Federated Press Records: American Labor Journalism in the Mid-Twentieth Century: Series 3: Chronological Files, 1920-1940
About this Collection
Introduction: Federated Press Records: American LaborJournalism in the Mid-
Twentieth Century: Series 3: Chronological Files, 1920-1940
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 Federated Press news stories in the Chronological Files,1920-1940, cover the period from the inception of the labor movement to theheight of labor movement activity. These news stories chronicle a wide range ofindustries, labor activities, unions, federal agencies, legislation, and therelationship between labor on the one hand and government and industry on theother. Stories cover labor issues, activities, and unions in the majorindustries. They objectively report the positions of many diverse groups in thepolitical spectrum regarding labor issues, activities, and disputes of thetime. These perspectives are not available from commercial newspapers of thetime. In addition to major news stories of national importance, the collectionincludes news of rank-and-file labor groups not generally covered by commercialpresses.
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 Chronological Files are organized by date in ascendingchronological order. The Federated Press bureau that filed the story isidentified as well. The Chronological Files will enable the reader to followall the major labor events and issues of a particular time period and theirrelations to each other and the political and economic issues of the time.
Introduction to theCollection
When Federated Press was launched in 1919, the U.S. labormovement boasted a substantial press, including daily newspapers and hundredsof weekly publications. This labor press was as diverse as the movement itserved, ranging from union newsletters largely devoted to internal business todaily newspapers such as the Milwaukee Leader. Unions published journalsfor their own members, but also sponsored weekly and daily publications that articulateda more expansive (and often highly political) working-class vision, reachingfar beyond the ranks of organized labor. This official labor press co-existedwith a vibrant radical press deeply rooted in working-class communities.Convinced that labor could not get fair play in mainstream newspapers dominatedby big business, unions and other workers organizations maintained their ownpress as part of their efforts to develop an alternative public sphere.
Federated Press was a key part of that effort. Organized ata November 25, 1919 meeting of thirty-two farm-labor, socialist, and unioneditors attending the Farm-Labor Party convention in Chicago, it launched atwice-weekly mail service in January 1920 and expanded to daily service laterthat year to better serve member dailies. For the next thirty-six years,Federated Press offered member papers a daily service including labor andpolitical reportage, feature stories, columns, humorous shorts, and, for muchof its run, a mat service providing labor cartoons and photographs. But thelabor press it served was transformed during this period. In 1919, many laborpapers were edited by rank-and-file union members, often directly elected bytheir fellow workers; by the 1950s, these worker-editors had been largelyreplaced by professional journalists and public relations operatives hired by,and accountable to, top union officials. Just a few labor dailies survived, andthese were generally confined to foreign-language enclaves. The still strongweekly labor press had reached an accommodation with the mainstream pressincompatible with the oppositional world view that had motivated FederalPresss founders.
By January 1921, Federated Press served one hundred membernewspapers, including twenty-two dailies (many foreign-language newspapers).Federated Press represented a broad spectrum of the labor movement, from theSocialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World to several unions andcentral labor councils affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Theservice sought to provide what managing editor Carl Haessler termed anindependent objective labor news service.1 But this was aparticular sort of objectivity, deeply committed to the labor movement but notaligned to any particular current within it. Federateds commitment torepresenting the entire spectrum of the labor movement led to recurring chargesof communist domination. In 1923, the American Federation of Labors annualconvention adopted a highly critical report warning the labor press to be onguard against the insidious encroachment of subversive propaganda eitherthrough the Federated Press or any other channel. The Federated Press upon itsown record cannot hope to have and should not have the support of trade unionpublications or of trade union organizations.2
Despite this warning, several AFL-affiliated publicationscontinued to hold Federated Press membership throughout its existence. In the1930s Federated Press war warmly embraced by many of the emerging Congress ofIndustrial Organizations (CIO) unions, providing on-the-spot coverage of thesit-down strikes and organizing campaigns that revived the labor movement.Indeed, relations were so close that Haessler and veteran Federated Presscorrespondent Harvey OConnor served for a time as the editors of the CIOsauto and oil publications. Federateds board of directors, however, wascarefully balanced between the competing labor federations. But while FederatedPress dispatches always backed unions in their disputes with employers, theservice also covered wildcat strikes and opposition caucuses. An increasinglyinstitutionalized labor movement did not welcome such independence. In 1949, asMcCarthyism was heating up, several AFL and CIO officials formed Labor PressAssociates (LPA) to counter Federateds dominance of the labor news market.With substantial financial backing from its sponsoring unions, LPA was quicklyable to sign on more than 200 union newspapers, some of whom dropped Federatedfor the new, officially sanctioned, and cheaper service. The merger of the AFLand the CIO in 1956 (and the purging of leftist unions that preceded it) leftFederated only a handful of member papers, and it ceased operations in November1956.
