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Eras The history of Rochester’s central labor bodies can best be read in terms of three main periods, each characterized by its source materials.

Era 1: 1855 - 1909 The early history, from the Monroe County Workingmen’s Assembly and the Knights of Labor through the first years of the AFL’s Rochester Trades Assembly. As local labor journals of this period do not survive, documentation is largely from secondary sources.

Era 2: 1910 - 1959 This period, revealed through a series of local labor journals, covers the Central Trades and Labor Council through the split between its AFL and CIO unions in 1938 and their merger in 1959.

Era 3: 1960 - 2005 The story of the Rochester & Vicinity Labor Council, recorded in the pages of Labor News, extends from the local AFL-CIO merger through the formation in 2001 of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation and the Change to Win challenge to the AFL in 2005.

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Topics The story of Rochester’s central labor bodies is presented here in terms of several major topics suggested by the data:

Media– the role of labor papers in Rochester’s labor movement

Education– instructional and cultural programs and activities that promote the local labor movement

Solidarity– support for the union label, shop card and service button; boycotts and strike support

Politics– efforts to advance workers’ interests through electoral work and legislative initiatives

Organizing– strategies and campaigns to bring workers into unions

Community– labor’s role in civic issues such as local housing and health

Structure– how the councils functioned

Building Trades– Allied Building Trades Council – history of collaboration among unions in the construction industry

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Who’s Who The history of Rochester’s central labor bodies is revealed in significant ways through the participation of officers and the efforts of their active members. Documentation includes:

List of Presidentsdrawn from many sources

Lists of Officersdrawn from several sources

Biographical Sketches (1897)from the Illustrated History

Biographical Sketches (1930) from the Labor Herald and Citizen

Biographical Sketches (1939)printed in the Labor Herald

Biographical Sketches (1940-2005)from various sources

Biographical Sketches (2006)drawn from interviews

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Welcome to Rochester Labor Council History: 1855-2005, a Web Site commemorating the role of Rochester New York’s central labor bodies.

Union shop sign

These bodies have a rich history of collaborative efforts to assist workers to organize unions, to win and enforce contracts, to improve working conditions, and to instill solidarity. They published newspapers, promoted union labels, participated in electoral and legislative politics, conducted education programs, formed unions and supported striking workers, and sustained involvement in civic issues such as health, employment, and housing.

The efforts of these bodies thus had a profound impact on the struggles of Rochester’s workers and unions and on the wider community.

Book cover

The web site is based on All These Years of Effort, written by Jonathan Garlock and Linda Donahue and published by the Ronald G. Pettengill Labor Education Fund in 2005 to mark the central councils’ sesquicentennial.

Labor newspaper

Research for the publication drew heavily on microfilmed copies of a whole series of local labor newspapers, most of them official publications of Rochester’s Central Trades and Labor Council, later the Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO. These journals proved to be an extraordinary source of information about the labor bodies themselves, as they included directories of affiliates, minutes of delegate meetings, reports of union elections, news of strikes and organizing efforts, editorials on labor legislation supported or opposed by the Council, columns about specific trades, and information about Council-sponsored demonstrations, picnics, dances and other events.

The web site is structured to facilitate access to all aspects of this history as well as to link from one part of the story to another.

Data gathered from these and other sources has been organized by both date and topic. Thus you may follow the entire story chronologically, moving through all three eras from 1855 to 2005. Or you may follow the development of a single topic such as “politics” across eras. And you can move back and forth between eras and topics using the navigation bar or through linked texts.

Other Web Site components include a list of all of Rochester’s central labor bodies, lists of unions affiliated with these bodies, a series of short pieces which amplify the topics, and brief biographies of local labor figures. Again, these components can be accessed through linked text or by using the navigation bar.

An important feature of the Web Site is the opportunity to supplement its content. We therefore anticipate augmenting this text from time to time with material that could not be incorporated in the initial print publication and look forward to updating the site as new data become available.

Vignettes Aspects of Rochester’s central labor bodies perhaps become most vivid in a series of stories which supplement the Web Site’s topical narrative. While these vignettes illustrate the sections in which they appear, they can also be read on their own:

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