(January 25, 1880 – June 1, 1956) was
president of the International
Photo-Engravers Union of North America
from 1906 to 1929, an
American Federation of
(AFL) vice president from 1919 to 1955 and an AFL-CIO
vice president from 1955 to 1956.
Luxembourg in 1880 to Michael and Janette Woll, the Roman Catholic Wolls emigrated to the
States and settled in Chicago, Illinois.
Matthew Woll attended public school until
the age of 15, then became an apprentice photo-engraver. He entered
the Kent College of Law
(then part of Lake Forest
) in 1901. He took night courses, graduated and was
admitted to the bar in 1904.
Early Trade Union Career
In 1906, Woll was elected president of the International
Photo-Engravers Union of North America (IPEU). During his tenure,
IPEU organized more than 90 percent of all photo-engravers in the
United States and Canada.
firm believer in arbitration
, Woll forced nearly all
IPEU locals to agree to binding arbitration clauses in their
agreements. Woll also campaigned heavily for the five-day work week
, paid vacations and
holidays, and health and welfare benefits. By the mid-1920s, IPEU
had achieved most of these goals.
Woll served as AFL
fraternal delegate to the British Trades Union Congress
in 1915 and
1916. During World War I
, he served on
the War Labor Board
In 1919, Woll was elected to the executive council of the American
Federation of Labor.
In 1924, when AFL president Samuel
died, Woll was widely expected to take the reins of the
organization. But John L. Lewis
, president of the United Mine Workers of
, wanted the presidency for himself. But Lewis was
unable to muster enough support for his candidacy, and threw his
weight behind Mine Worker secretary William Green
in the mistaken
belief that he could use Green as a puppet to control the AFL. But
Green found a kindred anti-communist
Woll, and the two became close.
Over time, taking on a number of additional
responsibilities—including becoming president of the AFL's union label department
director of the AFL's legal bureau; chairman of the AFL's standing
committees on education, social security and international
relations—Woll resigned as IPEU president in 1929 and became first
vice-president of the union.
Woll is also noted for being the chief proponent of a union-owned
insurance company. Woll believed that the purpose of such a company
would be "to sell insurance to individual workers without profit,
to sell insurance to whole organizations and, thus, weaken the hold
of employers on their workers through group insurance." Woll
convinced the AFL to provide the start-up money for such an
organization. The Union Labor Life Insurance
(ULLICO) opened its doors on May 1, 1925. Woll was
president of the company from 1925 to 1955, and then its general
executive chairman from 1955 until his death.
In the mid 1920s, Woll became acting president of the National Civic Federation
pushed the federation to collaborate with anti-communist
organizations—including pro-fascist groups. He was forced to step
down as acting president after coming under attack by Lewis at the
1935 AFL-CIO convention.
In the early 1930s, Woll helped found and then headed up the AFL's
Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act
, an organization
seeking repeal of Prohibition
Woll published Our Next Step
(Harper & Bros.), a
treatise on economics
, with William English Walling
in 1934. The
work called for federal polices which would encourage a shift from
profits to wages in order to expand consumer purchasing power. In
1935, Woll published Labor, Industry and Government
Appleton-Century), a treatise on labor
Woll was a strong supporter of craft
. During the debates over the Congress of Industrial
(CIO), Woll portrayed himself as a conciliator
and mediator, but worked behind the scenes to undercut Mine Workers
president John L. Lewis
and other proponents of industrial unionism
Increasingly obsessed with international
affairs and the Soviet
Union, Woll served as an AFL delegate to the International
Federation of Trade Unions conference in 1937 and to the
Organization's conference in 1938.
Woll believed, as had his mentor and friend, Samuel Gompers, that
labor's best hope for survival lay in forging a labor-management
entente. Subsequently, Woll advocated very conservative positions,
including strongly anti-regulatory views. This led Woll to oppose
the Fair Labor Standards
of 1938, which Woll saw as merely more government
intervention in the workplace.
