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Federated Press Records: American Labor Journalism in the Mid-Twentieth Century: Series 1: Parts 1-4: Subject Files


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About this Collection

Introduction: Federated Press Records: American Labor Journalism in theMid-Twentieth Century: Series 1: Parts 1-4: Subject Fi

Introduction: Federated Press Records: American LaborJournalism in the Mid-Twentieth Century: Series 1: Parts 1-4: Subject Files

 

Collection Overview

 

The Federated Press, an independent news service, served thelabor 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 counterthe anti-labor bias of commercial presses. Committed to objective reporting,its editors represented every hue in the political spectrum, from conservativeto independent to Socialist to Communist. At its peak shortly after World WarII, the Federated Press had over 250 subscribers among the labor press andcommercial newspapers.

 

The Federal Press news stories in this collection cover theperiod 1940-1956, the height of labor movement activity. These news storieschronicle a wide range of industries, labor activities, unions, federalagencies, legislation, and the relationship between labor on the one hand andgovernment 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 manydiverse groups in the political spectrum regarding labor issues, activities,and disputes of the time. These perspectives are not available from commercialnewspapers of the time. On the political front, the collection features newsstories 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 LaborBoard; issues between labor and local, state, and federal government; andcoverage of the intersection of labor with the Communist, Fascist, andSocialist movements. In addition to major news stories of national importance,the collection includes news of rank-and-file labor groups not generallycovered by commercial presses. A strength of this collection is its extensivecoverage of labor strikes across the nation during the war years and the ColdWar period, and labors heavy involvement in issues of civil liberties,especially those of African Americans.

 

The Federated Press Records were a gift to ColumbiaUniversity 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 bysubtopic within major topics). The news stories on each topic are organizedchronologically by year of coverage. The collection guide will enableresearchers to search by topic and cross reference to selected topics.

 

Introduction to the Collection

 

When Federated Press was launched in 1919, the U.S. labormovement boasted a substantial press, including daily newspapers and hundredsof substantial weekly publications. This labor press was as diverse as themovement it served, ranging from union newsletters largely devoted to internalbusiness to substantial daily newspapers such as the Milwaukee Leader.Unions published journals for their own members, but also sponsored weekly anddaily publications that articulated a more expansive (often highly political)working-class vision and reached far beyond the ranks of organized labor. Thisofficial labor press co-existed with a vibrant radical press deeply rooted inworking-class communities. Convinced that labor could not get fair play in amainstream press dominated by big business, unions and other workersorganizations maintained their own press as part of efforts to develop analternative public sphere.

 

Federated Press was organized at a November 25, 1919,meeting of 32 farm-labor, socialist, and union editors attending the Farm-LaborParty convention in Chicago. It was launched as a twice-weekly mail service inJanuary 1920, expanding to daily service later that year to better serve memberdailies. For the next 36 years, Federated Press offered member papers a dailyservice including labor and political reportage, feature stories, columns,humorous shorts, and, for much of its run, a mat service providing laborcartoons and photographs. But the labor press it served was transformed duringthis period. In 1919, many labor papers were edited by rank-and-file unionmembers, often directly elected by their fellow workers; by the 1950s, theseworker-editors had been largely replaced by professional journalists and publicrelations operatives hired by, and accountable to, top union officials. Only afew labor dailies survived, and these were generally confined toforeign-language enclaves. The still strong weekly labor press had reached anaccommodation with the mainstream press sharply counterposed to theoppositional world view that had motivated Federated Presss founders.

 

By January 1921, Federated Press was serving 100 membernewspapers, including 22 dailies (many foreign-language newspapers),representing a broad spectrum of the labor movement, from the Socialist Partyand the Industrial Workers of the World to several unions and central laborcouncils affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. The service soughtto provide what managing editor Carl Haessler termed an independent objectivelabor news service.1 But this was a particular sort of objectivity,deeply committed to the labor movement but not aligned to any particularcurrent within it. Federateds commitment to representing the entire spectrumof the labor movement led to recurring charges of communist domination. In1923, the American Federation of Labors annual convention adopted a highlycritical report warning the labor press to be on guard against the insidiousencroachment of subversive propaganda either through the Federated Press or anyother channel. The Federated Press upon its own record cannot hope to have andshould not have the support of trade union publications or of trade unionorganizations.2

