The Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL)
is an umbrella organization for unions
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...
, USA. It is a subordinate body of the AFL-CIO
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, commonly AFL–CIO, is a national trade union center, the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of 56 national and international unions, together representing more than 11 million workers...
, and as of 2011 has about 320 affiliated member unions representing half a million union members in Cook County.
The labor body is also involved in political lobbying
Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by various people or groups, from private-sector individuals or corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or...
, often in alliance with other allied organizations (e.g.,. Interfaith Worker Justice
Interfaith Worker Justice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan religious organization that educates and mobilizes the religious people of all faiths in the United States on issues important to working people....
), is active in Chicago politics, and participates in many of Chicago's civic committees (composed of business and city leaders).
The CFL was formed by the American Federation of Labor
The American Federation of Labor was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States. It was founded in 1886 by an alliance of craft unions disaffected from the Knights of Labor, a national labor association. Samuel Gompers was elected president of the Federation at its...
(AFL) on November 9, 1896. In part, the federation was an outgrowth of previous umbrella labor bodies in the city, many of which had fragmented during the previous two decades. But, in part, the formation of the CFL was an attempt to end corruption in Chicago's labor unions. Only over time did the CFL change its focus to strengthening the efforts of individual union locals by creating a unified voice for the city's labor movement, uphold the labor rights
Labor rights or workers' rights are a group of legal rights and claimed human rights having to do with labor relations between workers and their employers, usually obtained under labor and employment law. In general, these rights' debates have to do with negotiating workers' pay, benefits, and safe...
of its union members, and mediate contract disputes on behalf of local unions. Unfortunately, the CFL was dominated in its early years by Martin "Skinny" Madden, a notoriously corrupt labor leader who had managed to get himself elected President, Vice President and Treasurer for life in his Steamfitters' local in Chicago.
The early years of the CFL saw corrupt and reform elements battle for control. The CFL's constitution required an election for the presidency every six months, which encouraged instability, and a new president was elected roughly every year in the organization's first decade. Elections were also rife with fraud and violence. In January 1903, Madden arranged to have the names of all the reform candidates placed low on the ballot, many names were misspelled to deny the candidate election, and some names omitted altogether. Unions on both sides padded their membership lists in order to have more delegates to the convention. At least seven major brawls broke out on the convention floor, and one man was injured so badly he had to be rushed to the hospital. Only police intervention brought order. The July 1904 election saw such widespread violence (including fistfights in front of the ballot boxes). Three brawlers had to be carried home.
Reform elements began to get the upper hand in 1905. Charles Dold was elected in January of that year despite ballot irregularities, accusations of bribery, and ballot box stuffing. When Dold appeared to have enough support to win re-election on July 16, 1905, Madden's supporters attempted to prevent his victory by smashing ballot boxes and destroying ballots. Madden's thugs severely beat Michael Donnelly
Michael Donnelly may refer to:*Michael Donnelly , Roman Catholic priest from Ireland*Michael Donnelly , former United States Air Force and advocate of veterans of the Gulf war...
, a Dold supporter and international president of the Amalgamated Butcher Workmen
The Amalgamated Meat Cutters , officially the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, was a labor union that represented retail butchers and packinghouse workers.-History:...
, on the floor of the convention in full view of hundreds of delegates. Madden disrupted the election so much that a new election was held on August 6. Again, Madden used violence and fraud to force cancellation of the election. Dold finally won re-election on August 13. Madden's forces boycotted the August 13 election and claimed the results were invalid. He pressured the CFL into invalidating the election on August 20, but public outcry and an investigation by the AFL led the CFL to reverse itself on September 3.
John Fitzpatrick was an Irish-born American trade union leader. He is best remembered as the longtime head of the powerful Chicago Federation of Labor from 1906 until his death in 1946.-Early years:...
was elected CFL president on January 21, 1906. Despite repeated attempts to deny reform delegates seats at subsequent conventions and install his own puppet as CFL president, Dold and Fitzpatrick branded Madden a dual unionist
Dual unionism is the development of a union or political organization parallel to and within an existing labor union. In some cases, the term may refer to the situation where two unions claim the right to organize the same workers....
for being under the control of organized crime
Organized crime or criminal organizations are transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals for the purpose of engaging in illegal activity, most commonly for monetary profit. Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist organizations, are...
. They campaigned actively against him and his most powerful supporter throughout the fall and winter. More than 150 policemen were on guard in the convention hall on January 21 to ensure that there was no repeat of the violence of 1905. Fitzpatrick easily outpolled his opponent, two to one.
