Edward K. Welsh Papers
Language of Materials
Edward K. Welsh (1902-1979) began his career as a union organizer in 1930. In the 1940s, he was hired by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to organize workers in the steel, auto, and textile industries in the United States. He later organized laborers at the Panama Canal Zone. In 1961, the AFL-CIO sent Welsh to Africa as part of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to assist various African trade union movements. He spent three and a half years in Africa. The collection mainly documents Welsh's trade union work in the United States and Africa, but also reflects some of his nonunion activities.
Edward K. Welsh (1902-1979) was born in New York City in 1902. As a teenager, he worked at the old Metropolitan Opera House, opening carriage doors for opera-goers. He also worked as a laborer, ditch digger, elevator operator, store clerk, shipping clerk, and longshoreman.
Welsh's career in the labor movement began in 1930, when he worked as a volunteer organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), Local 22 (dressmakers). Soon he became involved in radical politics, traveling with Communist Party notable Jay Lovestone and others to the Soviet Union. During that visit, Stalin hoped to secure Welsh as one of communism's supporters among African Americans in the United States. However, Welsh's close-up exposure to Soviet society caused him to alter his political allegiance. Nevertheless, his concern for workers' rights led him to continue to carry out his activism in the labor movement through writing, speaking and teaching.
During the 1940s, Welsh was appointed to the staff of Allan Haywood, vice president and director of organization of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), where he organized workers in the steel, auto, and textile industries in the South and in Ohio.
In 1950, Welsh was sent to the Panama Canal Zone by CIO president Philip Murray to organize workers there. With Welsh's help, 5,500 workers were enrolled in Local 900 of the Government and Civic Employees Organizing Committee within a year. In 1953, Welsh returned to New York City, where he organized office workers. He later moved to Detroit, where he conducted worker education and political action programs.
The CIO merged with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1955. In 1961, AFL-CIO president George Meany assigned Welsh to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Welsh's job was to assist trade union movements in Africa, specifically in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Kenya, and Uganda. During this period, the AFL-CIO sought out African union leaders to further the United States' political and economic interests in Africa. Sanctioned by the Department of State and the CIA, African labor leaders were given secret undercover support.
Welsh spent three and a half years in Africa organizing agricultural, textile, hotel, and building and construction workers. He returned to the United States in 1964 to work with taxicab drivers and hospital workers in New York City before retiring three years later. Welsh died in February 1979 at the age of 77.
Series I-III are arranged in rough chronological order. In Series IV-VI, printed materials are grouped by country of origin. Series VII is arranged alphabetically by folder title.
The collection is organized into seven series:
- Series I: Correspondence, Biography, and Speeches, 1939-1971
- Series II: CIO, AFL-CIO, and Other Organizing Files, 1937-1974
- Series III: ICFTU Files, 1958-1971
- Series IV: African Pamphlets and Periodicals, 1956-1972
- Series V: News Clippings, 1956-1965
- Series VI: African Newspapers, 1955-1964
- Series VII: Photographs, circa 1930-1969
Scope and Content Note
Roughly half of the collection chronicles Welsh's trade union work in both the United States and Africa for the CIO, AFL-CIO, and the ICFTU. Genres of materials which document these activities include correspondence, reports, photographs, minutes, speeches, and other materials. Earlier files from the 1930s through 1950s shed light on Welsh's organizing efforts in the United States for the CIO and the AFL-CIO, as well as some of his nonunion activities and his work in Panama. Later files from the late 1950s and 1960s focus on the ICFTU and Welsh's involvement with the organization. The other half of the collection consists of collected pamphlets, periodicals, and newspapers on trade union activities in Africa, spanning from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Many files in the collection provide insight into the formation and development of the trade union movements in African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, and Tanganyika (now Tanzania); criticism by African affiliates of the ICFTU administration; and the split between the All-African Trade Union Federation and the ICFTU. The papers also document conspiracy and bribery charges within the Kenya Federation of Labour, some of which implicate the CIA.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by Edward K. Welsh was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; Edward K. Welsh Papers; TAM 074; Box number; Folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by Mirian Welsh, wife of Edward K. Welsh, in 1979, 1985, and 2007. The accession numbers associated with these gifts are 1979.004 and 1979.011.
About this Guide
Photographs separated from this collection during initial processing and from additional accessions were established as a separate collection, the Edward K. Welsh Photographs (PHOTOS 190). In 2013, the photograph collection was reincorporated into the Edward K. Welsh Papers (TAM 074).