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Diversity helped build early janitors' union - La diversité a permis de bâtir un syndicat d'agents d'entretien avant l'heure
Diversity helped build early janitors' union - La diversité a permis de bâtir un syndicat d'agents d'entretien avant l'heure
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Diversity helped build early janitors' union - La diversité a permis de bâtir un syndicat d'agents d'entretien avant l'heure

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The Chicago Flat Janitors’ union, which today is SEIU Local 1, brought together both white and black janitors in one union. Most other unions in that era excluded Afr can Americans, or forced them to …

The Chicago Flat Janitors’ union, which today is SEIU Local 1, brought together both white and black janitors in one union. Most other unions in that era excluded Afr can Americans, or forced them to join separate black locals.

Le syndicat "Chicago Flat Janitor", qui est aujourd'hui devenu le "Local 1" de SEIU, réunissait des membres blancs etg noirs. La plupart des autres syndicats de l'époque n'acceptaient pas les noirs, ou bien les séparaient dans les "Local" pour les noirs seulement.

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  • 1. Diversity Helped Build Early Janitors’ Union SEIU today is not only North America’s largest tive board who were African American. Seymour Miller,and fastest-growing private sector union, but also the most the vice president, won that position in 1916. ere alsodiverse. were stewards and delegates to the Chicago Federation of e union was founded with the knowledge that Labor from the janitors’ union who were black.diversity brings strength and that welcoming workers At the time, the janitors’ union had about 1,000of all races without African-Americandiscrimination was members—aboutcrucial. eight percent of all e Chicago black trade unionistsFlat Janitors’ union, in the city, accordingwhich today is SEIU to historian John B.Local 1, brought to- Jentz of Marquettegether both white University’s Memo-and black janitors rial Library.13 Aboutin one union. Most 20 percent of theother unions in that male janitors in 1910era excluded Afri- were black at a timecan Americans, or when blacks madeforced them to join up about 2 percentseparate black locals. of Chicago’s popula- e Chicago Com- tion. A migrationmission on Race from the South toRelations found in Chicago added sub-1920 that the jani- stantially to the num-tors’ union was one ber of blacks betweenof only 4 unions out 1910 and 1920, andof 391 that were in- many of them hiredtegrated. on in jobs where they In addition, the looked to the veteranChicago Flat Jani- black janitors fortors’ union had a vice guidance.president and three William Quesse,members of its execu- who helped found
  • 2. the janitors’ movement that ultimately became SEIU, be- during that era that created a form of group loyalty—se-lieved the union’s mission would fail without unity across cret passwords, rituals, and easy interaction among theracial and ethnic lines.14 “We had a lot of prejudices of initiated, for example. When the Chicago Commissionvarious kinds to overcome,” Quesse wrote. on Race Relations investigated a race riot that occurred e rst Year Book published by the at janitors in there, it found that unions that excluded blacks claimed1916 quoted Quesse: that white members objected to “close “We are an organization doing physical contact” between races. Butbusiness in a courteous way; and we the Commission’s investigator reportedare composed of all creeds, colors, and “We do not allow this was not the case in what today isnationalities, and do not allow anyone anyone to use any SEIU Local 1.to use any prejudice in the organiza- He wrote: “New passwords weretion….”15 prejudice in the given out [at the union meeting]. All Jentz, the historian, found that organization...” members, white and Negro, had tothe members of the Chicago jani- come before the Negro vice president,tors’ union “identi ed themselves not who whispered the words to each andonly as members of di erent races, but they in turn repeated them to him. Notalso as patriotic union janitors.” Some of this evolved the slightest hesitance was noted on the part of the whitefrom the class experience shaped by the e ort to achieve members, but rather a hearty handshake or a slap on thea labor agreement in 1917, as well as by World War I, back seemed to be the rule… At this meeting, packedwhere black troops fought in Europe for democracy and to standing-room and attended by well over a thousandfreedom while denied those values at home.16 e union’s members, Negroes were a large percentage of those present.new immigrant members also rallied around the war ef- ese were not con ned to a group by themselves, but werefort—buying Liberty Bonds and conserving coal to help scattered in all parts of the hall and seemed to be in cordialwith shortages due to the con ict—as a way of assimilating conversation with the white members.”18in their adopted homeland. e Chicago Flat Janitors, like SEIU of today, was e janitors’ union was not free of prejudice or dis- made up of many immigrants, particularly from Germany,crimination, of course, but it bene ted from the fact that Sweden, Ireland, Belgium, and Austria. ey came to-most members did the same type of work and there weren’t gether as human beings with some ethnic chauvinism andmany gradations that provided higher status work over prejudice, but united as union members with a commonwhich con icts might have occurred.17 class experience. Alongside the union’s African American In addition, the union not only had adopted a patri- members, the immigrants sought economic gains as well asotic culture around World War I that uni ed members, but dignity and respect for the work they did.also had introduced elements of fraternal orders popular at struggle still continues.

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