won in NLRB elections was 68, while the average size of losses was 78.

In 1973, at the height of his success as organizer and administrator, William Kircher resigned his position as Director and took a job with the Hotel-Restaurant Workers Union as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. Alan Kistler became the head of the reorganized and revamped AFL-CIO Department of Organization and Field Services.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.


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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 24 July 2008 




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