Labor's Home Front: The American Federation of Labor during World War II

Labor's Home Front: The American Federation of Labor during World War II

Labor's Home Front: The American Federation of Labor during World War II

Labor's Home Front: The American Federation of Labor during World War II

Synopsis

One of the oldest, strongest, and largest labor organizations in the U.S., the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had 4 million members in over 20,000 union locals during World War II. The AFL played a key role in wartime production and was a major actor in the contentious relationship between the state, organized labor, and the working class in the 1940s. The war years are pivotal in the history of American labor, but books on the AFL's experiences are scant, with far more on the radical Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO).

Andrew E. Kersten closes this gap with Labor's Home Front, challenging us to reconsider the AFL and its influence on twentieth-century history. Kersten details the union's contributions to wartime labor relations, its opposition to the open shop movement, divided support for fair employment and equity for women and African American workers, its constant battles with the CIO, and its significant efforts to reshape American society, economics, and politics after the war. Throughout, Kersten frames his narrative with an original, central theme: that despite its conservative nature, the AFL was dramatically transformed during World War II, becoming a more powerful progressive force that pushed for liberal change.

Excerpt

Nearly nine months after the vicious, surprise attack on the military installations near Pearl Harbor, on September 5, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his tenth Labor Day statement. Although the American victory at Midway Island in June 1942 had given the nation cause to be optimistic, the war was not progressing quickly, and the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Japan were years away. President Roosevelt and his wartime cabinet knew that winning the war would require enormous sacrifices and Herculean efforts. FDR never missed a chance to remind Americans of these essential truths about the Second World War. He also never missed a chance to emphasize the stakes of war. “There has never been a Labor Day as significant as this one,” he began his Labor Day statement. Alluding to the conflagration that was engulfing the planet, he noted that in a great many countries, free labor had ceased to exist. “A blackout of freedom has darkened Europe from the tip of Norway to the shores of the Aegean and sturdy working men who once walked erect in the sun now stumble and cower beneath the lash of the slavemasters.” Perhaps more unsettling than the eradication of “the rights of free labor and free men in the conquered lands” was the undeniable reality that free labor was “threatened and besieged everywhere.” “This is indeed labor's grave hour,” FDR observed. But, he pointed out, “happily our good right arm is strong and growing stronger.” “In our own country … the people who live by the sweat of their brows have risen mightily to the challenge of the struggle.” Roosevelt then expressed his “appreciation to the working people of the United States for the energy and devotion with which they have met the demands of the present crisis.” Finally, applauding them as much as challenging them, he concluded that American workers “know too democracy has made labor's advances possible. They know just . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.