 

Despite this warning, several AFL-affiliated publicationscontinued to hold Federated Press membership throughout its existence. In the1930s Federated Press was warmly embraced by many of the emerging CIO unions,providing on-the-spot coverage of the sit-down strikes and organizing campaignsthat revived the labor movement. Indeed, relations were so close that Haesslerand veteran Federated Press correspondent Harvey OConnor served for a time asthe editors of the CIOs auto and oil publications.) Federated not onlysupplied a rich diet of union news during this period, but also organizedmeetings of labor editors to help foster the growth of the labor press. Butwhile Federated Press dispatches always backed unions in their disputes withemployers, the service also covered wildcat strikes and opposition caucuses. Anincreasingly institutionalized labor movement did not welcome suchindependence. In 1949, as McCarthyism was heating up, several AFL and CIOofficials formed Labor Press Associates to counter Federateds dominance of thelabor news market. With substantial financial backing from its sponsoringunions, LPA was quickly able to sign on over 200 union newspapers, some of whomdropped Federated for the new, officially sanctioned, and cheaper service. Themerger of the AFL and the CIO in 1956 (and the purging of leftist unions thatpreceded it) left only a handful of member papers when Federated ceasedoperations in November 1956.

 

The present collection is comprised of Federated PresssSubject Files, maintained from January 1940 through the services demise in1956. Primarily comprised of marked tear sheets, the files also contain alimited number of source documents, such as a bulletin circulated by the UnitedElectrical Workers Union (UE) offering a detailed critique of a convention ofthe rival International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE-CIO). Most reportswere compiled by the Eastern Bureau in New York City (which despite its nameoffered national and international coverage), although the collection alsoincludes dispatches from the smaller Washington (DC) and Central (Chicago andDetroit) bureaus (the Central Bureau did not survive into the 1950s).Especially in these later years, Federateds small staff meant it relied onmember newspapers, a handful of stringers scattered across the country, and thetelephone to offer a reasonably comprehensive service.

 

The dispatches are filed in reverse chronological order intohundreds of subject files, often subdivided by date or company. Few run longerthan a mimeographed legal-size page; most are shorter. While the collection isdominated by news reports, columns, and features (in that order), it alsoincludes humor, poetry, and songs (filed by subject). Most columns areinterfiled with news reports, but there is a separate file for Scott Nearingscolumns on the economy and World War II.

 

The Federated Press files offer an invaluable overview ofthe labor movement of the 1940s and 1950s, with extensive material on laborsresponse to Taft-Hartley, internal union struggles, and the debates overcommunism 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 replaceprimary sources, in many cases it provides richer documentation of majorspeeches and debates, and of rank-and-file reaction, than can be found in unionarchives or publications.3 The collection will prove particularlyuseful to labor and journalism historians, but there is also substantialmaterial on wartime conditions, race relations, independent political action,and related topics.

 

Labors post-war struggles are reflected in many files,ranging from the efforts of District 65 to defend its jurisdiction and fend offred-baiting attacks that undermined its strikes and threatened its veryexistence (see Department Stores),4 to efforts to deport ILWU leaderHarry Bridges (see Deportations: Bridges Case), to the left-right battles thattore apart UE after 1949 (addressed in extensive files under the main headingElectrical Radio & Machine Workers, United, and to a lesser extent in dispatchesfiled under Electrical Industry). Other relevant materials will be found filedunder Blacklist, Civil Liberties, Dies Committee, Legislation, Little DiesCommittees, and NLRB Smith Investigation.

 

Reflecting Federated Presss policy of neutrality in intra-uniondisputes, Federated sought to cover the split in UE, and the fight between UEand IUE that followed, fairly impartially. It provided extensive coverage ofthe disputes, highlighting solidarity efforts across union lines and attemptsto maintain and re-establish unity. This approach was typical of FederatedPress coverage in the era, which sought to give a fair hearing to all sides buttended to see labor more as a movement than an institution, and so tiltedtoward militancy, solidarity, and rank-and-file initiative. Federatedcolumnists took more liberties, generally explicitly supporting UE against IUEred-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-daycoverage of industrial disputes, sometimes based on other press reports,sometimes on stories filed by Federated Press correspondents, but usually basedon union accounts and interviews. Any major dispute is likely to be covered,and many smaller ones as well (particularly where Federated Press had acorrespondent).

