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Labor's Non-Partisan League


LABOR'S NON-PARTISAN LEAGUE. Established in 1936, Labor's Non-Partisan League was instrumental in garnering worker support in the reelection of President Franklin Roosevelt. In the 1930s, labor militancy and strikes became prevalent across the nation, especially in the years 1934 and 1937. Organizing and union victories created a solidarity among workers that had previously eluded the labor movement in the United States. The emergence of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), led by the controversial John L. Lewis, symbolized the growth and changes in the labor movement.

In the spring of 1936, International Brotherhood of Teamsters president Daniel J. Tobin, whose union was an American Federation of Labor (AFL) affiliate and who was a leading opponent of Lewis's CIO, was appointed by Roosevelt to head the Democratic Party's National Labor Committee. Fearful of being put at a disadvantage, and realizing the New Deal created opportunity for more extensive labor gains in political policy, CIO leaders John L. Lewis and Sidney Hillman founded Labor's Non-Partisan League (LNPL). The LNPL sought to organize the working class vote for Roosevelt.

The head of the AFL's International Printing Pressmen's and Assistant's Union, George L. Berry, agreed to serve as chairman of the LNPL. Lewis took the position of director in charge of organization and Hillman served as treasurer. The phrase "Non-Partisan" was chosen for the League in order to emphasize that they claimed no ties with either of the two major political parties, and that they were open to union members of whatever faction. Every effort was made to win the support of all unions, with fifty-nine non-CIO unions joining the LNPL in 1936. However, it was Lewis's CIO-affiliated United Mine Workers of America that donated $500,000 to Roosevelt's campaign fund—the largest single contribution ever made at that point to a national political party. In total, the LNPL raised more than $1,500,000 for Roosevelt's 1936 campaign.

Some within labor disagreed with how closely the LNPL affiliated the CIO, and the labor movement, with the Democratic Party. Although most workers supported Roosevelt in the divisive 1936 election, the AFL officially remained uninvolved in politics and more radical elements thought labor should set up a third party rather than work with the country's two capitalist parties. Lewis insisted the LNPL strictly supported Roosevelt as an individual, not the Democratic Party. Consequently, he worked with the LNPL's New York State section to set up its own party, the American Labor Party, with its own line on the ballot.

The efforts of the LNPL and the votes of workers across the country were important in helping Roosevelt sweep the election of 1936, with the American Labor Party delivering New York State to the President. The effort demonstrated the effectiveness of direct labor action in politics. After the 1936 election, the Non-Partisan League made a commitment to ensure the election of other candidates dedicated to labor and progressive issues. In the next few years, the LNPL entered local elections in several states. It also organized support for New Deal legislation and sought to defeat all opponents of the New Deal in the 1938 congressional elections. It was, however, the 1936 election that marked the high point of influence for Labor's Non-Partisan League.


Dubofsky, Melvyn. Hard Work: The Making of Labor History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Dubofsky, Melvyn, and Foster Rhea Dulles. Labor in America: A History. 6th ed. Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, 1999.

Goldfield, Michael. The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Preis, Art. Labor's Giant Step: Twenty Years of the CIO. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972.


See alsoAmerican Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations ; Labor Parties .

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