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Fight Against “Exploitation,” The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists

The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists

The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists played a major role in inciting and channeling Puerto Rican complaints and mobilization.  The ACTU was a Catholic, organization of labor leaders and rank and file workers that had fought against the Communist Party influence in unions and mobster control of the docks. The remnants of the ACTU in New York—unionists, priests, professors, lawyers, and students—had been providing labor education workshops with a focus on countering the influence of the Communist Party.  But in 1953, they began organizing English language and labor leadership classes for Puerto Ricans and other Latinos through the parishes of East Harlem and the Bronx. The young ACTU activists got to know the factories from which they were recruiting workers and the island from which most of these workers came.[5]The men who participated in the courses began to report on sweatshop conditions, of unions that took their dues and did nothing in return. Workers in the program quickly began to contest their conditions at work. One of the participants was elected shop steward and filed a grievance which went nowhere. The result was that, “He called all the workers out of the shop and paraded them from Brooklyn to the rather plush offices of the union headquarters in New York City. He had "rights" and he would enforce them, much to the displeasure of his very embarrassed union leaders. This was the first "strike" a certain very mature union had in a very long time in New York.”[6]

Through these efforts, ACTU leaders learned of the many complaints and demands of Puerto Rican workers and began to channel their complaints and provide legal advice.  Their goal was to help workers in plants with no union to petition the NLRB for a vote, or in the case of racket unions, organize de-certification votes.  ACTU quickly networked with the Migration Division, the Spanish language press, and industrial unions (especially the IUE and District 65) to help workers lead strikes, receive legal advice, petition the NLRB and organize support for picket lines. ACTU militants held dozens of meetings, carried out interviews, gathered meticulous data, supported pickets, and held meetings, from plant to plant. 

Continue to The Rebellion of the “Exploited” Workers


[5] See “Need for Labor Education in Puerto Rico.” Memphis World, 12 September 1959.

[6] Norman C. DeWeaver, "ACTU Labor Schools for Spanish-Speaking," America, (1955), 452