Part 1: "Actors" - "Columns, Washington" …………………………………………………1
Part 2: "Columns, Women" - "Labor Press" ………………….…………………………23
Part 3: "Labor Productivity" - "Politics, Congressional Elections and Primaries" ……….49
Part 4: "Politics, Democratic Party" - "World Federation of Trade Unions" …………….75
The Federated Press, an independent news service, served the labor press from the post-World War I years until the height of the Cold War. The objective of its founders was to start a news service that would counter the anti-labor bias of commercial presses. Committed to objective reporting, its editors represented every hue in the political spectrum, from conservative to independent to Socialist to Communist. At its peak shortly after World War II, the Federated Press had over 250 subscribers among the labor press and commercial newspapers.
The Federated Press news stories in this collection cover the period 1940-1956, the height of labor movement activity. These news stories chronicle a wide range of industries, labor activities, unions, federal agencies, legislation, and the relationship between labor on the one hand and government and industry on the other. Stories cover labor issues, activities, and unions in the major industries—aircraft, automobile, defense, electrical, farm, mining, newspapers, railroads, shipbuilding, steel, textiles, trucking—as well as many other industries. They objectively report the positions of many diverse groups in the political spectrum regarding labor issues, activities, and disputes of the time. These perspectives are not available from commercial newspapers of the time. On the political front, the collection features news stories on legislation such as the Taft-Hartley Bill and the Wage-Hour Law; federal agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board and the War Labor Board; issues between labor and local, state, and federal government; and coverage of the intersection of labor with the Communist, Fascist, and Socialist movements. In addition to major news stories of national importance, the collection includes news of rank-and-file labor groups not generally covered by commercial presses. A strength of this collection is its extensive coverage of labor strikes across the nation during the war years and the Cold War period, and labor’s heavy involvement in issues of civil liberties, especially those of African Americans.
The Federated Press Records were a gift to Columbia University through Carl Haessler, the Managing Editor of the Federated Press, and Miss Alice Citron, on November 7, 1956.
The collection is organized alphabetically by topic (and by subtopic within major topics). The news stories on each topic are organized chronologically by year of coverage. The collection guide will enable researchers to search by topic and cross reference to selected topics.
Introduction to the Collection
When Federated Press was launched in 1919, the U.S. labor movement boasted a substantial press, including daily newspapers and hundreds of substantial weekly publications. This labor press was as diverse as the movement it served, ranging from union newsletters largely devoted to internal business to substantial daily newspapers such as the Milwaukee Leader. Unions published journals for their own members, but also sponsored weekly and daily publications that articulated a more expansive (often highly political) working-class vision and reached far beyond the ranks of organized labor. This official labor press co-existed with a vibrant radical press deeply rooted in working-class communities. Convinced that labor could not get fair play in a mainstream press dominated by big business, unions and otherworkers’ organizations maintained their own press as part of efforts to develop an alternative public sphere.
Federated Press was organized at a November 25, 1919, meeting of 32 farm-labor, socialist, and union editors attending the Farm-Labor Party convention in Chicago. It was launched as a twice-weekly mail service in January 1920, expanding to daily service later that year to better serve member dailies. For the next 36 years, Federated Press offered member papers a daily service including labor and political reportage, feature stories, columns, humorous shorts, and, for much of its run, a mat service providing labor cartoons and photographs. But the labor press it served was transformed during this period. In 1919, many labor papers were edited by rank-and-file union members, often directly elected by their fellow workers; by the 1950s, these worker-editors had been largely replaced by professional journalists and public relations operatives hired by, and accountable to, top union officials. Only a few labor dailies survived, and these were generally confined to foreign-language enclaves. The still strong weekly labor press had reached an accommodation with the mainstream press sharply counterposed to the oppositional world view that had motivated Federated Press’s founders.
