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AFL and AFL-CIO International Affairs Department, Irving Brown papers

 Collection 0074-LBR-RG18-004

Irving Brown began his labor career as an organizer for the Automobile Workers Union in the 1930s and over his life played a major role in the formulation of the AFL-CIO's international labor policy. This collection contains those records Irving Brown created and collected while occupying several positions within the AFL and AFL-CIO, primarily his time as the AFL and AFL-CIO European representative, 1946-1961 and 1973-1978. The collections covers the topics of foreign policy of American trade unions and the industrial relations and politics of many coutries around the world during the post-World War II era. Types of materials include subject files, photographs, clippings, posters, and audiotapes.


  • 1943-1989


Language of Materials

While the predominant language is English, a significant portion of the records are written in French. Other languages, including Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Swedish, Finnish, Hungarian, Japanese, Maltese, Vietnamese, and Arabic also appear.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


65.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of the Collection

This collection contains those records Irving Brown created and collected while occupying several positions within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The Irving Brown Files span 1943-1989, with the bulk occurring during his two stints as the AFL and AFL-CIO European representative 1946-1961, and 1973-1978. The majority of the collection comprises correspondence and clippings, but there are also reports, writings, pamphlets, publications, and financial records.

This collection offers valuable material for researchers investigating the foreign policy of American trade unions and the industrial relations and politics of many countries around the world during the post-World War II era. The collection is particularly strong with regard to labor and politics in France, Germany, and Italy. The trade union situation in Algeria, Tunisia, Greece and Turkey are also well documented, and there are materials from many countries in Africa and Asia. Brown's papers also provide information regarding the inner workings and activities of international labor bodies as well as refugee and human rights organizations, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Biographical / Historical

Irving Joseph Brown was born in New York City on November 20, 1911, to a family long active in trade unions in the United States. His father was a leader in New York City's Teamsters' union local. After attending New York City public schools, Brown put himself through New York University, completing in 1932 a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in economics. He participated in the initial efforts to form an automobile industry union, becoming a national organizer for the Automobile Workers Union of the American Federation of Labor in 1936. In 1939, he was elected to the Automobile Workers Union Executive Council. He also served as its regional director in the East.

In 1940, Brown became a national organizer for the American Federation of Labor. In 1942, AFL President William Green named Brown as one of labor's representatives to the War Production Board (WPB). Brown became the WPB's deputy vice-chairman for labor in 1944. Through an agreement between the AFL and CIO, Brown received an appointment as the director of the labor and manpower division of the United States Foreign Economic Administration, the group that implemented labor policy in occupied areas. He served in that capacity for less than a year, resigning in September 1945 over a disagreement regarding official American policy towards the reactivation of the German trade union movement.

In October 1945, Brown accepted a position that would keep him in Europe for almost two decades. As the AFL's European representative, Brown played a major role in the formulation of the federation's international labor policy, establishing the organization's influence and staunch anticommunist position throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America. He kept in close contact with Jay Lovestone, first as executive secretary of the Free Trade Union Committee and later as director of the International Affairs Department while carrying out this work. In July 1949, he joined with labor leaders from around the world to create the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), a global labor organization designed as an alternative to the World Federation of Trade Unions, which Brown and others perceived as communist-dominated. Brown returned to New York in 1962 to become the director of the ICFTU's office to the United Nations. Three years later he left that office to serve as the first executive director of the African-American Labor Center. This organization, which he persuaded the AFL-CIO leadership to create, supported the growth of free trade unions in Africa.

In 1973, Brown returned to Europe to serve as the AFL-CIO's international representative. He remained there until AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland appointed him director of the International Affairs Department in 1982. In 1986, Brown became a senior adviser to Kirkland. He died in 1989.

Organization of the Collection

This collection is organized into five series:

Series 1
Brussels Office Files
Series 2
Paris Office Files
Series 3
Series 4
Oversize Material
Series 5

Archivists maintained the fairly evident original alphabetical-chronological order by name, country, organization, and more rarely, by subject. This resulted in the creation of Series 1 and 2 (defined by location of office in Brussels and in Paris respectively), which represent the majority of the collection. The remaining three series include photographs, oversize materials, and audiotapes.

