Eugene Debs (1855-1926) was a prominent leader of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen (BLF) in his youth. Later he helped found the American Railway Union (ARU) in 1894, the Socialist Party of America (1901) and the Industrial Workers of the World (1905). Eugene Debs ran for president of the United States on the Socialist Party ticket five times between 1900 and 1920, winning millions of votes. Although many of his dreams were not realized during his lifetime, Debs inspired millions to believe in "the emancipation of the working class and the brotherhood of all mankind," and he helped spur the rise of industrial unionism and the adoption of much needed progressive social and economic reforms.
A. Philip Randolph helped organize and served as the first President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. It was the first labor organization led by African-Americans to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1935.Randolph expanded his agenda once he became the leader of this foremost black labor organization in the U.S. Randolph was chosen as the leader of the National Negro Congress, an umbrella organization founded in 1937 that united many of the major black civil rights organizations of the day. Randolph helped negotiate the return of the CIO to the AFL in 1955, by which time he had also achieved elder statesman status within the civil rights movement. In 1978, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters merged with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC).
Jennie CurtisJennie Curtis, a teenager, was a seamstress for the Pullman company in the repair shops sewing room. She was also the President of American Railway Union (ARU) Girl's Union, Local 269, at Pullman. She appeared before the 1894 convention of the ARU where she described the plight of the Pullman factory workers who had suffered repeated wage cuts side by side with the high rents charged by the company. In response to her appeal for help, the delegates voted to impose a boycott of Pullman cars, sparking the infamous Pullman Railroad Strike. See http://www.quinnbrisben.com/?page_id=15&page=27
Other notable union leaders in the U.S. to check out include:
- Uriah Stephans organized the Knights of Labor in 1866.
- Samuel Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and served as that organization's president from 1886 to 1924.
- John L. Lewis was the driving force behind the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the mid-1930's.
- Sidney Hillman was head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and another key figure in the founding of the CIO.
- George Meany was an American labor leader, who served as President of the American Federation of Labor and oversaw its merger with the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1955. He then served as president of the united AFL-CIO from 1955 to 1979.
- Walter Reuther was an American labor union leader, who made the United Automobile Workers (UAW) a major force in the labor movement
- 'Big Bill' Haywood, was a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
- 'Mother' Mary Jones was a prominent American labor and community organizer and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World
- Joe Hill was a Swedish-American labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World
- Sarah Bagley was an advocate for women's rights and one of the most important labor leaders in New England during the 1840's. She was an advocate of shorter 10 hour workdays for factory workers.
- William H. Sylvis was a founder of the Iron Molders' International Union and the National Labor Union (NLU) and fought for the 8 hour work day.