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Inventory of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO, 1935-1972 (predominantly 1952-1972)
1990/022, 1993/026  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Introduction
  • History
  • Scope and Content Notes
  • Material Cataloged Separately

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO,
    Date (inclusive): 1935-1972 (predominantly 1952-1972)
    Accession number: 1990/022, 1993/026
    Creator: Central Labor Council of Alameda County
    Extent: 67 cubic feet
    Repository: San Francisco State University. Labor Archives & Research Center
    San Francisco, California 94132
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Center's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Labor Archives & Research Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from materials must be submitted in writing to the Director of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Labor Archives & Research Center as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO, 1990/022, 1993/026, Labor Archives & Research Center, San Francisco State University.


    In 1984, the Council had given their archives to the Oakland Public Library's Oakland History Room. The records of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County were donated to the Labor Archives and Research Center in 1990 by Bill Sturm, Oakland History Room. Lynn A. Bonfield and Karen R. Lewis transferred the collection to LARC. The collection was processed by Thomas J. Carey in the summer of 1992.


    The AFL Central Labor Council of Alameda County was formed at a meeting of delegates from 31 local unions on October 26, 1903. C. W. Petry of the Shoemakers was elected first president. Ira Cross has written that this body existed as far back as 1891. (An Alameda County Federated Trades Council, originally comprised of six member unions, had been organized in October 1900 and headquartered in Oakland.) The State Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that by mid-year 1900, 24 unions were functioning in Alameda County, though not all were AFL affiliates. The county's unions joined others in the state in 1901 to create the California State Federation of Labor. Meeting minutes from October 1904 document the Council's first approval of picketing in a local labor dispute. In June 1910, the central labor councils of Alameda and San Francisco approved assessments of 25 cents per member per week, to raise funds for Los Angeles metal trades workers striking for an eight-hour work day. A weekly labor newspaper for Alameda County, the Tri-City Labor Review began publishing in 1910. In a special election in 1912, the paper's management joined the Council and the Oakland Socialist Party in an unsuccessful attempt to recall Oakland mayor Frank Mott, who these groups labelled a reactionary. Unlike their San Francisco counterpart, the Labor Clarion, the Review would later attack the prosecution of Mooney and Billings (1918); in fact, the Council and individual unions made contributions to Mooney's defense fund. Also, the council polled affiliates on the question of a general strike in protest of Mooney's scheduled execution, and found that a majority favored the planned strike. However, the San Francisco Labor Council rejected the general strike in a close vote, and the commutation of Mooney's sentence diffused tensions somewhat. The first major work stoppage the Alameda Labor Council would be involved in occurred early in October 1919, when 1100 employees of the San Francisco-Oakland Terminal Railways struck for ten days. William Spooner, president of the Council in 1908, was named secretary in 1913. Membership had risen to between twelve and fifteen thousand workers from 38 locals by this time. American entry into World War I, with the increase in shipbuilding and other production, generated an attendant increase in unionization in the East Bay.
