During these years the Central Trades & Labor Council (CTLC) implemented several organizing initiatives launched by the AFL: the Labor Forward movement (1915-1917), a major campaign following passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933-1935), and a Gompers Centennial year drive (1950). As a result the Council extended its representation among the Building Trades, reached into important sectors of industry such as garments and shoes and, later, organized workers in transportation, public service and a wide range of light manufacturing. This organizing was characterized (1935-1959) by rivalry with the CIO’s Rochester & Vicinity Industrial Union Council (IUC), which came to dominate Rochester’s clothing industry as well as electronic, auto, and communications manufacture.
The founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935 divided Rochester's unions between the AFL's Central Trades and Labor Council (85 locals and 30,000 members) and the CIO's Industrial Union Council of Rochester and Vicinity (18 locals and 22,000 members). Although the two bodies cooperated with each other during the great Rochester General Strike of 1946, they remained bitterly divided and Rochester’s councils were among the last — in 1959 — to effect a merger.
Among the many struggles that shaped the growth of Rochester’s labor movement in this period the most important were the garment workers’ strike of 1913, during which a young woman striker was killed, and the General Strike of 1946, during which the AFL and CIO labor councils brought the city to a standstill in support of municipal workers’ right to organize.
Political activity during this period went through important changes. Between 1910 and 1920 many Rochester workers supported Socialist candidates, including Eugene Debs. After 1920 the CTLC adopted the AFL’s Non-Partisan policy, supporting or opposing individual candidates on their records rather than endorsing political parties. In contrast, the IUC strongly supported candidates running on the Democratic ticket.
Legislative efforts, especially during the Depression years, focused on programs to create jobs and provide relief. Efforts at the state level were coordinated by an energetic Legislative Committee; resolutions on national legislation were coordinated through the AFL, including the struggle to prevent passage of the Taft-Hartley act.
The CTLC maintained an official labor publication from 1910 through 1935 and in 1928 offered an ambitious series of radio broadcasts on labor topics over WHEC. Rivalry between the AFL and CIO councils disrupted labor journalism for nearly a decade and regular publication only resumed following their 1959 merger.
Despite significant participation the previous year, in 1923 the CTLC abandoned the Labor Day Parade, though there were other marches and demonstrations such as those in support of the National Recovery Act (1933) and War Week (1942). The Labor Lyceum, removed from City Hall by the Mayor in 1911, was reestablished in 1913 as the Progressive Working People’s Lyceum — a center for socialist labor unions and cultural programs such as the Labor Forum.
During this period films about labor issues and struggles began to compete with lectures for the attention of working people; one film, Labor's Reward, was produced by the AFL itself to promote its union label campaign (1925).
Throughout this era the CTLC strongly supported the union label, service button and shop card. The Grievance Committee actively promulgated “Do Buy” and “Don’t Patronize” lists and conducted occasional boycotts against unfair employers. The CTLC also raised funds for striking workers both in Rochester and elsewhere.
During these years the CTLC expressed its commitment to the Rochester community through a series of initiatives relating to employment, health, housing, and service on community boards.
These included demands, especially in the Depression, for local hiring and the prevailing wage; support for the Iola Sanatorium and later the Hillman Health Center; and demands for public housing.
The CTLC also pressed for participation on the boards of local agencies such as the Community Chest: when this demand was rejected, the CTLC and CIO councils collaborated in setting up a Labor Community Chest which collected and disbursed workers’ contributions.Top