Browse Exhibits (4 total)

Catholics and Labor Unionization

Forging Bonds of Sympathy: The Catholic Church and the Knights of Labor

In the 1880s, the Knights of Labor was the largest labor union in the United States, and while they were predominantly Catholic in membership, the Catholic Church wasn't sure Catholics should be Knights. Some priests and bishops were perplexed by the secrecy and perceived radicalism within the union and sought to bar Catholics from joining. Others believed that unions could promote better lives for workers. In 1888 the matter was resolved through the efforts of Knights Leader Terence Powderly and Baltimore Archbishop James Gibbons, when their attempts to gain Vatican permission for Catholics to join the union met with success.

See “Background” to begin.

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George Higgins, Cesar Chavez, and the Unionization of California Agriculture, 1955-1977

One was a member of the U.S. Catholic clergy, director of the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s Social Action Department, attendee to the Vatican II Council, and an authority on labor relations. The other was a farm worker, a lay member of the Church, and a union leader who was in on the ground floor of a revolution in farm labor organization. Together, Monsignor George G. Higgins and Cesar Chavez made a potent combination that helped bring a degree of labor justice to agricultural workers in California and other parts of the United States. Chavez and his United Farm Workers union sought higher pay and better working conditions for domestic agricultural laborers, using strikes and boycotts to induce growers to come to the bargaining table. Higgins and the Bishop’s Ad Hoc Committee on Farm Labor became a forceful negotiator between the sides. The combination eventually led to thousands of workers finding representation under the auspices of the UFW. Today, the memories of both men are cherished for their unrelenting crusade to better the lives of the workers in the fields.

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Higgins and Chavez: The UFW and the Church

Monsignor George G. Higgins and Cesar Chavez, both as individuals and through their respective organizations, helped to change labor relations for the farm worker during the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to the main site on the work of these men, this site includes six documents from the collections of Higgins and the Bishop's Ad Hoc Committee that reflect some of the more important writings associated with the United Farm Workers and the Ad Hoc Committee. The exhibited documents span from the beginning of the grape boycott in 1965 up through the fight with the Teamsters in the mid-1970s. 

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Mother Jones and American Labor

During the early part of the 20th century, there were few women in the United States better known than Mary Harris Jones, better known as “Mother” Jones. Whether loved or hated, no one disputed her influence on labor organization between 1900 and the mid-1920s. Her tactics made her a much-loved icon of the working class, while they got her labeled as “the most dangerous woman in America” by business interests.

While working for several labor causes during her life, in addition to a stint as a lecturer for the Socialist Party of America, Jones concentrated most of her efforts on organizing coal miners, particularly in West Virginia and Colorado. While Jones became marginalized in the history of the labor movement and met with only moderate success, a renewed interest in her life came during the turbulent 1960s. This interest grew with the establishment of Mother Jones magazine and subsequent publication of her correspondence and speeches, as well as biographies about her. The documents on this site help to shed light on this “angel of the miners,” both her personal and public life, which are inextricably intertwined.

See "Background" to begin

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