Fifty years ago, another Romney was bad news for union members

A name certain to be in the headlines this November – for better or for worse – was also in The Union Advocate’s front-page headlines 50 years ago.

The top story in the Nov. 16, 1962, edition analyzed the results of gubernatorial races across the country: “Rocky, Romney, Scranton Win Big For GOP; Nixon, Others Defeated.”

George Romney, father of the Republican nominee for president in 2012, was elected governor of Michigan, defeating the labor-endorsed Democratic incumbent John Swainson by 78,000 votes. The Advocate considered Romney’s win something of a fluke, noting the narrow margin of victory and “great hoopla” surrounding the prominent automobile executive’s campaign.

“Upsetting as the Romney victory was to the Democrats, it was the only statewide one scored by the Republicans, indicating that Romney won more on his glamour than on the Republican program,” The Advocate reported.

Of course, readers can expect a more dire tone in these pages next month if George Romney’s son upsets another labor-endorsed Democratic incumbent on Nov. 6, 2012.

[The Union Advocate’s “This Month in the Archives” feature offers a look back at what our newspaper was reporting from 5 to 100 years ago. Our digital archives are online, searchable and free to anyone. Click here for access.]

• 100 Years Ago: Gompers re-elected

In its Nov. 29, 1912, edition, The Minnesota Union Advocate celebrated the re-election of Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of Labor, to another term in office during the AFL’s national convention in Rochester, N.Y.

Gompers defeated Max Hayes of Cleveland “by an overwhelming majority and amid scenes of enthusiasm,” The Advocate reported. “In fact, the demonstration in his favor was never before equaled at any of his numerous elections.”

Gompers, who helped found the AFL in 1886, served as its president from 1886 to 1894, and again from 1895 until he died in 1924.

By 1912 labor newspapers like The Advocate were referring to Gompers as the “grand old man.” The Advocate described his opposition as stemming from “the radical wing of the convention.”

Gompers had this to say to delegates after his re-election: “If this American Federation of Labor makes changes that are fundamentally in conflict with the views for which I have contended all my life, I shall go along as a union man, but you will have to choose another president.”

• 75 Years Ago: St. Paul Teachers hold City Council accountable

After accepting wage cuts to help the City of St. Paul ride out dwindling tax revenues during the Great Depression, union teachers put the city on notice in November 1937 that they would sue, if necessary, for full payment of the salaries adopted in an ordinance passed by the City Council two years earlier.

“The teachers declare their intentions of fulfilling their responsibilities by teaching the entire month of December, but insist that the city will be held to strict accountability to live up to its contract,” The Advocate reported in its Nov. 25 edition.

In a resolution passed at a joint meeting of the American Federation of Women Teachers and Men Teachers, St. Paul educators pointed out that their average salary, $1,521, was almost $600 less than their peers in cities with populations above 100,000.

The resolution called on the City Council to use its full taxing power – the city’s levy had been below the $30 per-capita limit for several years – to fulfill the promises made to St. Paul’s teachers.

“We believe the people of St. Paul want the city to honor its just obligations,” the teachers’ resolution said. “We do not believe they want the teachers to teach for nothing.”

• 25 Years Ago: Homeless Union organizes in St. Paul

The National Union of the Homeless founded a St. Paul chapter Nov. 21, 1987, in a convention held at the Labor Centre, The Union Advocate reported in its Nov. 30 edition.

“About 200 homeless and low-income people turned out to hear speakers, elect officers and pass resolutions on homelessness and other issues,” Editor Barb Kucera wrote.

The homeless union got its start two years earlier in Philadelphia, advocating for job training and affordable housing for its members. “When homeless people were barred from the polls for having no permanent address, the union won lawsuits that reaffirmed their right to vote,” The Advocate reported.

St. Paul Trades and Labor Secretary-Treasurer David Foster gave the convention’s keynote speech. Organized labor, he said, is starting to recognize “we share a lot more with people at the bottom of American society than the people at the top.”

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