Scope and Content of the Collection
Frontlash was one of the most enduring college-aged activist groups to emerge from the 1960s, becoming a training ground for future personnel in the labor movement. Organized in 1968 to provide an alternative among young adults to extremes of the New Left and the Radical Right, Frontlash began when members of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID) and United States Youth Council (USYC), Tom Kahn, Charlotte Roe Kemble, Penn Kemble, Gene Lynch, and others created in New York City a nonpartisan organization to challenge the political backlash and electoral apathy among youth. At the outset, the new organization received money from granting organizations such as The Stern Fund and individual unions such as the United Auto Workers (UAW). The Frontlash mission was aimed at affecting democratic change through the voting power of the underrepresented. From its inception until the late 1970s, Frontlash focused on voter registration and increasing political awareness among American Youth. In 1970, the Frontlash organization in San Francisco registered 100,000 new voters. Two years later, Frontlash helped bring the vote to eighteen-year olds.
In 1974, the organization's work in campaign finance reform caught the attention of the AFL-CIO. By the late 1970s, Frontlash created training conferences in conjunction with the LID, the AFL-CIO, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI). Realizing the organization couldn't live by elections alone, Frontlash and labor coalesced in the 1980s under the directive “making Democracy work.” Initially Frontlash received only nominal support from the AFL-CIO through its Committee on Political Education (COPE), but by the early 1980s it had an annual stipend directly from the AFL-CIO and held office space at the Federation's national Headquarters in Washington, D.C. By this time, Frontlash's mission had evolved to effecting positive change through the actions of working people. The organization began more aggressively recruiting new members, especially on college campuses. At its height, Frontlash had regional offices nationwide and active branches at many colleges and universities.
During the 1980s, Frontlash focused more on international activities such as pro-democracy in Poland and anti-apartheid in South Africa. It also began boycotts such as Toycott, a campaign that targeted child labor in Asia and Indochina. By the 1990s, Frontlash became known as a supporter for worker rights, leading campaigns against union busting firms, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and international corporations such as Nike and Reebok. By the 1996 election, Frontlash had come full circle, running an active "Labor '96" political voting campaign. The AFL-CIO disbanded the organization in 1997.
The following individuals served as executive directors of Frontlash and most remained on the Board of Directors after their tenure: Penn Kemble (1968-1972); Charlotte Roe (1972-1977); Gene Lynch (1977-1978); Jessica Smith (1978-1985); Joel Klaverkamp (1985-1992); Cheryl Graeve (1992-1996).
Frontlash records were primarily created by the national office staff who filed incoming as well as much outgoing material. Some material was created by regional and academic offices and filed at the national office. The collection includes correspondence, annual reports, organizational charts, training conference schedules, staff meeting agendas and minutes, manuals, informational packets, press releases, pamphlets, booklets, fliers, newspaper clippings, newsletters, audio and video tapes, and photographs relating to the activities of Frontlash and Frontlash staff. The material documents the work of Frontlash, its national office staff, and its regional offices. It is particularly strong concerning the correspondence of the office of the executive director, especially the tenures of Jessica Smith, Joel Klaverkamp, and Cheryl Graeve. Executive director correspondence may also be included in files for key campaigns. The collection has extensive material related to instruction in labor organizing and union support. The organization's relationship with individual unions is reflected in correspondence, various financial reports, union files, campaign files, and Frontlash anniversary files. Throughout the collection, the term "action items" refers to the physical actions and activities in which Frontlash personnel participated or coordinated.
There is also significant material relating to Frontlash's political activity in areas such as voter registration, eighteen-year old suffrage, and the sub-minimum wage protest. The records also provide insight into the AFL-CIO's umbrella support group for Frontlash, COPE. The files on civil rights document the organization's commitment to civil rights through its relationship with A. Philip Randolph and APRI. The minutes of staff meetings and of the meetings of the Board of Directors may include additional financial information and proposals or reports. Staff and training institute files comprise conference planning meeting minutes, conference agendas, and material relating to regional and national office recruitment. For more detailed descriptions of the records, see the descriptions and container lists for particular series and subseries. The documents in this collection will enhance the study of the labor movement in the late twentieth century.