William Green (labor leader)

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William Green (1873-1952), American trade union leader.

William Green (March 3, 1873 – November 21, 1952) was an American trade union leader. Green is best remembered for serving as the President of the American Federation of Labor from 1924 to 1952. Green was a strong supporter for labor-management cooperation and was in the frontlines on wage and benefit protections and industrial unionism legislation. As president of the AFL, he continued the development of the federation away from the foundations of “pure and simple unionism” into a more politically active “social reform unionism”.[1]


Early years[edit]

William Green was born March 3, 1873 in Coshocton, Ohio, the son of Welsh immigrants. His father was a coal miner.


Green went to work himself in the coal mines in 1879 at the age of 16.[1] He became involved in the trade union movement as a young miner, gaining election as secretary of the Coshocton Progressive Miners Union in 1891.[1] The Coshocton Progressive Miners Union later became a local of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). In 1890, Green became the subdistrict president of the UMWA, and then becoming UMWA Ohio district president in 1906.[1]

In 1910, he was elected to the Ohio Senate, where he served as both Senate president pro tempore and Democratic floor leader. As Ohio state senator, Green drafted and won passage for a model Workmen’s Compensation Act in 1911. His accomplishments as state senator also included Progressive Era legislation [2] including bills to limit the hours of women wage earners, institute a 1 percent income tax, elect Ohio’s U.S. senators by popular vote and run judicial nonpartisan elections. Green’s experience and accomplishments contributed to his appointment as the UMWA’s international statistician in 1911 and then promotion to secretary-treasurer in 1913.[1] He was named to the AFL Executive Council in 1914, and became Secretary-Treasurer in 1916. His intensive involvement in labor had him serve as one of five delegates to the Paris Peace Conference in the culmination of World War I (1918).[1]

In 1924 he became president of the AFL following the death of Samuel Gompers, a position he held until his death. In 1933, during his presidency in the AFL, Green’s endeavors persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to appoint him to the Labor Advisory Council of the National Recovery Administration. The following year, Green served on the National Labor Board. Moreover, President Harry Truman appointed Green to the National Advisory Committee on Mobilization during the Korean War.[1] He is best remembered for having presided over the split in the AFL which led to the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).[3]

Changing the AFL Strategy to Cooperative[edit]

Under Green's presidency in the 1920s, the AFL changed their political strategy of confrontation to one of cooperation. Unlike Green, former AFL president Gompers frequently projected an independent and confrontational approach for the federation, regardless of his affiliation to the National Civic Federation and the Wilson administration.

On the other hand, Green favored a more cooperative style when politicking for labor. He gained public support for legislating benefits for all workers and gaining cooperation with employers in the name of mutual self-interest and the collective good. Green supported union-management cooperation in everyday functions at the workplace. He also promoted for a cutback in the hours of labor, believing that it would increase worker’s living standards and participation for civic engagement. Ultimately, Green supported a voluntary incomes policy among labor and management, binding higher wages to productivity growth.[1]

Accomplishments as AFL President[edit]

Green’s support was critical to winning passage of the Norris-La Guardia Act of 1932, directed at reducing the practice of labor restrictions and banning of the yellow-dog contract. Green was also successful in acquiring federation support for a national unemployment insurance system sponsored largely by employer donations. In 1935 Green facilitated the passage if the National Labor Relations Act, aimed at empowering workers’ rights to organize and take part in collective bargaining. Furthermore, in 1938 Green helped pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, becoming the first federal law in instituting minimum wages and the 40-hour workweek.[1]

Death and legacy[edit]

Green died November 21, 1952. He was 79 years old at the time of his death.

Green was regarded, both by his contemporaries and historically, as a very mild mannered leader who deferred on nearly all matters to aides such as Matthew Woll and his more distinguished successor George Meany.[4]


Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois named its library after Green and colleague Philip Murray during the 1960s to distinguish the functions unions played in the university’s founding in 1945. The library honored their service in American labor and their contributions in funding educational opportunities for everyone.[2]

He is a member of the Labor Hall of Fame.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "William F. Green (1873-1952)," AFL-CIO, www.aflcio.org/
  2. ^ a b "Biographies of Philip Murray and William Green". Roosevelt University Library. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Phelan, Craig (1989). William Green: Biography of a Labor Leader. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press. ISBN 9781438416113. 
  4. ^ 1996 Labor Hall of Fame article

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by
Samuel Gompers
AFL President
Succeeded by
George Meany
Ohio Senate
Preceded by
Nation O. Mather
President of the Senate
Succeeded by
Charles John Howard