During World War II
, Woll served on the
National War Labor Board
After the war, Woll served as a consultant to the United Nations
on trade union issues, and was
instrumental in working with Eleanor
to incorporate language specifically protecting the
right to form and/or join a union into Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of
Woll was elected a vice-president of the AFL-CIO after the two
organizations merged in 1955.
Matthew Woll died in 1956.
A lifelong Republican, Woll is considered one of the most
conservative of all American labor leaders. For example, at the
AFL-CIO convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1935, Woll bitterly denounced the Wagner Act as a betrayal of the legacy of Samuel
A vitrioloic anti-communist, Woll eventually became a confidant of
AFL president Samuel Gompers and other like-minded labor leaders
such as William Green of the United Mine Workers of America. Green
in particular relied heavily on Woll for advice and policy guidance
during his term as president of the AFL. Woll also became a mentor
to Jay Lovestone
, the one-time
Communist who was expelled from the party only to become a rabid
and AFL-CIO foreign policy
advisor. In 1944, the AFL-CIO established the Free Trade Union Committee
to assist free trade unions abroad, particularly in Europe
. Lovestone was named its secretary, reporting
(in part) to Woll. Lovestone's mission was to eliminate
pro-Communist unions and supplant them with unions which supported
capitalism. The Central
funneled millions of dollars through FTUC
in support of American foreign policy goals.
Woll's influence on Green is difficult to understate. In many ways,
Matthew Woll operated as a kind of puppet-master, heavily
influencing AFL-CIO policy through his relationship with Green and
AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer George
Mild-mannered and courtly, Green strongly believed in an
evangelical "Christian cooperation" worldview similar to the
, in which men of good
moral character would do right by one another if only they
committed themselves to Christ. Green's views dovetailed with those
of Woll, who advocated a cooperative rather than adversarial
relationship with management.
Green's religious views also led him to adopt a virulently
anti-Communist outlook. Woll and Meany, both ardent
anti-Communists, found a fellow traveler in Green. They effectively
played on Green's Christian idealism and fears of "godless
Communism" to Red-bait leftist leaders and activists throughout the
labor movement and seek their ouster.
- Biographical Dictionary of American Labor. Gary M.
Fink, editor-in-chief. Greenwood Press, 1984. ISBN
- Carew, Anthony. "The American Labor Movement in Fizzland: The
Free Trade Union Committee and the CIA - Central Intelligence
Agency." Labor History. 39:1 (February 1998).
- Cox, Robert. "Labor and Hegemony." International
Organization. 31:3 (Summer 1977).
- Douglas, William A. and Godson, Roy S. "Labor and Hegemony: A
Critique." International Organization. 34:1 (Winter
- Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the
United States: The T.U.E.L., 1925-1929. International
Publishers Co., Inc., 1995. ISBN 978-0-7178-0690-4.
- Frutiger, Dean. "AFL-CIO China Policy: Labor's New Step Forward
or the Cold War Revisited?" Labor Studies Journal. 27:3
- Kelber, Harry. "AFL-CIO's Dark Past: AFL is Funded for Covert
Activity by CIA." Labor Educator. November 15, 2004.
- Kelber, Harry. "AFL-CIO's Dark Past: Meany Hired Ex-Communist
To Run International Affairs." Labor Educator. November 8,
- Kelber, Harry. "AFL-CIO's Dark Past: U.S. Labor Secretly
Intervened in Europe." Labor Educator. November 22,
- Kelber, Harry. "Do Solidarity Center’s Covert Operations Help
American Labor on Global Problems?" Labor Educator.
December 13, 2004.
- Kelber, Harry. "Kirkland Built A Secret Global Empire With U.S.
Funds to Control Foreign Labor." Labor Educator. December
- Kelber, Harry. "U.S. Labor Reps. Conspired to Overthrow Elected
Governments in Latin America." Labor Educator. November
- Phelan, Craig. William Green: Biography of a Labor
Leader. State University of New York Press, 1989. ISBN
- Sims, Beth. Workers of the World Undermined: American
Labor's Role in U.S. Foreign Policy. Boston: South
End Press, 1991. ISBN 0896084299
- Stepien, Tom. Matthew C. Woll: Labor Leader
Extraordinaire. Lulu Press, 2007.