ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996
A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY
Compiled by Rudolph Lewis
John William Livingston, 1908-1997
A Biographical Sketch
By Rudolph Lewis
John W. Livingston, born August 17, 1908, on a farm in Iberia, Missouri (the foothills of the Ozarks), served the AFL-CIO in the post of Director of Organization for ten years, from the merger of the AFL and CIO in December 1955 to December 1965. During this period, Livingston demonstrated his well‑known skills as an administrator, negotiator, and organizer.
By the time Livingston was twenty-six, he was well into a lifelong career as a trade unionist. In December 1927, after attending Iberia Academy for two years, Livingston worked five years at the Fisher Body Division of the General Motors Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked in the trim department.
In 1930, he had a brush with management when he and some thirty other workers demanded an increase in their 40-cents-per-hour wage. For their boldness, Livingston and thirty-one other workers were summarily fired. A skillful worker, Livingston was soon back at Fisher.
The day the NRA was passed, June 1933, Livingston began his union activity. Eighteen workers met to plan how to organize workers in the Fisher plant. This meeting laid the groundwork for the establishment of Local No. 18386, which later became Local 25 of the UAW-CIO. Between 1934-1939, Livingston was elected and reelected president of this local union of auto workers.
In 1939, UAW-CIO employed Livingston as an International Representative in the General Motors Department. During his three years in this position, Livingston served as Vice‑Chairman and Chairman of the National UAW-GM Negotiating Committee.
In 1942, the UAW-CIO Convention elected Livingston Director of UAW Region 5 (Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and New Mexico) and a member of the International Executive Board. During the first eighteen months of his directorship, the UAW‑CIO membership in this region was increased thirteen‑fold.
Livingston continued to move up the organizational ladder of responsibility. In 1946, he was made co‑director, with UAW President Walter P. Reuther, of the union’s General Motors Department. In 1952, Livingston assumed sole responsibility for this post. At the Atlantic City Convention in 1947, Livingston was first elected as one of the two international union vice‑presidents. He was reelected in 1949, 1951, 1953, and 1955.
In 1947, Livingston was also appointed director of the aircraft, airline, McQuay-Norris, and piston ring departments. Late in 1948 he became director of the agricultural implement department of the UAW-CIO. In 1952, he resigned from the directorship of this department, but kept the directorship of the national aircraft department.
Even with his many departmental duties, Livingston still participated in several organizing campaigns. He provided some leadership in the 1948 campaign to bring all farm implement workers in the UAW‑CIO ranks. He also coordinated the UAW‑Political Action committee campaign drive for the 1948 national Presidential election.
Before he became AFL-CIO’s first Director of Organization, Livingston participated in virtually all UAW contract negotiations with the General Motors Corporation. In 1948, he was the chief international officer assigned to the General Motors wage and contract negotiations, in which the annual wage improvement and cost‑of‑living escalation was introduced.
In 1950, Livingston took part in the talks between the UAW and General Motors Corporation, which resulted in an unprecedented five‑year agreement later used as the model for agreements in many other industries. As leader of the UAW’s bargaining team in the 1955 General Motors negotiations, Livingston established for the first time a full union shop and the principle of guaranteeing wages to laid‑off industrial workers.
Before 1955, Livingston had played important roles in both national and international assignments in which he helped to establish policies favorable to labor. During the summer of 1950, Livingston was chairman of a twelve‑man UAW-CIO delegation that visited England, France, Italy, and West Germany. In Paris, he presided over the first conference of the automotive and truck department of the international Metalworkers Federation. After conferring with European trade union official and with representatives of the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), Livingston presented a program, later adopted in a large measure, for implementing the Marshall Plan so that it would benefit people from all walks of life.
In May 1951 Livingston served for a year on the National Wage Stabilization Board in Washington. He played an important role in establishing policies free from the limitations of the War Labor Board, its World War II counterpart.
At the December 1965 convention of the AFL-CIO in San Francisco, Livingston retired at the youthful age of 57. From then until October 2, 1967, Livingston operated his cattle farm in the Ozarks. From then until 1968, he worked on the assembly line at the Fisher body plant in St. Louis and farmed on weekends.
In March 1968, President George Meany appointed Livingston as director of union relations of the National Alliance of Businessmen (NAB). To demonstrate the importance of the assignment the AFL‑CIO contributed Livingston’s services with the NAB, established at the suggestion of President Johnson to undertake a program to employ the hard‑core unemployed.
John William Livingston married Rubye Britt on May 9, 1931. He is known to his friends as Jack. In his leisure hours he enjoys hunting and fishing. Business Week (November 19, 1955) noted that he had “a jovial, likeable personality; he is scrupulously honest and fair. His staff members swear by him.”
At 88 years old, on May 25 in Westphalia, Missouri, Livingston died of unreported causes.
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple. We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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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 Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys 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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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 25 July 2008