By January 1921, Federated Press was serving 100 member newspapers, including 22 dailies (many foreign-language newspapers), representing a broad spectrum of the labor movement, from the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World to several unions and central labor councils affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. The service sought to provide what managing editor Carl Haessler termed “an independent objective labor news service.”i But this was a particular sort of objectivity, deeply committed to the labor movement but not aligned to any particular current within it. Federated’s commitment to representing the entire spectrum of the labor movement led to recurring charges of communist domination. In 1923, the American Federation of Labor’s annual convention adopted a highly critical report warning the labor press “to be on guard against the insidious encroachment of subversive propaganda either through the Federated Press or any other channel. The Federated Press upon its own record cannot hope to have and should not have the support of trade union publications or of trade union organizations.”ii
Despite this warning, several AFL-affiliated publications continued to hold Federated Press membership throughout its existence. In the 1930s Federated Press was warmly embraced by many of the emerging CIO unions, providing on-the-spot coverage of the sit-down strikes and organizing campaigns that revived the labor movement. (Indeed, relations were so close that Haessler and veteran Federated Press correspondent Harvey O’Connor served for a time as the editors of the CIO’s auto and oil publications.) Federated not only supplied a rich diet of union news during this period, but also organized meetings of labor editors to help foster the growth of the labor press. But while Federated Press dispatches always backed unions in their disputes with employers, the service also covered wildcat strikes and opposition caucuses. An increasingly institutionalized labor movement did not welcome such independence. In 1949, as McCarthyism was heating up, several AFL and CIO officials formed Labor Press Associates to counter Federated’s dominance of the labor news market. With substantial financial backing from its sponsoring unions, LPA was quickly able to sign on over 200 union newspapers, some of whom dropped Federated for the new, officially sanctioned, and cheaper service. The merger of the AFL and the CIO in 1956 (and the purging of leftist unions that preceded it) left only a handful of member papers when Federated ceased operations in November 1956.
The present collection is comprised of Federated Press’s Subject Files, maintained from January 1940 through the service’s demise in 1956. Primarily comprised of marked tear sheets, the files also contain a limited number of source documents, such as a bulletin circulated by the United Electrical workers union (UE) offering a detailed critique of a convention of the rival International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE-CIO). Most reports were compiled by the Eastern Bureau in New York City (which despite its name offered national and international coverage), although the collection also includes dispatches from the smaller Washington (DC) and Central (Chicago and Detroit) bureaus (the Central Bureau did not survive into the 1950s). Especially in these later years, Federated’s small staff meant it relied on member newspapers, a handful of stringers scattered across the country, and the telephone to offer a reasonably comprehensive service.
The dispatches are filed in reverse chronological order into hundreds of subject files, often subdivided by date or company. Few run longer than a mimeographed legal-size page; most are shorter. While the collection is dominated by news reports, columns, and features (in that order), it also includes humor, poetry, and songs (filed by subject). Most columns are interfiled with news reports, but there is a separate file for Scott Nearing’s columns on the economy and World War II.
The Federated Press files offer an invaluable overview of the labor movement of the 1940s and 1950s, with extensive material on labor’s response to Taft-Hartley, internal union struggles, and the debates over communism and foreign policy that tore the CIO apart in the post-war years. There are also detailed dispatches covering the conventions of the AFL and CIO, and several of their larger affiliates. While this coverage cannot replace primary sources, in many cases it provides richer documentation of major speeches and debates, and of rank-and-file reaction, than can be found in union archives or publications.iii The collection will prove particularly useful to labor and journalism historians, but there is also substantial material on wartime conditions, race relations, independent political action, and related topics.
Labor’s post-war struggles are reflected in many files, ranging from the efforts of District 65 to defend its jurisdiction and fend off red-baiting attacks that undermined its strikes and threatened its very existence (see Department Stores),iv to efforts to deport ILWU leader Harry Bridges (see Deportations: Bridges Case), to the left-right battles that tore apart UE after 1949 (addressed in extensive files under the main heading Electrical Radio & Machine Workers, United, and to a lesser extent in dispatches filed under Electrical Industry). Other relevant materials will be found filed under Blacklist, Civil Liberties, Dies Committee, Legislation, Little Dies Committees, and NLRB Smith Investigation.
