A Paper for Those Who Toil: The Chicago Labor Press in Transition

By Bekken, Jon | Journalism History, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

A Paper for Those Who Toil: The Chicago Labor Press in Transition


Bekken, Jon, Journalism History


You may imagine you can read lying propaganda day after day without being influenced by it-but if you do imagine that, you are dead wrong . . .. The influence of propaganda is cumulative. Little by little, day by day, it seeps in and chloroforms the mind....

If workers have lost anything of value during the last two years, it is because of the bitter, unjust treatment they have received from the daily press, the periodicals controlled by the employers, the engulfing stream of lies that has flowed from the propaganda mills until truth has been fairly drowned.1

What you read is what you are," the Chicago Federation of Labor's The New Majority editorialized, adding that reading the daily papers gradually "chloroforms the mind." The only antidote was The New Majority, "the fighting, truth-telling official organ of the Chicago labor movement."2

Published from 1919 until 1924 (when it was renamed Federation News, the title under which publication continues to this day), The New Majority was the culmination of the Chicago Federation of Labor's efforts to create a press to give voice to labor's interests and needs after World War I. That labor needed such a voice was clear to CFL members; they saw the existing capitalist press in Chicago as implacably hostile to their cause. "All of the papers, both their news columns and editorial policy, have been purchased and delivered to strike a blow at labor," CFL President John Fitzpatrick contended.3 Despite their insidious pretense at standing above the fray, Chicago's daily newspapers were really tools of the ruling class.4 Fitzpatrick told CFL delegates:

The trust press can not be relied upon for the truth. So long as The New Majority can stand out in the open and speak and defend labor's position, it ought to live-not only as a weekly . it ought to become a daily so that union men can read it in their homes . . . at the breakfast table.5

This article examines the role of The New Majority in Chicago's labor world in the post-war era, a period of turmoil in the American labor movement during which the Chicago Federation of Labor struggled to articulate a new labor vision. The New Majority was launched to serve both the Cook County Labor Party and the CFL as official organ, and was a key part of CFL's social and political strategy. But both the party and The New Majority proved controversial and expensive, and Chicago unionists eventually retreated to a narrower emphasis on traditional trade union concerns.

Chicago's labor movement was far from monolithic, including anarchists, socialists, Democrats, and Republicans. Competing tendencies coalesced around specific projects but tensions were never far beneath the surface. Efforts to establish unity on the political field were particularly difficult. The labor movement repeatedly experimented with joint political tickets, though with little success. The Trade and Labor Assembly mounted a legislative ticket as early as 1882, and a coalition of Socialists, Knights of Labor, and others (including the anarchist-led Central Labor Union, its leaders in jail awaiting execution) united in the 1886 and 1887 elections behind a United Labor Party (ULP) ticket. The ticket polled nearly a third of the vote but was defeated by Democrat-Republican fusion tickets.6 The ULP met with unremitting hostility from the English-language press. The Chicago Tribune argued that ULP members wanted

to control the police force so that they can throw bombs with impunity, the fire department so that they can ravage and burn . . the machinery of taxation so that they can confiscate property by form of law and throw the revenues of honest enterprise into a common pool for plunder.7

The "revenues of honest enterprise" referred not to the labors of the carpenters and laborers to whom the ULP appealed, but to their employers. Following the defeat many unionists returned to the established parties, while anarchists and socialists went their own ways. …

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