Fitzpatrick's election ushered in an era of stability and reform for the labor federation. The CFL gained increasing amounts of autonomy, and became one of the nation's leading central labor federations. For a while, William Z. Foster and his circle, briefly organized as the International Trade Union Educational League
The International Trade Union Educational League was a short lived organization led by William Z. Foster from 1915 to around 1917. It carried over some of the ideas of his former Syndicalist League of North America about boring from within existing trade unions, but had less radical rhetoric.A call...
became influential. In the 1910s and during World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...
, Fitzpatrick oversaw mass organizing drives in steel and meatpacking, led by Foster. The CFL also affiliated the Chicago Federation of Teachers, providing critical support for the nascent teachers' union movement. After World War I, the CFL was active in the formation of the short-lived Labor Party of the United States
The first modern Farmer–Labor Party in the United States emerged in Minnesota in 1918. Economic dislocation caused by American entry into World War I put agricultural prices and workers' wages into imbalance with rapidly escalating retail prices during the war years, and farmers and workers sought...
. Fitzpatrick endorsed socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...
and remained a political progressive for the rest of his life, although he also fought bitterly to keep communists
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...
out of the labor movement.
Fitzpatrick also worked to counter perceived press bias against labor. From 1926 through 1979, the Chicago Federation of Labor operated a radio station, WCFL
WCFL was the callsign of a commercial radio station in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was owned by the Chicago Federation of Labor, hence its call letters. The station is now known as WMVP. Its transmitter is located in Downers Grove and is still in use by WMVP...
, as the "Voice of Labor" in the Midwest.
Fitzpatrick died in office in September 1946 at the age of 75. His successor was William A. Lee, a vice president of the Teamsters. Lee expanded CFL's role in the politics. Although personally a conservative, Lee continued to support a broad liberal agenda. Lee was a close friend to Chicago Mayor
The Mayor of Chicago is the chief executive of Chicago, Illinois, the third largest city in the United States. He or she is charged with directing city departments and agencies, and with the advice and consent of the Chicago City Council, appoints department and agency leaders.-Appointment...
Richard J. Daley
Richard Joseph Daley served for 21 years as the mayor and undisputed Democratic boss of Chicago and is considered by historians to be the "last of the big city bosses." He played a major role in the history of the Democratic Party, especially with his support of John F...
, and a very strong backer of the Cook County Democratic Party. Although the AFL and the Congress of Industrial Organizations
The Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO, proposed by John L. Lewis in 1932, was a federation of unions that organized workers in industrial unions in the United States and Canada from 1935 to 1955. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 required union leaders to swear that they were not...
merged in 1955, the respective Chicago bodies did not do so until 1962. Lee was elected president of the unified organization, and remained so until his death in 1984.
Since Lee's death, there have been five presidents of the Chicago Federation of Labor, about one every five years. Twice (Robert Healey and Don Turner) the presidency has gone to a member from the Chicago Federation of Teachers, giving the teachers union a top spokesperson in the labor federation for 14 of the last 23 years. Healey was the first president since Charles Dold in 1905 to retire from the presidency rather than die in office. Under Healey, the CFL began to distance itself from its close relationship with the Democratic Party to take a more independent stance on issues. Under Turner, the CFL emphasized community investment, workforce development, affordable living, and an end to urban sprawl.
Presidents of the CFL
Following is a list of the presidents of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
- Thomas Preece, November 10, 1896-February 7, 1897
- P. F. Doyle, February 8, 1897-January 15, 1898
- William T. Dunn, January 16, 1898-July 16, 1898
- P. F. Doyle, July 17, 1898-July 16, 1899
- James Daly, July 17, 1899-July 16, 1900
- John Fitzpatrick, July 16, 1900-January 16, 1901
- James H. Bowman, January 17, 1901-July 20, 1902
- George Lighthall, July 21, 1902-January 18, 1903
- William Schardt, January 19, 1903-January 15, 1905
- Charles M. Dold, January 16, 1905-January 20, 1906
- John Fitzpatrick, January 21, 1906-1946
- William A. Lee, 1946–1984
- Edward F. Brabec, 1984–1986
- Robert Healey, 1987–1994
- Michael Bruton, 1994–1995
- Don Turner, 1995–2002
- Dennis J. Gannon, 2002–present (2007)
- Jorge Ramirez (elected 2010)