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CIO and Steelworkers president Phillip Murray: 1942 | by Washington Area Spark
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CIO and Steelworkers president Phillip Murray: 1942

Phillip Murray, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations as well as the president of the Steelworkers union, is shown in a photograph March 7, 1942 at a meeting with Donald Nelson, chair of the War Production Board in Washington, D.C.


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 Organizations (CIO) in 1935 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 1938 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 Lewis resigned.


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 D.C. cafeteria union 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 courtesy of the Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection.

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Taken on March 7, 1942