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CIO chief meets with Labor Secretary Schwellenbach: 1946 | by Washington Area Spark
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CIO chief meets with Labor Secretary Schwellenbach: 1946

Louis B. Schwellenbach (right), appointed Secretary of Labor by President Harry S. Truman, confers with Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and Steelworkers chief Phillip Murray (left) in Washington, D.C. during the 1946 steel strike.


Schwellenbach and Murray were central figures in the 1948 cafeteria workers strike in Washington, D.C. that features union officials who refused to sign non-communist affidavits and a company that was intent on breaking the union. President Harry S. Truman squared off against Republican members of Congress in attempting to settle the strike.


United Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers Union Local 471 was the largest of the very few predominantly African American unions in the city and developed a broad base of support within the African American and labor communities.


Schwellenbach offer legal opinions through his Labor Department counsel that there were no legal bars to negotiating with the union and later appointed Col. George E. Strong conciliator for the two sides in an effort to settle the strike. Schwellenbach insisted, however, that Local 471 officials sign the non-communist affidavits before he would get involved.


With Republican members of Congress attempting to sabotage a settlement, Schwellenbach, Truman and Federal Works Administrator Phillip Fleming threatened to revoke the company’s franchise.


A settlement of the 78-day strike between a predominantly African American union and the company followed.


Phillip Murray began his career as a coal miner, became involved with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and became head of its Pittsburgh region.


When mineworkers chief John L. Lewis led the formation of the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) within the AFL to organize unions in basic industry across craft lines, he tapped Murray to head up organizing steelworkers.


The CIO was expelled from the American Federation of Labor in 1936 and constituted itself as its own labor federation.


Murray won a major victory at the giant U.S. Steel in 1937 when the company recognized the union. However the smaller (though still very large) steel companies resisted with violence and Murray suffered a temporary defeat.


It wasn’t until 1941 when favorable court rulings, strikes and National Labor Relations Board elections forced “Little Steel” to capitulate.


Murray was named head of the CIO in 1940.


After the Taft-Hartley Act was passed, Murray headed a brief CIO campaign to refuse to sign the non-communist affidavits as a means of rendering the Act meaningless.


In this capacity, he lent the full weight of the CIO to Local 471 during their long strike in early 1948. Murray’s personal intervention with President Truman may have been the single biggest impetus to federal intervention and eventual settlement of the strike.


The largest African American union in the city at about 4,000 members was preserved and continued as a progressive union. It provided ground troops in 1950-53 for pickets, sit-ins and boycotts of public facilities in the District that practiced Jim Crow, resulting in complete victory over segregation of public facilities in 1953.


For more information and related images on the Local 471 strike, see


For a deep dive into the 1948 cafeteria workers strike, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is an International News Service photo obtained via an Internet sale

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Taken sometime in 1946