Kurt Nakamura - 2002 Essay Winner


The History of the Congress of Industrial Organizations





An essay by Kurt Nakamura

Many teenagers my age take our way of life for granted. We've basked in economic freedom all our lives. We drive to school in shiny cars and complain when we get paid the minimum wage. Our way of life, our standard of living we hold so dear, came from the sweat and blood of hardworking individuals, individuals who formed the backbone of our country with their bare hands.

These patriots included John L. Lewis and Samuel Gompers, along with every other individual that belonged to a union. Little do we know of the struggles for equality and rights that took place decades ago by labor unions. To better understand our place in society is to better understand the history of unions, such as the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

The CIO soon gained unprecedented popularity all across the country. The United Autoworkers grew from a sparse contingent to a union of over 400,000, while the United Steelworkers grew to almost 500,000. This was accomplished in a matter of two years! With membership close to four million, and containing thirty-two national and international unions, the CIO permeated through the socio-economic gap left by the AFL. On coming to the scene, the CIO increased excess wages to over $1 billion, shortened work hours for millions, and managed to attract over 30,000 companies willing to sign union contracts. The CIO's goals were becoming realized, as defined by John L. Lewis at 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."

As World War II took the country, the AFL and CIO began to recognize common ground as the two bodies sought solidarity to combat a greater evil. Middle ground was found concerning rights for all workers, not just skilled or unskilled laborers. The antagonism and prejudice of earlier decades slowly diminished or were reconciled between the two. Within the CIO's Executive Board, heated debates over merging with the AFL reflected the skepticism of being accepted within the AFL, while at the same time the fear of all unions dissolving amidst the anti-union climate. On December 5, 1955, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations reunited, naming themselves the AFL-CIO.

To this day, the AFL-CIO has continued to be the most influential-driving factor behind America's workforce. They continue to fight for the future of our country at every level possible. From the community level to Capital Hill. The CIO, along with the AFL, have made leaps and bounds towards ensuring reasonable health benefits, child labor protection laws, and equal treatment for all, to name a few. Although I may not belong to a union, I recognize the benefits they create for all working individuals and their families. Their success cannot be measured in dollars or statistics, but in each person's smile and gratitude for a better tomorrow.





The American Labor Movement, Litwack, Leon.
1962 Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, N.J."The Congress of Industrial Organizations",

"The Labor Union Movement",

"This is the AFL-CIO",