On this day in 1935, eight Labor Leaders came together and formed the Committee for Industrial Organization in “a spirit of rebellion and a spirit of hope”. The Committee, which would later become the Congress of Industrial Organizations, focused its energy and its future on the organizing of an emerging sector of worker, the industrial worker. They hoped that they “would find a way to build powerful unions that might give halt to the arrogance of corporation management, that might provide industrial democracy in the factories of America”.
The purpose of the CIO was to inspire organizing among industrial workers in factories. At the 1935 American Federation of Labor convention, a resolution in favor of industrial unionism had been voted down, spurring the formation of the ad hoc committee. The Committee for Industrial Organization was spearheaded by John L. Lewis UMWA President and seven other union leaders.
John L. Lewis declared in 1936, in a radio address, the CIO’s hopeful purpose:
These millions of workers in our mass production industries have a right to membership in effective labor organizations and to the enjoyment of industrial freedom. They are entitled to a place in the American economic sunlight. If the labor movement and American democracy are to endure, these workers should have the opportunity to support their families under conditions of health, decency and comfort, to own their own homes, to educate their children and to possess sufficient leisure to take part in wholesome social and political activities. How much more security we would have in this country for the future of our form of government if we had a virile labor movement that represented the men who work with their hands in our great industries, regardless of their trade and calling?
Though the landscape of work has changed, in many ways dramatically, Lewis’ words still remain true. A bright and vibrant American democracy depends upon a virile labor movement. The future of social and economic justice in our country is inextricably linked to our unified labor movement and the rights of workers.
The future of our union movement depends upon organizing the unorganized. Today marks the regular meeting of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s organizing roundtable held in the Uehlein Conference Room. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s second president Julius Uehlein was a founding member of the CIO, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee and the USWA.
Though this past week has been a victory at the ballot box, we in the union movement must never forget that the root of our purpose is in organizing. Only when we come together, in the workplace and in our communities, will we create change.