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Heed this Call that Comes from the Hearts of Men: Organize the Unorganized


CIOThe Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was the brainchild of John L. Lewis and leaders of seven other unions--Charles Howard, International Typographical Union; Sidney Hillman, Amalgamated Clothing Workers; David Dubinsky, International Ladies' Garment Workers; Thomas McMahon, United Textile workers; Harvey Fremming, Oil Field, Gas Well and Refinery Workers; Max Zaritsky, United Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers; Thomas Brown, International Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. They formed the Committee for Industrial Organization, which initially was contemplated as a part of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), but became an independent organization in 1936, when the AFL Executive Council voted to expel the unions involved with the CIO. After the AFL convention formally revoked the CIO unions' charters, the Committee became the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1938.

The CIO's goal was to organize America's industrial workers in the steel, auto, electrical, rubber, glass, textile, and other mass production industries. Said John L. Lewis upon the CIO's creation:

"The millions of workers in our mass production industries have a right to membership in effective labor organizations and to the enjoyment of industrial freedom. They are entitled to a place in the American economic sunlight. If the labor movement and American democracy are to endure, these workers should have the opportunity to support their families under conditions of health, decency, and comfort, to own their own home, to educate their children, and possess sufficient leisure to take part in wholesome social and political activities."

The CIO was extremely successful. By 1937, Lewis was able to report to the first CIO Conference that the United Auto Workers had grown almost overnight to 400,000 members and the United Steelworkers to nearly 500,000 members. Altogether, the CIO had organized nearly 4 million workers into 32 national and international unions in less than two years. Over 30,000 companies signed contracts with CIO unions, resulting in wage increases in excess of $1 billion, shorter work hours for millions of workers and improved working conditions. The CIO was fulfilling its pledge to bring workers into the "American economic sunlight."

Alternating attempts to merge and fierce competition highlighted the relationship between the CIO and AFL in the late-1930s and 1940s. The two organizations finally merged in 1955 into the AFL-CIO. The UMWA joined the AFL-CIO in 1989.

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