AFL-CIO - History of Business in the U.S.
Identification: Federation encompassing more than fifty national and international labor unions.
Dates: Founded in 1955; AFL founded in 1886; CIO founded in 1932.
Significance: The unions represented by the AFLCIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) fought for and won American workers’ rights to collective bargaining, employer-sponsored health care plans, the eight-hour workday, workplace safety provisions, pensions and other retirement plans, and the procedures for dealing with grievances arising from workplace issues. The AFL-CIO influences local and national political elections by endorsing candidates sympathetic to workerfriendly policies and laws.
Founded by Samuel Gompers in 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was a union limited to skilled craftsmen. This policy distinguished the early American Federation of Labor from other trade unions such as the Knights of Labor, which admitted semiskilled laborers, employers, and even strikebreakers. Although the early AFL stated that it was open to anyone who wished to join, it was openly hostile to African Americans, women, recent immigrants with limited ability to speak English, Chinese railroad workers, and all workers employed in factories manufacturing mass-produced goods. In the few instances when the American Federation of Labor did support nonwhite or female workers, it did so in whatever way would help these workers while protecting the jobs and wages of white men.
- Dubofsky, Melvyn, and Joseph McCartin, eds. American Labor: A Documentary Collection. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. This collection of essays focuses on gender and ethnic issues within American labor history.
- Forbath, William. Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. The author discusses American legal history as it relates to the history of labor in the United States.
- Leab, Daniel. The Labor History Reader. 2d ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985. Covers the development of labor movements in the United States since colonial times.
- Lichtenstein, Nelson. State of the Union: A Century of American Labor. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003. The author’s thesis is that labor movements are essential to ensure a functioning democracy.
- Sinyai, Clayton. Schools of Democracy: A Political History of the American Labor Movement. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 2006. Examines the intermingled history of labor activism and American politics.