Series 2,Biographical Files, and Series 3,Chronological Files, 1920-1940 complete the microfilm edition of theFederated Press Collection housed at Columbia University. With the Publicationof Series 2 and 3, the entire Federated Press Collection is readily availableto researchers. Series 1 consists of the Federated Press Subject Files,maintained from January 1940 through the services demise in 1956.
Particularly valuable in this collection are the daily andweekly reports issued by Federateds Eastern Bureau in New York City (whichdespite its name offered national and international coverage) and itsWashington, DC, and Central (Chicago, and later Detroit) bureaus. None of thesebureaus employed more than a couple of reporter/editors, which meant thatFederateds small staff relied on member newspapers, a handful of stringersscattered across the country, and the telephone to offer a reasonablycomprehensive service.
The Chronological Files are organized in ascendingchronological order by month and year, but the dispatches for each month arefiled in reverse chronological order, sometimes divided by bureau.3 Fewarticles run longer than a mimeographed legal-size page; many are just anuntitled paragraph in length. While the dispatches are dominated by newsreports, columns, and features (in that order), the service also includescartoons (sampling the mats available through the service for reproduction),humor, poetry, and songs. The dispatches cover efforts by radicals first totransform some of the leading AFL unions and then to build alternative unions,as well as the early stirrings of the industrial union movement that led to thefounding of the CIO. This coverage, like Federateds coverage of internal uniondebates more generally, sought to provide a forum for all the contendingparties, even if on balance it tended to be more sympathetic to those seeking amore militant, progressive labor movement. Federated also embraced efforts bylabor activists to transcend these differences, as in an April 18, 1938, reporton cooperation between AFL and CIO unions in Flint, Michigan. The 1924 Patersonsilk strike received extensive and sympathetic coverage from Federatedcorrespondent Art Shields, but so did more mainstream efforts by the UnitedGarment Workers and the Amalgamated Metal Workers campaign against clothingmade by convict labor.
The collection includes often detailed coverage ofconventions of the AFL and CIO and their affiliates, but also covers dissidentcurrents within those unions as well as independent unions such as theAmalgamated Metal Workers, Industrial Workers of the World, and the ProgressiveMineworkers. In 1920, Federated offered daily coverage of the wildcat strikewave by railroad workers that swept the country, but also of AFL efforts todevelop a new approach to organizing the steel industry in the aftermath of afailed 1919 strike. In the 1930s, Federated correspondents closely followed(and often participated in) efforts to organize mass production industries,giving Federated Press dispatches an invaluable (if often quite partisan)insiders view of a critical moment in U.S. labor history.
In addition to covering official and rank-and-file labornews, Federated Press gave extensive coverage to agrarian reform movements,international labor (including consistently enthusiastic coverage of SovietRussia in the 1920s), and independent and socialist political action. Thus,during the 1924 presidential campaign Federated offered enthusiastic coverageof Robert LaFollettes candidacy on the Progressive Party ticket (and thedoomed efforts to form a new political party that followed), and offered acritical look back at Calvin Coolidges role in breaking the Boston policestrike in 1919, but also offered shorter, neutral coverage of competing ticketsfielded by the Socialist Labor and Workers (Communist) parties. In 1933, the Washingtonbureau covered heated debates over the legislative proposals to confront theeconomic crisis.4 In later years, Federated offered routine coverageof the major parties labor platforms, but continued to cover radical campaignsand efforts to build independent labor parties.
In addition to covering regional labor news, in the 1920sthe Chicago Bureau offered economic news and analysis, as well as a labor slanton business news, much of it based on official reports. Federated Presscorrespondent Leland Olds offered trenchant analysis of corporate consolidationand profits in the 1920s, often linking workers poverty to the elitesextravagant philanthropy.5 Scott Nearing also offered frequenteconomic commentary to Federated Press subscribers. Federated Press alsocarried extensive international news, much of it drawn from its early alliancewith the independent Labour Daily Herald in London, but it alsoreflected the strongly internationalist vision which motivated the insurgentlabor movement that formed Federateds base. Federateds international coveragefocused on labor political action, short reports of labor struggles, and,especially in the 1930s, anti-fascist activities.
