What is the American Federation of Labor


The American Federation of Labor (called the A-F. of L. or the A.F.L.) was founded about seventy-five years ago, in 1881, as an association to which many different labor unions belong. A labor union is an organization of a group of workers who have the same kind of job. The two chief kinds of labor union are the industrial union, whose members usually work in factories, and the craft union, whose members practice a skilled trade such as plumbing or printing. At first, all the unions that belonged to the A.F. of L. were craft unions. From 1936 until 1955 there was another large labor organization, the C.I.O. (CONGRESS OF INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZATIONS, about which there is a separate article), in which most of the unions were industrial unions. In 1955 the A-F. of L. and the C.I.O. joined to form a single organization, called “The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.” In this organization, every union is independent. It pays part of its dues each year to support the national organization, but it does not have to do everything the national organization wants to have done and it can withdraw from membership if it wants to. Samuel Gompers, a founder of the A.F. of L., was its president from its founding in 1881 until he died in 1924. Then William Green was president until he died in 1952, and George Meany became president in 1953. When the A.F. of L. was formed, working men had very few rights. By bargaining with employers, and often by strikes, the A.F. of L. did much to win higher pay and shorter working hours for American labor.

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