Organizations are alphabetized under their full names in the organization's original language. CISL, for instance, is filed under "Confederazione Italiana Sindicati Lavoratori," rather that "Italian Confederation of Labor." Researchers should be aware that several names and organizations that have their own files also appear within more general country and clippings files.

Country names are written as Brown had them on his folders, and certain countries may be listed either by the French version of the name and/or by a name that is no longer used (e.g., Haute Volta).

Custodial History

The records in this collection came from Brown's Paris office to The George Meany Memorial Archives in 1989 as part of a regular records transfer. 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.

Related Materials

Related collections at the University of Maryland include:

AFL and AFL-CIO International Affairs Department, Country Files, 1945-1971 (RG18-001);

CIO International Affairs Department, Michael H. S. Ross files, 1945-1955 (RG18-002);

AFL and AFL-CIO International Affairs Department, Jay Lovestone Files, 1939-1974 (RG18-003);

AFL-CIO Office of the President, President's Files, George Meany, 1944-1960 (RG1-027);

AFL-CIO Office of the President, George Meany papers, 1935-1960 (RG1-026);

Office of the President, International Affairs, International Affiliations, 1949-1967 (RG1-025, Microfilm Collection 31);

AFL Office of the Secretary-Treasurer, George Meany records, 1940-1953 (RG2-006)

Related collections at other institutions include:

Jay Lovestone papers, 1904-1989, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University;

Florence Thorne Papers, filed with the American Federation of Labor Records, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

Processing Information

Brett Abrams, Alan Haeberle, Jonathan Rees, and Lee Sayrs at the George Meany Memorial Archives initially processed these records in 1996. It was processed to the folder level and the contents of folders, therefore, have not been sorted or rearranged. In so far as possible, processors followed Irving Brown's practices in labeling folders. Basically, he interfiled folders for persons, organizations, countries, and subjects. We did make the titles more accurate and more consistent. However, Brown did not always file consistently; therefore there is a great deal of overlap among these folder classifications. Researchers interested in a particular topic might have to look in several places. For example, a researcher interested in the French trade union movement during the 1940s and 1950s would want to look under "France," "Force Ouvriere" (France's largest free trade union federation), the names of particular trade unions, and the names of trade union leaders (such as Andre LaFond, Secretary of Force Ouvriere). One would also want to check the folders listed under Brown's name.

According to Brown's practice, a folder of correspondence with an individual may be labeled first with the name of a country, followed by the personal name (e.g., Italy: Giulio Pastore), or it may be labeled according to the correspondent's name, organization, or associated subject. Processors made no attempt to pull these kinds of materials together under one folder title. At times references to related folders have been included.

The country folders frequently contain materials from or about individuals and organizations based in the country in question. For materials dating from the late 1940s to early 1960s, Brown frequently inserted a table of contents at the beginning of a folder for a country or large organization. These lists included names of correspondents (people or groups) whose letters he filed in that folder. These lists are generally, although not strictly, alphabetical and have been retained in the front of their original folders. If a large quantity of material from one folder was separated into several smaller folders, the table of contents will be filed in the first of those folders. In some folders, general material about the country or organization was placed at the beginning of all the other materials. The table of contents is then found after this general material.

Correspondence with any one individual is usually filed in reverse chronological order, later letters preceding earlier letters. Where several unrelated correspondents were filed in the same folder, letters to or from each correspondent were filed in their own chronology.

Brown often used commercial tab dividers in country or organization folders to separate correspondence filed under various letters of the alphabet. Because these tab dividers were made with highly acidic paper stock, they have been discarded, but the papers remain alphabetized by correspondent. Over the years materials had occasionally become disarranged. Processors did not, however, attempt to arrange materials within folders. Researchers should not rely on what appears to be an alphabetical or chronological sequence.

The University of Maryland Libraries received the records and the finding aid in 2013. In 2017, Bria Parker exported and cleaned the finding aid contents from the Eloquent Systems database using OpenRefine, and finally transformed the finding aids into Encoded Archival Description (EAD) using a series of programmatic scripts. The finding aid was ingested into ArchivesSpace in 2018, at which point Rebecca Thayer updated the descriptive content for accuracy. 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.

Guide to the AFL and AFL-CIO International Affairs Department, Irving Brown papers
This collection was processed by Brett Abrams, Alan Haeberle, Jonathan Rees, and Lee Sayrs at the George Meany Memorial Archives.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742