Labor Review Centennial, 1907-2007
Labor Review launched in 1907 with grand designs, survived a scandal four years later, then reorganized
From the Minneapolis Labor Review, March 22, 2007
By Steve Share, Labor Review editor
MINNEAPOLIS — In November 1906, the American Federation of Labor, led by Samuel Gompers, brought its national convention to Minneapolis. Two weeks of inspiring speeches and rousing mass meetings energized the local labor community. Over the next few months, Minneapolis labor leaders began working in earnest to fulfill a long-held dream: to begin publishing a weekly newspaper — controlled solely by the labor movement — to champion labor’s cause.
A founding “Board of Control,” drawn from the leadership of the city’s labor councils, began meeting and laying plans (see list of board members, right). To publicize their initiative, the board announced a contest to name the new publication, offering a prize of $10 in gold. The contest drew 200 entries from the U.S. and Canada, but the name selected — “Labor Review” — came from Minneapolis from Edna George, who worked as a union cigar packer.
In accepting her prize, George wrote a letter expressing her thanks and her vision that the new publication “become a fearless, honest, outspoken advocate of the working men and women.”
The Board of Control selected John P. Kennedy as editor-manager. Kennedy, 54, was former president of Typographical Union No. 42 and a member of the Knights of Labor. He was a longtime newspaper veteran, working since 1888 for Minneapolis daily newspapers and before that as editor of the Mason City (Iowa) Times, two daily newspapers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the Lawrence Journal, one of the first labor newspapers in Massachusetts. Kennedy also had worked for nine years for the Associated Press in Boston.
Volume 1, Number 1
The first issue of the Labor Review appeared April 4, 1907. A “Word of Introduction” announced, “Labor Review will stand from first to last for a ‘square deal’ between employee and employer, fair, honorable and equitable dealing between organized labor and capital relying upon the same."
Printed on newsprint, the magazine format publication featured 16 pages measuring 8-1/2 inches wide by 11-1/8 inches tall. The cover featured a teal color and bore the image of a woman who looked much like the Statue of Liberty in New York. This figure, however, stood holding aloft a scale balancing “Capital” and “Labor” in her left arm, while her right arm grasped a sheathed sword. A shield decorated with stars and stripes leaned against her side. The statue appeared to stand at the junction of two rivers — the Mississippi and Minnesota? — while side panels on the cover clearly depict the still today recognizable Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Falls, and the Minneapolis City Hall.
Inside, the first issue of the Labor Review offered a dedicatory poem, biographies of the members of the Board of Control and the editor, “Newsy Notes From The Various Unions,” a section on “Labor Bills in the Minnesota Legislature,” commentary on the national labor scene, and a page “Of Interest To Women.”
Now 100 years later, current issues of the Labor Review include many of these same features!
The prose in the first issue of the Labor Review reflects the style of the times, but the issues remain remarkably contemporary.
For example, an editorial headlined “Boycott Not Un-American” read: “Whenever a ‘We Don’t Patronize’ circular is issued by a labor organization members of the Manufacturers’ Association and of the Citizen’s Alliance, and anti-unionists generally, fulminate to the bursting point, that such a procedure is ‘un-American,’ ‘hostile to the principles upon which our liberties are grounded,’ and other such Fourth of July patriotic platitudes.”
The editorial reminded that boycotts were part of the American tradition of protest going back to colonial resistance to the Stamp Act and the Boston Tea Party.
The editorial continued: “If the boycott was a thoroughly honorable weapon towards securing American independence, why is it not equally as honorable a weapon towards securing the emancipation of American labor?”
(In the same manner, the Labor Review in this March 22, 2007 issue responds to anti-union interests who ignore history but profess to defend American values in attacking the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act. See Commentary).
While, the first issue of the Labor Review clearly stated the publication’s mission to champion the rights of working men and women, it also showed reliance on business for advertising dollars. The first issue contained 29 advertisements from a broad range of businesses: furniture stores, shoe stores, clothing stores, restaurants, a pool hall (“Strictly a Union House”), a bank, Powers Department Store, Grain Belt Beer, and Gluek Brewing Company.
The city’s daily newspapers, the Minneapolis Tribune and the Minneapolis Journal, both took note of the Labor Review debut.
“Up To The Standard,” a Journal headline read April 12, 1907. “Labor Review’s Second Issue is Well-Edited Publication.”
