DC 37 Remembers Irish-American Contributions to the Labor Movement

By MIKE LEE

Although there are no public events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the union honors our Irish American sisters and brothers as we celebrate the contributions of the Irish people to our shared history and culture. 

Most importantly, DC 37 recognizes the valued and impactful role Irish Americans have had building the American union movement, providing key leadership at crucial junctures during labor’s struggle, fighting for the right to organize, fair wages, and benefits, an 8-hour day—all rights that union members have enjoyed for decades.

From the beginning of the labor movement in the 19th century, Irish immigrants, such as Mary Harris (Mother) Jones, took on all comers in fighting for workers’ rights. A union organizer first with the Knights of Labor, and later with United Mine Workers, Jones became legendary for her often-quoted words: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

In the 20th century, Irish Americans played major leadership roles, such George Meany, who as President of the American Federation of Labor, was instrumental in the merger with the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1954, forming the powerhouse AFL-CIO. 

In 1995, then-SEIU President John Sweeney took over as leader of the AFL-CIO. Sweeney led outreach campaigns to people of color and women, adding vitality and strength as his organizing efforts began to restore labor’s power.

Gerald McEntee, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal EmployeesDC 37’s national union, served during a time of anti-union attacks during the Reagan years. Under his leadership he held the line in campaigning public workers’ rights during his tenue from 1981 to 2012.

That leadership continues in the Biden Administration, with Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. The son of Irish immigrants, he rose through Boston’s labor ranks to lead the city’s Building and Construction Trades Council before being elected Mayor of Boston.

As Labor Secretary, Walsh assists in the Biden administration’s efforts in helping to reverse years of anti-union practices and regulations, continuing the powerful legacy set by previous Irish American labor leaders.

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