RCC Honors History Project

Constitution of the American Federation of Labor (1886)

Posted by nrohr on April 15, 2009

Constitution of the American Federation of Labor (1886)

From: Report of the Sixth Annual Session of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada. Official Archives of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Individual Organizations, Silver Spring, MD.


Whereas, A struggle is going on in all the nations of the civilized world, between the oppressors and the oppressed of all countries, a struggle between the capitalist and the laborer, which grows in intensity from year to year, and will work disastrous results to the toiling millions, if they are not combined for mutual protection and benefit.

It therefore behooves the representatives of the Trades and Labor Unions of America, in Convention, assembled, to adopt such measures and disseminate such principles among the mechanics and laborers of our country as will permanently unite them, to secure the recognition of the rights to which they are justly entitled.

We therefore declare ourselves in favor of the formation of a thorough Federation, embracing every Trade and Labor Organization in America.


Article I.–Name.

Section 1. This association shall be known as “The American Federation of Labor,” and shall consist of such Trades and Labor Unions as shall conform to its rules and regulations.

Article II.–Objects.

Section 1. The objects of this Federation shall be the encouragement and formation of local Trades and Labor Unions, and the closer Federation of such societies through the organization of Central Trades and Labor Unions in every city, and the further combination of such bodies into state, territorial, or provincial organizations, to secure legislation in the interests of the working masses.

Sec. 2. The establishment of National and International Trades Unions, based upon a strict recognition of the autonomy of each trade, and the promotion and advancement of such bodies.

Sec. 3. An American Federation of all National and International Trades Unions, to aid and assist each other; and, furthermore, to secure National Legislation in the interests of the working people, and influence public opinion, by peaceful and legal methods, in favor of Organized Labor.

Sec. 4. To aid and encourage the labor press of America.

Article III.–Convention.

Section 1. The convention of the Federation shall be held annually, on the second Tuesday of December, at such place as the delegates have selected at the preceding Convention.

Article IV.–Representation.

Section 1. The basis of representation in the convention shall be: From National or International Unions, for less than four thousand members, one delegate; four thousand or more, two delegates; eight thousand or more, three delegates; sixteen thousand or more, four delegates; thirty-two thousand or more, five delegates; and so on; and from each Local or District Trades Union, not connected with, or having a National or International head, affiliated with this Federation, one delegate.

Sec. 2. No organization which has seceded from any Local, National or International or organization, shall be allowed a representation or recognition in this Federation.

Article V.–Officers.

Section 1. The officers of the Federation shall consist of a President, two Vice-Presidents, a Secretary, and a Treasurer, to be elected by the Convention.

Sec. 2. At the opening of the Convention the President shall take the chair and call the Convention to order, and preside until his successor is elected.

Sec. 3. The following Committee, consisting of three members each, shall be appointed by the President: 1st, Credentials; 2d, Rules and Order of Business; 3d, Resolutions; 4th, Finance; 5th, Report of Executive Council.

Sec. 4. Should a vacancy in any office occur between the annual meetings of the Convention, such vacancies shall be filled by the President of the Federation, by and with consent of the Executive Council. When a vacancy occurs in the office of President, the Vice-Presidents shall succeed in their respective order.

Sec. 5. The President and Secretary shall be members of the succeeding Convention in case they are not delegates, but without vote.

Article VI.–Executive Council.

Section 1. The Officers shall be an Executive Council with power to watch legislative measures directly affecting the interests of working people, and to initiate, whenever necessary, such legislative action as the Convention may direct.

Sec. 2. The Executive Council shall use every possible means to organize new National or International Trades Unions, and to organize local Trades Unions and connect them with the Federation, until such time as there are a sufficient number to form a National or International Union, when it shall be the duty of the President of the Federation to see that such organization is formed.

Sec. 3. While we recognize the right of each trade to manage its own affairs, it shall be the duty of the Executive Council to secure the unification of all labor organizations, so far as to assist each other in any justifiable boycott, and with voluntary financial help in the event of a strike or lock-out, when duly approved by the Executive Council.

Sec. 4. When a strike has been approved by the Executive Council, the particulars of the difficulty, even if it be a lock-out, shall be explained in a circular issued by the President of the Federation to the unions affiliated therewith. It shall then be the duty of all affiliated societies to urge their Local Unions and members to make liberal financial donations in aid of the working people involved.

Article VII.–Revenue.

Section 1. The revenue of the Federation shall be derived from International, National, District and Local organizations, which shall pay into the treasury of the Federation a per capita tax of one-half cent per month for each member in good standing, the same to be payable monthly to the Treasurer of the Federation.

Sec. 2. Delegates shall not be entitled to a seat in this Federation, unless the per capita tax of their organization is paid in full.

Sec. 3. Any organization, affiliated with this Federation, not paying its per capita tax on or before the 15th of each month, shall be notified of the fact by the President of the Federation, and if at the end of three months it is still in arrears, it shall be suspended from membership in the Federation, and can only be reinstated by vote of the Convention.

Sec. 4. Each society affiliated with this Federation, shall make a monthly report of its standing and progress to the President of the Federation.

Sec. 5. It shall be the duty of the President to attend to all correspondence, publish a monthly journal, and travel, with consent of the Executive Council, wherever required in the interest of the Federation. His salary shall be $1,000 per year, payable monthly, with mileage and expenses.

Sec. 6. Whenever the revenue of the Federation shall warrant such action, the Executive Council shall authorize the sending out of Trades Union speakers, from place to place, in the interests of the Federation.

Sec. 7. The funds of the Federation shall be banked monthly by three Trustees, who shall be selected by the Executive Council. The said Trustees shall be residents of the same city with the Treasurer. No money shall be paid out only in conformity with the rules laid down by the Executive Council.

Sec. 8. It shall be the duty of the Secretary to attend to such business as may be decided by the Executive Council.

Sec. 9. The accounts of the year shall be closed fourteen days prior to the assembling of the Convention, and a balance sheet, duly certified, shall be presented to the same.

Sec. 10. The remuneration for the loss of time by the executive council shall be at the rate of $3.000 per diem; traveling and incidental expenses to be also defrayed.

Article VIII.–Miscellaneous.

Section 1. In all questions not covered by this Constitution, the Executive Council shall have power to make rules to govern the same, and shall report accordingly to the Federation.

Sec. 2. Charters for the Federation shall be granted by the President of the Federation, by and with the consent of the Executive Council, to all National and International, and Local bodies affiliated with this Federation.

Sec. 3. Any seven wage workers of good character, an favorable to Trades Unions, and not members of any body affiliated with this Federation, who will subscribe to this Constitution, shall have the power to form a local body, to be known as a “Federal Labor Union,” and they shall hold regular meetings for the purpose of strengthening and advancing the Trades Union movement, and shall have the power to make their own rules in conformity with this Constitution, and shall be granted a local charter by the President of this Federation, provided the request for a charter be endorsed by the nearest Local or National Trades Union officials connected with this Federation.

Sec. 4. The charter fee for affiliated bodies shall be $5.00, payable to the Treasurer of the Federation.

Sec. 5. Where there are one or more Local Unions in any city, belonging to a National or International Union, affiliated with this Federation, it shall be their duty to organize a Trades Assembly or Central Labor Union, or join such body, if already in existence.

Article IX.–Amendments.

Section 1. This Constitution can be amended or altered only at a regular session of the Convention, and to do so, it shall require a two-thirds vote of the delegates, and must be ratified within six weeks thereafter, by a majority vote of the members of the societies composing this Federation.

Sec. 2. This Constitution shall go into effect March 1st, 1887.


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