 

This collection also features extensive coverage oforganizing efforts, such as files containing hundreds of pages of reports onefforts to organize farm workers in the 1940s and 1950s. Largely based oninterviews with union officials and coverage of hearings and other governmentaction initiated at unions behest, farm workers voices are rarely heard inthese reports (although there are accounts of workers complaints to laborcommissions and testimony during various official proceedings). But thesereports do document both persistent attempts to organize and severallittle-known strikes, as well as the problems of migratory workers as seen by unionofficials (including early efforts to restrict the use of immigrant labor). AnOctober 6, 1947 dispatch reported federal government threats to deport Mexicanfarm workers imported under the bracero program if they joined a fruitpickers strike at the DiGiorgio ranch; this strike continued for another twoyears (see Agricultural Workers, 1946-1949). Other reports documentagricultural organizing campaigns and strikes across the Southwest, as well asin Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

 

An interesting, if small, file includes the results of amonthly survey of labor editors, addressing questions such as attacks on civilliberties, the Lend-Lease bill, politics, and press attitudes toward labor,which Federated Press initiated in 1940 (and later replaced with a column ofexcerpts from the labor press). The survey broke out responses by AFL, CIO, andunaffiliated papers, and included brief comments from many respondents. Relatedfiles address the use of radio by labor and collect dispatches on the labor press.

 

Other files demonstrate Federated Presss commitment to abroad vision of the labor movement, one which addressed racial discriminationalongside reports of the official operations of government and unions thataccounted for a large part of its releases. While the focus of these dispatcheswas usually on government activity, Federated Press correspondents also coveredracism within the labor movement. Several articles challenged unions to tacklethe race issue. For example, Alexander Crosbys November 29, 1940, dispatch,Seattle Selected for 1941 as AFL Convention Ends, gave prominent attention toa heated protest against an AFL decision to transfer a federal local of redcaps 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-Upsfile is the case of the Trenton 6, who were sentenced to death on flimsyevidence in 1949 on murder charges - four of the defendants were acquitted onretrial in 1951. The file includes daily trial coverage, as well as coverage ofthe 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 virtuallyevery major union that operated in the United States at the time. Three reelsof 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 trialexaminers, charging corporate influence in removing those with a record ofpro-labor decisions in the 1949 screening process. The service also closelyfollowed the passage and implementation of the Taft-Hartley Act, and thedevastating impact it had on unions that refused to comply with its provisions.Federated presss attempts at neutrality did not extend to the Taft-HartleyAct, which it described as a slave labor law, or to union officials whoturned to the law to strengthen their hand against more radical unions. It did,however, sympathetically cover resistance by local unions and the InternationalTypographical Union, among others.

 

Other substantial files cover the aircraft industry,automobile industry (managing editor Carl Haessler had extensive experiencewith the United Auto Workers), building trade unions, AFL and CIO central laborbodies, civil liberties, conscription, farm interests, housing, injunctionsagainst labor activities, international labor bodies, labor statistics,legislation, longshoremen, maritime, military, mine workers (both UMW and theProgressive Mine Workers, as well as an extensive file on the industry),newspapers (divided into categories such as Newspaper Workers, ChicagoTribune, Hearst, and Newspapers: Suppression and Distortion of News), oil(veteran Federated Press correspondent Harvey OConnor had particular expertisein this area), (meat) packinghouse workers, politics, railroad unions,shipbuilding, steel industry, teachers, textile workers, unemployment, wagestabilization during World War II, various government agencies, and extensivefiles covering virtually every aspect of the war.