    The year 1934 will forever be known as the year of the Big Strike, but it was also the year auto machinist Robert S. Ash began a 33 year relationship with Alameda County and California state labor. Ash, born in Texas in 1907, settled in California in 1923. Six days before the 1934 general strike, he joined the Auto Machinists Union, Oakland Local 1546. In 1937, he organized miscellaneous garage help into a Teamsters Union, Garage Employees #78, predominantly black workers. That year, a new player came onto the labor stage -the CIO Industrial Union Council of Alameda County. The Central Labor Council was then restructured to represent only unions loyal to the American Federation of Labor, and the CIO was organized with unions that had been previously affiliated with the Central Labor Council. The AFL and CIO councils cooperated in their respective support of the government and the "war effort" during the years 1941-1945. With victory in Japan achieved, Oakland and San Francisco machinists promptly struck the shipyards. Other trades joined in, and this conflict wore on for five months. By the end of the war, Ash had moved from the shop to the Labor Temple (built in 1934 at 21st and Webster Sts., Oakland.) Secretary for Garage Employees #78, he ran for the office of secretary-treasurer of the Council in 1942 but lost to Fred Silverthorne, the incumbent of five years and Spooner's successor. The following year Ash defeated Silverthorne, initiating his 24 year leadership of the Council. The defeat of Proposition 12 in 1944 would turn out to be a trial-run for the bigger campaign Ash and the Council would wage in 1958. A second general strike in December 1946 lasted only 53 hours, but made its impact felt in Alameda County and Oakland in particular. Growing out of a Retail Clerks dispute with two department stores, eventually all AFL locals participated in the strike. Local police, as requested by the Merchant's Association, had escorted Los Angeles-based strike breaking truckers to the Oakland stores. The Teamsters, under the direction of Dave Beck, opposed the Clerks and sided with management and the Merchant's Association. However, the success of the walkout, leaving Oakland basically "shut down", prompted city officials to dismiss the scab trucking outfit, and promise never again to use police to break a strike. The political influence of the Council brought substantial rewards to East Bay labor in 1947, when four labor-supported candidates gained seats on the Oakland City Council -this, a result of vigorous campaigning by the Council, as well as voter disenchantment with Oakland's handling of the recent general strike. Ash was also heavily involved in the Northern California Committee to elect Truman president in 1948. The Council's headquarters moved to 2315 Valdez St. in 1949 and remained there until 1974. The CIO Industrial Union Council's charter was revoked in August 1950, in national CIO president Philip Murray's drive to disable a perceived left-wing influence in his unions. A Greater Alameda County CIO Industrial Union Council was formed by December of that year. In 1952, the Alameda County CIO had 21 member unions and about 15,000 workers; the AFL Central Labor Council claimed 107 locals and about 100,000 unionists. A merger of the two councils into a combined local central body was chartered February 16, 1957 and this organization exists today as the Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO. The East Bay Labor Health and Welfare Council was formed in 1956, and included Alameda County labor among its members. The purpose of this body was to work towards the "improvement and expansion of the health and welfare services available to union members, their families and the community." The Council's achievement of sharing in the defeat of Proposition 18 ("Right To Work") in November 1958, combined with Democratic and pro-labor victories, marks the zenith of its influence in local and state political issues to date. Civil rights and job training were two areas the Council worked in during the 1960s, besides more typical labor situations. The Council played a major role in the implementation of the Manpower Development and Training Act (MDTA) in Alameda County, as well as minority employment and summer work programs for Oakland youth. Respected in California for his stewardship of the CLCAC, Robert Ash was asked to join the boards of many civic, community and state agencies (the United Bay Area Crusade and (c. 1961-1974) California State Personnel Board, to name just two.) In 1967 Ash announced his retirement as executive secretary-treasurer, and Council delegates accepted his preference for a successor -Richard K. Groulx.

