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Central Labor Council of Alameda County. OAC

 
 

 

Biographical History

The AFL Central Labor Council of Alameda County was formed at a meeting of delegates from 31 local unions on October 26, 1903. C. W. Petry of the Shoemakers was elected first president. Ira Cross has written that this body existed as far back as 1891. (An Alameda County Federated Trades Council, originally comprised of six member unions, had been organized in October 1900 and headquartered in Oakland.) The State Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that by mid-year 1900, 24 unions were functioning in Alameda County, though not all were AFL affiliates. The county's unions joined others in the state in 1901 to create the California State Federation of Labor. Meeting minutes from October 1904 document the Council's first approval of picketing in a local labor dispute. In June 1910, the central labor councils of Alameda and San Francisco approved assessments of 25 cents per member per week, to raise funds for Los Angeles metal trades workers striking for an eight-hour work day. A weekly labor newspaper for Alameda County, the Tri-City Labor Review began publishing in 1910. In a special election in 1912, the paper's management joined the Council and the Oakland Socialist Party in an unsuccessful attempt to recall Oakland mayor Frank Mott, who these groups labelled a reactionary. Unlike their San Francisco counterpart, the Labor Clarion, the Review would later attack the prosecution of Mooney and Billings (1918); in fact, the Council and individual unions made contributions to Mooney's defense fund. Also, the council polled affiliates on the question of a general strike in protest of Mooney's scheduled execution, and found that a majority favored the planned strike. However, the San Francisco Labor Council rejected the general strike in a close vote, and the commutation of Mooney's sentence diffused tensions somewhat. The first major work stoppage the Alameda Labor Council would be involved in occurred early in October 1919, when 1100 employees of the San Francisco-Oakland Terminal Railways struck for ten days. William Spooner, president of the Council in 1908, was named secretary in 1913. Membership had risen to between twelve and fifteen thousand workers from 38 locals by this time. American entry into World War I, with the increase in shipbuilding and other production, generated an attendant increase in unionization in the East Bay.

The year 1934 will forever be known as the year of the Big Strike, but it was also the year auto machinist Robert S. Ash began a 33 year relationship with Alameda County and California state labor. Ash, born in Texas in 1907, settled in California in 1923. Six days before the 1934 general strike, he joined the Auto Machinists Union, Oakland Local 1546. In 1937, he organized miscellaneous garage help into a Teamsters Union, Garage Employees #78, predominantly black workers. That year, a new player came onto the labor stage -the CIO Industrial Union Council of Alameda County. The Central Labor Council was then restructured to represent only unions loyal to the American Federation of Labor, and the CIO was organized with unions that had been previously affiliated with the Central Labor Council. The AFL and CIO councils cooperated in their respective support of the government and the "war effort" during the years 1941-1945. With victory in Japan achieved, Oakland and San Francisco machinists promptly struck the shipyards. Other trades joined in, and this conflict wore on for five months. By the end of the war, Ash had moved from the shop to the Labor Temple (built in 1934 at 21st and Webster Sts., Oakland.) Secretary for Garage Employees #78, he ran for the office of secretary-treasurer of the Council in 1942 but lost to Fred Silverthorne, the incumbent of five years and Spooner's successor. The following year Ash defeated Silverthorne, initiating his 24 year leadership of the Council. The defeat of Proposition 12 in 1944 would turn out to be a trial-run for the bigger campaign Ash and the Council would wage in 1958. A second general strike in December 1946 lasted only 53 hours, but made its impact felt in Alameda County and Oakland in particular. Growing out of a Retail Clerks dispute with two department stores, eventually all AFL locals participated in the strike. Local police, as requested by the Merchant's Association, had escorted Los Angeles-based strike breaking truckers to the Oakland stores. The Teamsters, under the direction of Dave Beck, opposed the Clerks and sided with management and the Merchant's Association. However, the success of the walkout, leaving Oakland basically "shut down", prompted city officials to dismiss the scab trucking outfit, and promise never again to use police to break a strike. The political influence of the Council brought substantial rewards to East Bay labor in 1947, when four labor-supported candidates gained seats on the Oakland City Council -this, a result of vigorous campaigning by the Council, as well as voter disenchantment with Oakland's handling of the recent general strike. Ash was also heavily involved in the Northern California Committee to elect Truman president in 1948. The Council's headquarters moved to 2315 Valdez St. in 1949 and remained there until 1974. The CIO Industrial Union Council's charter was revoked in August 1950, in national CIO president Philip Murray's drive to disable a perceived left-wing influence in his unions. A Greater Alameda County CIO Industrial Union Council was formed by December of that year. In 1952, the Alameda County CIO had 21 member unions and about 15,000 workers; the AFL Central Labor Council claimed 107 locals and about 100,000 unionists. A merger of the two councils into a combined local central body was chartered February 16, 1957 and this organization exists today as the Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO. The East Bay Labor Health and Welfare Council was formed in 1956, and included Alameda County labor among its members. The purpose of this body was to work towards the "improvement and expansion of the health and welfare services available to union members, their families and the community." The Council's achievement of sharing in the defeat of Proposition 18 ("Right To Work") in November 1958, combined with Democratic and pro-labor victories, marks the zenith of its influence in local and state political issues to date. Civil rights and job training were two areas the Council worked in during the 1960s, besides more typical labor situations. The Council played a major role in the implementation of the Manpower Development and Training Act (MDTA) in Alameda County, as well as minority employment and summer work programs for Oakland youth. Respected in California for his stewardship of the CLCAC, Robert Ash was asked to join the boards of many civic, community and state agencies (the United Bay Area Crusade and (c. 1961-1974) California State Personnel Board, to name just two.) In 1967 Ash announced his retirement as executive secretary-treasurer, and Council delegates accepted his preference for a successor -Richard K. Groulx.

From the finding aid for Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO, 1935-1972 (predominantly 1952-1972) (San Francisco State University. Labor Archives & Research Center)

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