Catholics and the CIO

Though it officially formed within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1935 to organize industrial unions, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) left to form its own separate organization in 1938. From the start, the official stance of the Catholic Church, and of SAD in particular, was full support of the CIO and its membership. Church leaders believed that the CIO presented the best way to institute economic democracy - a Christian economic order. This alignment with the CIO was not without internal strife, as several priests and others protested the Church's involvement, mainly due to the presence of communists within the CIO. The Church, though, would continue its support until 1955, when the CIO re-merged with the AFL.

(More on this subject can be found in the exhibit "The Catholic Church, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and Labor in the United States, 1930-1950")


-One of the first instances of public solidarity between the Catholic Church and the CIO occurred at a meeting of the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (a CIO member) in Chicago in 1939. Bishop Bernard J. Sheil appeared to give the invocation and was joined by a number of other bishops. A news story at the time said Sheil "delivered an impassioned address in defense of the rights of workers..."

-The tactics of CIO-related organizations often divided Catholic leaders. A walkout by Dodge workers at a plant in Detroit in 1939 brought the wrath of famous radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, who urged the workers to return. Coughlin's address was countered days later in a newspaper article by Father Raymond S. Clancy and in an editorial in the same paper.

-Communists within the CIO were a concern to a number of Church leaders. Father John Cronin expressed the problems with communists within labor organizations in this letter he wrote at the request of Detroit's Edward Cardinal Mooney.

-The communist would not go away, as the Catholic America magazine addressed the issue in relation to the CIO's Political Action Committee. Father William J. Smith also called out the CIO's Catholic president Philip Murray and secretary James Carey for tolerating communists within the organization.