 

Federateds interest in international affairs results in anumber of smaller files on countries including the European powers (thoughthere is a substantial file on Germany), as well as Australia, India, Japan,and the Philippines. On November 16, 1945, for example, the service featured aspecial section on the Philippines with mat illustrations and several articles.Three years later, Federated reported a Filipino labor leaders charge thatdespite nominal independence the country was suffering under the chains ofU.S. economic and military domination (Fred Zeserson, Philippine Labor LeaderCharges Independence a Mockery, December 27, 1948; Philippines file). In anincreasingly intolerant political climate, this sort of coverage, alongside theservices coverage of the peace movement in the post-war era, contributed tocharges of communist affiliation.

 

The limited and often hostile coverage afforded the labormovement by mainstream newspapers, which led to the formation of the FederatedPress, also reduces their usefulness to many researchers. The FederatedPress Records fills in many holes in press coverage, provides contemporaryreports by observers with intimate knowledge of the labor movement tosupplement union archives and memoirs, and documents labor movement responsesto World War II, racism, the changing industrial relations regime, and theemerging post-war consensus. This collection will prove an invaluable resourcefor scholars of the 1940s and 1950s.5

 

Jon Bekken
Department of Communication and Journalism
Suffolk University

 

Notes

 

1 Letter to Marshall Bloom, Liberation News Service, March 10, 1968.Haessler papers, Box 4, folder 9, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, ReutherLibrary, Wayne State University, Detroit. Similarly, Haesslers predecessor asmanaging editor, E.J. Costello, wrote Federated Press contributor William Hardon August 12, 1920, reassuring him that he had free range in his FederatedPress articles. The fact that any particular article you might write will notbe pleasing to all of our members is no reason for not writing them. We aregetting out from eight to ten thousand words a day, simply because of thedifferent groups in the association and with the knowledge that it isimpossible for any one publication to use all the material.

 

2Reprinted in A.F. ofL. Reports on Federated Press, The New Majority, Oct. 20, 1923, page 2.

 

3For example, onedispatch, UAW Extends Censorship to Independently Printed Local Papers, Nov.23, 1950 (Labor Press), reports on the censorship of UAW Local 659s TheSearchlight, which resulted in a front page containing little more than aboxed telegram from UAW headquarters declaring the papers contents inviolation of UAW policy.

 

4This and allsubsequent parenthetical references are to the subject files. This collection reproducesthese files in alphabetical order.

 

5In addition to thematerials in this collection, scholars interested in the first two decades ofthe Federated Press will want to consult the services Chronological Files,available on microfilm at Columbia University. There is also extensive materialon the services operations in the Carl Haessler Papers, at Wayne StateUniversitys Archives of Labor History and Urban Affairs. The Haessler papersinclude membership records, minutes of Federated Press meetings, internalcorrespondence, and financial records. Other important sources include StephenHaesslers unpublished M.A. thesis, Carl Haessler and the Federated Press(University of Wisconsin Madison, 1977; copies are also at Columbia and otherinstitutions) and Harvey and Jessie OConnors memoir (edited by Susan Bowler),Harvey and Jessie: A Couple of Radicals (Temple University Press, 1988).

 

 

Editorial Note

 

Federated Press Records are housed in the Rare Bookand Manuscript Library of Columbia University in the City of New York. ThePrimary Source Media, an imprint of Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, edition,filmed from a microfilm version of the Records also housed at the RareBook and Manuscript Library of Columbia, features an improved collection guidewith a detailed description of the Federated Press Records, includingcross-referencing of selected topics for ease of use, as well as a fullintroduction to the Federated Press.

 

Format

 

This guide lists materials in the order in which they appearon the reels. The collection is organized alphabetically by topic.

 

Acknowledgments

 

Primary Source Media wishes to thank Jean Ashton, Director,Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, for her commitment tomaking this collection widely available; Jon Bekken, Associate Professor,Department of Communication and Journalism, Suffolk, University, a noted laborhistorian, for writing the introduction to the collection; the staff of theRare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia for their assistance andcooperation. Primary Source Media wishes to acknowledge the New York StateLibrary, which provided a preservation grant to Columbia University tomicrofilm the Federated Press collection in 1986. The microfilm prepared as aresult of that grant is available free of charge from the Rare Book andManuscript Library at Columbia University for onsite use and throughinterlibrary loan.