Published on August 18, 2009
100 Years Hand-in-hand: An analysis of the AFL-CIO handshake symbol by Kim Munson, art historian Text © 2009 Kim Munson. Based on an earlier version presented at SFSU in 2006. Images used for academic/educational purposes only.
First union label of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), 1894 Labor omnia vincit (“labor conquers all”) Hal Morgan, Symbols of America, 1960.
Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), Organizer and first president of the AFL. To honor him, the AFL selected the “hand-in-hand” logo of a New York Jewish Benevolent society as their official seal in 1881. Hand in hand Logo from “hello landsman!” archival exhibit. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, NY
1912 AFL Union Label Bulletin (from AFL Cornerstone papers/GMMA) The symbols the unions selected to represent themselves fell into four general categories: •18 unions incorporated the AFL “hand in hand” logo. •Tools/craftsmanship •Iconography (mythological, patriotic) •Simple text/stamp photo © 2009 Bill Burke/Page One Labels were brightly colored so they could be easily seen on products. The AFL label is at the bottom center (light blue).
AFL logo for the 8 Hour campaign Logo - (GMMA), 1888 (?) & button from collection of Labor Archive and Research Center, SFSU. Labor Day Parade with San Francisco Label Section, SF Labor Council , Waiters Union #30 and Waitresses Union # 48 Carrying AFL 8 Hour Banner, 1925 (photograph). Photo collection, LARC.
AFL “patriotic” logo, (GMMA), after 1903 (?). Here we see the globe, handshake and patriotic icons, but also a Phrygian cap (labeled “liberty”), laurel leaves (victory?) and the Roman fasces (which often signifies “the state” or law and order), a combination of symbols I find particularly intriguing. Taking all these symbols into account, it seems that the message relayed by this graphic is that of proud Americans valiantly carrying on a revolution, but in an orderly manner within the law. Perhaps a response to Anarchists, Haymarket.
Before the Merger and After: a Bold and more modern statement. AFL-CIO Union Label, 1956 Result of merger between the AFL 1939 Union Label Directory AFL and the CIO (ULSTD 1956 (SFSU LARC) poster, LARC.)
John (“Jack”) Miller Baer (1886-1970) •Trained as a civil engineer •US Representative, South Dakota, 1918-1921 •Political Cartoonist for several labor magazines. •Caricatured US presidents McKinley to Johnson •Publicity Director, AFL ULTD, 1935 - 1970
Two of Baer’s most famous cartoons. We Demand a New Deal, 1931 and The Appropriation Pie, (1918 – 1920).
Baer redesigned the AFL logo in such a way that it could be used as a template for the universal format (the designer of the post-merger emblem is unknown, although it does resemble Baer’s style). He also devised ways that the seals of AFL departments and individual unions to could fit into the universal label scheme. Letterhead fragment with note from Jack Baer’s papers at the GMMA, undated.
Attempt at Universal Union Labels, AFL -CIO ULTD Labeletter in 1977. Jack Baer probably would have been happy to see this finally happen, but few unions adopted the format, and the attempt was ultimately unsuccessful.
A Sign of Diversity? AFL-CIO logo, 1982. (Central Labor Council for Alameda County papers, LARC)
Robert Rauschenberg Commemorative Artwork (AFL-CIO Centennial), 1981. Notice the central hand-in-hand emblem and the reproductions of the affiliated union’s labels along the bottom. Color offset on foam core, 36” x 24” Donated by AFL-CIO to Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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