This collection primarily documents AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department director Boris Shishkin's civil rights activities, particularly his participation on federal government committees. Shishkin was also the civil rights spokesperson for the AFL prior to the merger, when it had no civil rights department. Document types include correspondence, surveys, and press clippings.
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10.50 Linear Feet
When the AFL and the CIO merged in 1955, the new organization created a Civil Rights Department with Bois Shishkin of the AFL appointed as director. James B. Carey of the CIO became chairman of the AFL-CIO's Civil Rights Committee.
In 1942 the CIO established a Committee to Abolish Discrimination (renamed the Civil Rights Committee in 1953). It counseled and advised internationals and locals on questions of racial policies, worked with government agencies to push antidiscrimination legislation, and attempted to set up committees to abolish racial discrimination in industrial union councils of the CIO.
Before the merger, the AFL produced a less structured system than the CIO for overseeing civil rights issues in its affiliated unions. Although a resolution was introduced at the 1952 AFL convention calling for a department of civil rights, none was established until the merger. To fill the void, Shishkin, the AFL's chief economist, served throughout the 1940s and early 1950s as spokesperson and specialist in the area of civil rights. Long active in anti-housing discrimination, Shishkin produced fact sheets, pamphlets and other materials on the problems of race discrimination. Additional AFL staff work included guidance to the affiliated unions in negotiating anti-discrimination clauses in their collective bargaining contracts. Both the AFL and the CIO participated in presidential commissions looking into racial discrimination, and the AFL-CIO continued this practice after the merger.
This collection represents a critical time period for civil rights and labor relations and activities of the AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO. The bulk of this collection documents Russian immigrant Boris Shishkin's civil rights activities, particularly his participation on federal government committees such as the Fair Employment Practice Committee, President's Committee on Government Contracts, the President's Committee on Government Employment Policy, the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, the League for Industrial Democracy, and Workers Defense League. Another important area covered by this collection is the fact-finding work done by the Jewish Labor Committee in the mid-1950s on minorities and Southern labor unions. Major topics include race relations, discrimination policy, fair labor practices, and integration of organizations and schools. Materials include correspondence, reports, clippings, memos, surveys, questionnaires, minutes, and proceedings.
Immediately after the AFL-CIO’s first constitutional convention in December 1955, the Executive Council established a Civil Rights Department to serve the constitutionally-mandated Committee on Civil Rights, which was “vested with the duty and responsibility to assist the Executive Council to bring about at the earliest possible date the effective implementation of the principle stated in this constitution of non-discrimination in accordance with the provisions of this constitution."(1) This principle directs the federation "to encourage all workers without regard to race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry to share equally in the full benefits of union organization.”(2)
Despite inequities present in local and international unions, the AFL lacked both a committee and a department devoted exclusively to civil rights issues until 1952. Boris Shishkin, the chief economist of the federation, served as the spokesperson on civil rights issues until then. In 1942, the CIO established a Committee to Abolish Racial Discrimination (renamed the Civil Rights Committee in 1953). Its only chair was James B. Carey. Several members of that committee later served on the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee, of which Carey was the first chair. Shishkin became the first director of the new AFL-CIO Department of Civil Rights.
One of the earliest activities of the Civil Rights Department was the investigation of complaints of discrimination in employment.(3) The department became active in the issues of fair employment practices, discrimination in housing, and school desegregation, and it began working directly with affiliated unions and state and local central bodies on civil rights issues. The documented experiences include discrimination of race, color, gender, religion, and disability, among others. At its August 29, 1956 meeting, the Executive Council adopted a Civil Rights Committee report that requested the creation of a subcommittee to facilitate the processing of complaints. This Subcommittee on Complaints (later Subcommittee on Compliance) first met November 20th. There is little detailed information on the conciliation of most cases.
A major function of the department has been the dissemination of information, publishing pamphlets and holding conferences covering a variety of civil rights topics. In the 1960s, the department became a liaison between the labor movement and various federal agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice. It established ties with the A. Philip Randolph Institute and several independent civil rights organizations, such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League (NUL). In the late 1960 and early 1970s, it worked with affiliates and with the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department and the Human Resources Development Institute (HRDI) to establish affirmative action programs for recruiting and preparing young people of color for apprenticeships and jobs in the skilled trades. "Operation outreach" was one such program.
This information was compiled and written by archivists at the George Meany Memorial Archives at the National Labor College.
1. Constitution of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (1955), Article XIII, Section l (b).
2. Ibid., Article II, Section 4.
3. This policy was contained in a resolution on civil rights passed at the First Constitutional Convention. AFL-CIO, Report of the first Constitutional Convention. Proceedings (1955, pp. 109-110).
This collection is organized into three series:
The AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department transferred these records to the George Meany Memorial Archives in 1982. The George Meany Memorial Archives transferred these records as part of a major transfer of their archive and library holdings to the University of Maryland Libraries in 2013.
Select folders from this record group were digitized by the "Advancing Workers Rights in the American South: Digitizing the Records of the AFL-CIO’s Civil Rights Division" project and are available online in the University of Maryland Libraries Digital Collections. This project was supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Mellon Foundation.
Bob Reynolds and Lee Sayrs at the George Meany Memorial Archives initially processed these records in 1992 and 1996. The University of Maryland Libraries received the records and the finding aid in 2013. In 2017, Bria Parker migrated the information contained in this finding aid from the George Meany Memorial Archives' Eloquent system. All migrated finding aids have been cleaned using OpenRefine software and ingested into ArchivesSpace using programmatic scripts created in Python. Upon ingest, Rebecca Thayer reviewed and made minor revisions to this finding aid. Revisions include changes to biographical/historical notes, scope and content notes, and the creation of new collection numbers. Rebecca Thayer also enhanced custodial histories and re-wrote collection titles to better conform to archival standards.
In 2022, as part of a unit-wide effort to begin the work of consciously editing archival description, the following revisions were made to this finding aid by Jennifer G. Eidson: The department history was moved into the Biographical/Historical notes from an external document, the department staff list and a list of abbreviations were added. The Scope and Content Note at the collection level, and for Series 1, was revised. Six folder titles were revised out of eleven specifically flagged for review. The Related Material note, the Processing Information Note, and Revision Notes were revised as well.