American Labor Party

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In 1936 it was feared that traditional anti-Tammany Democratic voting habits among New York's immigrant and first generation working-class voters, especially Jews, might cost Franklin D. Roosevelt the electoral votes of his home state. Two pro-Roosevelt labor leaders, Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union and David Dubinsky of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, formed the American Labor Party (ALP) to appeal to voters who otherwise might have voted for Socialist and even Republican candidates. The effort was successful: More than a quarter million voted for Roosevelt on the ALP line.

The formation of the ALP coincided with other third party efforts aimed at pressuring the New Deal from the left, especially the midwestern Farmer Labor Party movement. Many independent radicals, as well as members of the Communist Party, joined these movements. In New York, leftist trade unionists, Communists, and others organized local constituency clubs. In return, the ALP was courted by liberal candidates in both the major parties. In 1937, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who had formed his own ad hoc "Fusion" party in his first election, and had previously run for Congress on Republican and Socialist tickets, received nearly a half-million ALP votes, providing his margin of victory. La Guardia became an enrolled member of the party. The ALP also elected two New York city council members (something it continued to do for the next decade under New York's proportional representation laws). In 1938 the ALP secured the radical Vito Marcantonio's return to Congress.

Providing unions and community activists with an electoral voice—and maintaining an uneasy coalition of Communist and anti-Communist constituencies—the ALP championed racial equality in schools, housing, and employment, and subsidized public housing and an array of welfare programs, at the some time that it effectively muted the corrupt Tammany machine's hold on political life. The ALP's arrangement of constituent community service, pioneered by Marcantonio, replaced Tammany's corrupt system, involving bribes, payoffs, and election fraud. The party also played a central role in the election of African Americans and Hispanics to the New York city council, the U.S. Congress, and the New York state legislature.

But with the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939, the Communist/non-Communist split became irreparable. Marcantonio and his pro-Communist supporters gained control of the party and in 1944 the anti-Communist wing left to form the Liberal Party. The ALP provided large vote totals for Roosevelt in 1944, for Henry A. Wallace's independent presidential candidacy in 1948, and for Marcantonio's mayoral race in 1949. But with the Cold War, anti-Communism, and suburbanization sapping the ALP's working-class voter base, the party vanished in the mid-fifties.



Marcantonio, Vito. I Vote My Conscience: Debates, Speeches, and Writings of Vito Marcantonio, 1935–1950, edited by Annette T. Rubinstein and associates. 1956.

Meyer, Gerald. Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician, 1902–1954. 1989.

Walzer, Kenneth Alan. "The American Labor Party: Third Party Politics in New Deal-Cold War New York, 1936–1954." Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1977.

John J. Simon

American Labor Party

views updated Jun 08 2018


AMERICAN LABOR PARTY (ALP), formed in July 1936 as the New York State branch of the Nonpartisan League. Circumstances specific to New York—a Tammany machine unsympathetic to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal; a large pro-Socialist ethnic bloc; and a state law permitting dual nomination—dictated creation of a separate party rather than a Committee for Industrial Organization campaign body allied to the Democratic Party. The successful campaigns of Fiorello H. La Guardia for New York City mayor in 1937 and Herbert H. Lehman for governor in 1938 demonstrated that the ALP held the balance of power between the two major parties. Nevertheless, this potent position, displayed again in the elections of the next five years, eroded because of factional disputes and loss of union support and voter allegiance—the result primarily of Communist influence in the ALP. Furthermore, the election of Republican gubernatorial candidate Thomas Dewey in 1942 reflected a conservative resurgence in New York State. In 1944 the right wing split off to form the Liberal Party, and subsequently the ALP lost its swing position in New York politics. Although it recorded its highest vote in the national election in 1948 as the New York branch of the Progressive Party, the ALP thereafter declined rapidly and disbanded shortly after a poor showing in the 1954 governor's race. The New York pattern of third-party pressure politics that it had pioneered continued, however, through the activities of the Liberal Party and, from the opposite end of the political spectrum, of the Conservative Party, founded in 1962.


Garrett, Charles. The La Guardia Years: Machine and Reform Politics in New York City. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1961.

Kessner, Thomas. Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989.

Moscow, Warren. Politics in the Empire State. New York: Knopf, 1948.

DavidBrody/a. g.

See alsoNew York State ; Nonpartisan League, National ; Political Parties .

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American Labor Party