The Biographical Files are primarily comprised of markedtear sheets beginning in 1940, although they contain a limited number of sourcedocuments, some of which were collected in the 1930s, such as a pamphlet issuedby the American Civil Liberties Union, Mayor Hague vs. Civil Rights, which isincluded in the Hague file. Organized alphabetically by person, theBiographical Files include clippings on thousands of labor leaders,politicians, business leaders and others who were the subjects of FederatedPress coverage in the 1940s and 1950s. These clippings often shed light on aspectsof their subjects careers that might be overlooked in more traditionalsources. As one would expect, there are extensive files on most of theprominent (and many not-so-prominent) labor figures of the era. But FederatedPress also maintained a Washington, DC, bureau to ensure labor-orientedpolitical coverage, and as a result there are substantial files on figures suchas U.S. Senator Scott Lucas, who served as Democratic Party majority leaderbefore losing his seat and becoming a lobbyist.6 Files on laborleaders such as Harry Lundeberg, a labor leader of Sailors Union of thePacific, are as much a record of struggles within the maritime unions as ofLundebergs career. Federateds interest in international affairs also resultsin a number of shorter files on politicians and labor leaders from othercountries, such as a file on Otto Hapsburg that offers a glimpse into relationsbetween Austrian and U.S. labor leaders. And there are files on anti-laborfigures such as San Francisco police chief Charles Dullea, Ku Klux Klan GrandDragon Sam Green, and publisher Henry Luce.
A major strength of the Federated Press collection is itsday-by-day coverage of industrial disputes, sometimes by Federated Presscorrespondents, but usually based on union accounts and interviews. Any majordispute is likely to be covered, and many smaller ones as well (particularly inregions where Federated Press had a correspondent). There are detaileddispatches covering union conventions and organizing campaigns. While this coveragecannot replace primary sources, in many cases it provides richer documentationof major speeches and debates, and of rank-and-file reaction, than can be foundin union archives or publications. The collection will prove particularlyuseful to labor and journalism historians, but because there is alsosubstantial material on 1920s economic conditions, anti-radical campaigns, racerelations, independent political action, and related topics, the collectionwill be valuable to researchers in economics, politics and government, andAfrican American studies.
Among the subjects covered by the Federated Press during theperiod documented by this collection are the amnesty campaign for radicalsimprisoned during World War I, anti-colonial movements (which enjoyedwidespread support within the progressive labor movement of the 1920s), earlyefforts to integrate unions and other civil rights struggles, organizing in theautomobile industry (managing editor Carl Haessler had extensive experiencewith the United Auto Workers), post-World War II civil liberties struggles,deportations of radical immigrant workers in the early 1920s, agrarianmovements, labor conditions in the garment industry, housing policy,injunctions against labor activities, international labor bodies, laborstatistics, mine workers, packinghouse workers, railroad unions, the revival ofthe Ku Klux Klan, organizing mass production workers in the steel industry, andefforts to address unemployment.
The collection features coverage of virtually every majorunion that operated in the United States at the time. Federateds Washingtonbureau offered close coverage of government activities affecting the labormovement alongside reports of the official operations of government and unions.Other files demonstrate Federateds Presss commitment to a broad vision of thelabor movement, one which addressed racial discrimination within it. Thelimited and often hostile coverage afforded the labor movement by mainstreamnewspapers, which led to the formation of the Federated Press, also reducestheir usefulness to many researchers. Because it reflected many differingperspectives, the Federated Press collection provides a much wider scope ofcoverage and fills in many holes in mainstream press coverage. Its contemporaryreports by observers with intimate knowledge of the labor movement supplementsunion archives and memoirs and documents labor movement responses to World WarII, racism, the changing industrial relations regime, and the emerging post-warconsensus. Together with Series 1,Subject Files, Series 2,Biographical Files, and Series 3,Chronological Files are an invaluable resource on the labor movement of the1920s through the 1950s.7
1Letter toMarshall Bloom, Liberation News Service, March 10, 1968, Haessler Papers, Box4, folder 9, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Reuther Library, Wayne StateUniversity, Detroit. Similarly, Haesslers 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. Thefact that any particular article you might write will not be pleasing to all ofour members is no reason for not writing them. We are getting out from eight toten thousand words a day, simply because of the different groups in theassociation and with the knowledge that it is impossible for any onepublication to use all the material.
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,based on a microfilm version of the Records also housed at the Rare Book andManuscript Library of Columbia, features an improved collection guide with adetailed description of the Federated Press Records, as well as a fullintroduction to the Federated Press.
This guide lists materials in the order in which they appearon the reels. The Chronological Files are organized in ascending chronologicalorder by date.
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 ofCommunications at Albright College, a noted labor historian, for writing theintroduction to the collection; the staff of the Rare Book and ManuscriptLibrary at Columbia for their assistance and cooperation. Primary Source Mediawishes to acknowledge the New York State Library, which provided a preservationgrant to Columbia University to microfilm the Federated Press collection in1986. The microfilm prepared as a result of that grant is available free ofcharge from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University foronsite use and through interlibrary loan.