Reflecting Federated Press’s policy of neutrality in intra-union disputes, Federated sought to cover the split in UE, and the fight between UE and IUE that followed, fairly impartially. It provided extensive coverage of the disputes, highlighting solidarity efforts across union lines and attempts to maintain and re-establish unity. This approach was typical of Federated Press coverage in the era, which sought to give a fair hearing to all sides but tended to see labor more as a movement than an institution, and so tilted toward militancy, solidarity, and rank-and-file initiative. Federated columnists took more liberties, generally explicitly supporting UE against IUE red-baiting (see, e.g., John B. Stone column, “The Washington Scene,” March 5, 1952, filed under Electrical Radio & Machine Workers, United).
A major strength of the collection is its day-by-day coverage of industrial disputes, sometimes based on other press reports, sometimes on stories filed by Federated Press correspondents, but usually based on union accounts and interviews. Any major dispute is likely to be covered, and many smaller ones as well (particularly where Federated Press had a correspondent).
This collection also features extensive coverage of organizing efforts, such as files containing hundreds of pages of reports on efforts to organize farm workers in the 1940s and 1950s. Largely based on interviews with union officials and coverage of hearings and other government action initiated at unions’ behest, farm workers’ voices are rarely heard in these reports (although there are accounts of workers’ complaints to labor commissions and testimony during various official proceedings). But these reports do document both persistent attempts to organize and several little-known strikes, as well as the problems of migratory workers as seen by union officials (including early efforts to restrict the use of immigrant labor). An October 6, 1947, dispatch reported federal government threats to deport Mexican farm workers imported under the bracero program if they joined a fruit pickers’ strike at the DiGiorgio ranch; this strike continued for another two years (see Agricultural Workers, 1946-1949). Other reports document agricultural organizing campaigns and strikes across the Southwest, as well as in Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.
An interesting, if small, file includes the results of a monthly survey of labor editors, addressing questions such as attacks on civil liberties, the Lend-Lease bill, politics, and press attitudes toward labor, which Federated Press initiated in 1940 (and later replaced with a column of excerpts from the labor press). The survey broke out responses by AFL, CIO, and unaffiliated papers, and included brief comments from many respondents. Related files address the use of radio by labor and collect dispatches on the labor press.
Other files demonstrate Federated Press’s commitment to a broad vision of the labor movement, one which addressed racial discrimination alongside reports of the official operations of government and unions that accounted for a large part of its releases. While the focus of these dispatches was usually on government activity, Federated Press correspondents also covered racism within the labor movement. Several articles challenged unions to tackle the race issue. For example, Alexander Crosby’s November 29, 1940, dispatch, “Seattle Selected for 1941 as AFL Convention Ends,” gave prominent attention to a heated protest against an AFL decision to transfer a federal local of red caps and freight handlers to the Brotherhood of Railway & Steamship Clerks, whose constitution barred African-Americans from voting or holding union office (see Negroes: 1940-1942).
Among the lesser-known campaigns documented in the Frame-Ups file is the case of the Trenton 6, who were sentenced to death on flimsy evidence in 1949 on murder charges -- four of the defendants were acquitted on retrial in 1951. The file includes daily trial coverage, as well as coverage of the defense efforts that gained the support of the New Jersey CIO Council. Other files including substantial material on race relations include Housing, Ku Klux Klan, Negroes, Poll Tax, Race Prejudice, Scottsboro Case, Sharecroppers, and Southern Conference for Human Welfare.
These files provide at least limited coverage of virtually every major union that operated in the United States at the time. Three reels of film are devoted to dispatches on the National Labor Relations Board, covering appointments and confirmation hearings, speeches by NLRB officials, Board and court decisions, FBI surveillance of NLRB staff, and related matters. Federated offered close coverage of administrative appointments such as trial examiners, charging corporate influence in removing those with a record of pro-labor decisions in the 1949 screening process. The service also closely followed the passage and implementation of the Taft-Hartley Act, and the devastating impact it had on unions that refused to comply with its provisions. Federated Press’s attempts at neutrality did not extend to the Taft-Hartley Act, which it described as a “slave labor” law, or to union officials who turned to the law to strengthen their hand against more radical unions. It did, however, sympathetically cover resistance by local unions and the International Typographical Union, among others.