The Journal continued: “The Labor Review, a snappy-looking weekly publication, owned and controlled by organized labor, made its second appearance today… The second issue indicates hard work and thorough cooperation on the part of the union interests of the city, as the publication not only covers the news field of labor, but also contains an interesting lot of contributed matter from the workers.”
For the next two years, the Labor Review continued in much the same format and content. The striking cover art remained but the succession of lively colors from the first few issues — teal, red, brown, yellow — soon disappeared and the publication appeared in black ink only.
By 1910, the Labor Review had grown in size to a full-size broadsheet newspaper. The page size now measured 14-1/2 inches wide by 20-1/2 inches tall. A small version of the original cover art remained as part of the page one banner. The eight-page issue of November 10, 1910 contained nearly 60 ads.
John P. Kennedy remained as editor, but resigned November 29, 1910 — disgraced by scandal.
While editor Kennedy came to the Labor Review as a former president of the local Typographical Union, sometime in 1908 growing questions about the newspaper’s financial management led his own union to pull its support for the publication. Other unions followed.
Eventually, the Minneapolis Trades and Labor Assembly brought in two auditors to investigate. The auditors turned over their findings to the Hennepin County Attorney, who took up the case.
As reported February 15, 1911 by the Minneapolis Journal, Kennedy pleaded guilty to grand larceny and was sentenced to a year in prison. “He was charged in the indictment with receiving money from the Purity Brewing Company and appropriating it to his own use,” the Journal reported. In exchange for changing his plea from not guilty to guilty, Kennedy received probation instead of prison.
(The Minneapolis Trades and Labor Assembly immediately passed a resolution protesting the leniency extended to Kennedy).
The Labor Review was more than $2,000 in debt. The editor had resigned in disgrace. The newspaper might easily have ceased publication.
For the local labor movement, however, the Labor Review was too important to lose. The newspaper didn’t miss an issue.
Trades and Labor Assembly president N.C. O’Connor — who also was the secretary of the Typographical Union — temporarily agreed to serve as editor, beginning with the December 8, 1910 issue.
A month later, O’Connor stepped aside and Thomas J. Hamlin became the new editor with the January 13, 1911 issue.
“Now let every member of organized labor rally to the support of Labor Review, and it will be made a labor paper second to none in this country,” wrote O’Connor in a parting editorial.
A special committee of ten, including the two auditors, drew up a plan to restructure the newspaper and continue publishing. They drew up a weekly budget of $82.40 to continue printing the newspaper, including a salary of $25 per week for the editor- manager.
The new plan, detailed February 3, 1911 in a front-page story in the Labor Review, offered “a better paper, the same circulation, and all at about half the cost.”
“In a city the size of Minneapolis,” the proposal declared, “a labor paper is a vital necessity, and organized labor cannot afford to be without one.”
The plan noted that advertisers continued to support the newspaper and that circulation was remaining high at 4,200 copies weekly.
For several weeks, the future of the Labor Review was the main front page story of the Labor Review.
The final plan to save the Labor Review dissolved the quasi-independent Board of Control and put the newspaper directly under the control of the Trades and Labor Assembly. The Assembly passed a constitutional amendment to make the Labor Review “the official organ” of the Assembly. The amendment read: “The Editor-manager must be elected by the Trades and Labor Assembly and shall devote all his time in promoting a high class labor paper.”
With Hamlin as the new editor, the newspaper began a subscription drive to increase circulation to 10,000 copies.
By the May 19, 1911 issue, the newspaper related, Trades and Labor Assembly delegates “reported for Labor Review that affairs were in good condition and that the paper was yielding good returns.”
By the September 1, 1911 issue, a new page one banner for the newspaper also declared that the Labor Review was now “the official paper of the Minnesota State Federation of Labor.”
Hamlin served as Labor Review editor until 1915, announcing in the January 15, 1915 issue that he would not run for re-election as editor-manager when his term expired March 1 of that year.
Upholsterers Union member Robley D. Cramer, who began writing for the Labor Review in Fall 1914 with the byline “R.D.C.,” won election as the new editor. His first issue as editor was dated March 5, 1915.
Cramer lauded his predecessor: “When Tom Hamlin first accepted the editorship of ‘Labor Review’ he was the only man to be found with sufficient nerve to tackle the proposition of pulling a paper several thousand dollars in debt, out of the hole. But Tom was equal to the task which no one else dared touch, and the-present condition of the ‘Labor Review’ is lasting testimony to his ability and efficiency.”|
Cramer would create his own legacy, serving as Labor Review editor for the next 48 years.
Robley Cramer became Labor Review editor in 1915 — and served 48 years!
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