    Scope and Content Notes

    The records of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County (CLCAC) primarily reflect the activity of the Council, in all of its roles, during the tenure of its secretary-treasurers, Robert S. Ash (1943-1967), and for a shorter period, Richard K. Groulx (1967-1986). The Council, at least from 1943, if not earlier, involved itself not only in the business of the labor movement, but in activities and programs in the East Bay that aimed to better the lives of working people in general. These records were physically moved twice after being held at the Council's offices for over 30 years. The files (52 cartons) came to the Labor Archives in less than orderly arrangement; often folders lacked labelling, and unidentified, loose materials were interfiled. Still, the collection could be seen as separate series, and with some reorganizing a logical order, fairly similar to the apparent original, was achieved. The Council kept files arranged alphabetically in several broad groupings within a given year, which have now been designated as series:
    Title: Minutes;
    Title: Correspondence;
    Title: Office Files;
    Title: East Bay Labor Journal/Journal Press.
    Unlike many organizations keeping years of a certain series together, this Council maintained chronological arrangement with each series represented therein. In the present arrangement,
    Title: Minutes
    are indeed a physically separate series (as they were upon arrival).
    Title: Minutes
    are arranged chronologically, spanning the years 1942-1968, and include records of the Council, its Executive Committee, and for a shorter period, the Alameda County Voters' League, the precursor to the Alameda County Council On Political Education (COPE). Original handwritten minutes (for some years) follow the final typewritten versions. There are large gaps in the Minutes; missing are typewritten versions for 1946, 1947, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963. (COPE Minutes themselves, where they exist, will be found in the Office Files -Legis/Polit series.) The series
    Title: Correspondence
    reflects purely labor-oriented communications: with and from locals, boards and councils (affiliated or not), state, national, and international bodies. (Apparently with the transition from Ash to Groulx in 1967, the Correspondence -Locals for 1967 was combined with that of 1968 and will be found in that year's files. Other changes in filing systems will become apparent as well.) Correspondence will also be found in the series
    Title: Office Files.
    Title: Office Files
    is divided into three sub-series: Internal, Community Relations, and Legislative/Political. Internal refers to in-house records and correspondence of the Council and its committees, personal papers of its officers, financial records, and certain files on individuals, locals, strikes, suits and other activities that merited the special attention or action of the Council. Some records of the Greater Alameda County CIO Industrial Union Council, which merged with the AFL Central Labor Council in 1957, also are located in this subseries (1957). Certain files of the East Bay Labor Journal and its printing plant, the Journal Press, have been designated a fourth series; however, respecting the original order of the collection, those files originally located in the
    Title: Office Files
    -Internal subseries remain there. Community Relations describes the Council's communication and involvement with local government and private enterprise in Alameda County. This subseries reflects labor's involvement in local issues, and this part of the collection touches on topics such as education, job training, housing, health care, civil rights, and the anti-war movement. Oakland and East Bay employment programs are documented here, as well as the Council's cooperation with educational and religious institutions, civic and charitable organizations. Box 118 contains materials dealing solely with the Job Placement Program, Neighborhood Youth Corps, and the Work Training Program. The Legislative/Political subseries reflects the Council's impact on the political process, from interviewing local school board candidates for potential endorsement to having its executive-secretary/treasurer sit on the State Personnel Board. The Council On Political Education (COPE) was formed in May 1958, the successor to the Alameda County Voters' League. All COPE files, local through national levels, will be found here. Correspondence with state and federal legislators and departments, and files concerning government programs and pending legislation are included. This subseries is fairly voluminous in election years.
    Selected records of the East Bay Labor Journal and the Journal Press, its printing plant, came to LARC as a group spanning several years rather than integrated in the more typical chronological fashion, and remain a distinct series:
    Title: East Bay Labor Journal/Journal Press.
    A representative collection of issues of the East Bay Labor Journal for the period 1957-1967 is available in LARC; for a more complete set, the researcher is advised to contact the Oakland Public Library, or the U. C. Berkeley Social Sciences Library (microfilm).

    Material Cataloged Separately

    Photographs removed from the collection are to be found in four folders in LARC Photograph Collection #4, filed under
    Title: Alameda County Central Labor Council:
    1) General, 1956-1967 2) Labor Day Picnic, 1967 3) Camp Parks Job Corps Center Strike: May 1967 4) Event Entertainment, Studio Photographs In addition, photographs of the 1946 General Strike and Robert Ash are located in the People's World Photograph Collection, filed under Subjects:
    Title: Oakland.
    Posters and broadsides dealing specifically with Alameda County issues have been relocated to the Poster Collection. Other oversize items can be found in the Oversize Ephemera boxes, under Alameda. Both posters and ephemera date from the period 1956-1970. There is an assortment of bumper stickers, pertinent to labor issues and political matters, that has been relocated to the Bumper Sticker Collection.