Other substantial files cover the aircraft industry, automobile industry (managing editor Carl Haessler had extensive experience with the United Auto Workers), building trades unions, AFL and CIO central labor bodies, civil liberties, conscription, farm interests, housing, injunctions against labor activities, international labor bodies, labor statistics, legislation, longshoremen, maritime, military, mine workers (both UMW and the Progressive Mine Workers, as well as an extensive file on the industry), newspapers (divided into categories such as Newspaper Workers, Chicago Tribune, Hearst, and Newspapers: Suppression and Distortion of News), oil (veteran Federated Press correspondent Harvey O’Connor had particular expertise in this area), (meat) packinghouse workers, politics, railroad unions, shipbuilding, steel industry, teachers, textile workers, unemployment, wage stabilization during World War II, various government agencies, and extensive files covering virtually every aspect of the war.
Federated’s interest in international affairs results in a number of smaller files on countries including the European powers (though there is a substantial file on Germany), as well as Australia, India, Japan, and the Philippines. On November 16, 1945, for example, the service featured a special section on the Philippines with mat illustrations and several articles. Three years later, Federated reported a Filipino labor leader’s charge that despite nominal independence the country was suffering under “the chains” of U.S. economic and military domination (Fred Zeserson, “Philippine Labor Leader Charges Independence a ‘Mockery,’” December 27, 1948; Philippines file). In an increasingly intolerant political climate, this sort of coverage, alongside the service’s coverage of the peace movement in the post-war era, contributed to charges of communist affiliation.
The limited and often hostile coverage afforded the labor movement by mainstream newspapers, which led to the formation of the Federated Press, also reduces their usefulness to many researchers. The Federated Press Records fills in many holes in press coverage, provides contemporary reports by observers with intimate knowledge of the labor movement to supplement union archives and memoirs, and documents labor movement responses to World War II, racism, the changing industrial relations regime, and the emerging post-war consensus. This collection will prove an invaluable resource for scholars of the 1940s and 1950s.v
Department of Communication and Journalism
. Letter to Marshall Bloom, Liberation News Service, March 10, 1968, Haessler Papers, Box 4, folder 9, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit. Similarly, Haessler's predecessor as managing editor, E.J. Costello, wrote Federated Press contributor William Hard on August 12, 1920, reassuring him that he had free range in his Federated Press articles. "The fact that any particular article you might write will not be pleasing to all of our members is no reason for not writing them. We are getting out from eight to ten thousand words a day, simply because of the different groups in the association and with the knowledge that it is impossible for any one publication to use all the material."
2. Reprinted in “A. F. of L. Reports on Federated Press,” The New Majority, Oct. 20, 1923, page 2.
3. For example, one dispatch, "UAW Extends Censorship to Independently Printed Local Papers," Nov. 23, 1950 (Labor Press), reports on the censorship of UAW Local 659's The Searchlight, which resulted in a front page containing little more than a boxed telegram from UAW headquarters declaring the paper's contents in violation of UAW policy.
4. This and all subsequent parenthetical references are to the subject files. This collection reproduces these files in alphabetical order.
5. In addition to the materials in this collection, scholars interested in the first two decades of the Federated Press will want to consult the service’s Chronological Files, available on microfilm at Columbia University. There is also extensive material on the service’s operations in the Carl Haessler Papers, at Wayne State University’s Archives of Labor History and Urban Affairs. The Haessler papers include membership records, minutes of Federated Press meetings, internal correspondence, and financial records. Other important sources include Stephen Haessler’s unpublished M.A. thesis, “Carl Haessler and the Federated Press” (University of Wisconsin Madison, 1977; copies are also at Columbia and other institutions) and Harvey and Jessie O’Connor’s memoir (edited by Susan Bowler), Harvey and Jessie: A Couple of Radicals (Temple University Press, 1988).
Federated Press Records are housed in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University in the City of New York. The Primary Source Microfilm edition, filmed from a microfilm version of the Records also housed at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia, features an improved collection guide with a detailed description of the Federated Press Records, including cross-referencing of selected topics for ease of use, as well as a full introduction to the Federated Press.