A. Early Federation Records, 1881-1890, and The Papers of Gabriel Edmonston, 1881-1918 (Reel 1)
Minutes and Other Records (1 volume): The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, founded in 1881, was the immediate predecessor of the American Federation of Labor. The Legislative Committee of the FOTLU and the Executive Council of the AFL were the executive bodies of those organizations and were responsible for the conduct of the federations' affairs between the annual conventions. The volume contains approximately fifty pages of material dating from 1881 to 1888. It includes handwritten minutes of five FOTLU Legislative Committee meetings (1881-85), clippings of the printed proceedings of the 1886 FOTLU convention, handwritten minutes of four AFL Executive Council meetings (1886- 87), council votes and communications (1887), and a circular consisting of minutes and a financial report (1888).
Account Book (1 volume): This handwritten volume of some 120 pages itemizes the receipts and expenditures of the AFL from 1886 to 1890. Income entries generally relate to the payment of charter fees and per capita assessments by unions affiliated with the Federation; expenses include such items as office supplies, salaries, travel by members of the Executive Council, and donations to affiliates. (Illustration)
Edmonston Papers: Gabriel Edmonston was the General President of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America from 1881 to 1882, a member of the FOTLU Legislative Committee from 1882 to 1886, and Treasurer of the AFL from 1886 to 1888. The collection contains some 250 items, primarily letters to Edmonston; in addition, there are a number of flyers, circulars, and pamphlets. The letters dating from the early 1880's are mainly from Peter J. McGuire, General Secretary of the Carpenters from 1881 to 1901 and an officer of the AFL from 1886 to 1900. Concerned principally with the struggle to establish the carpenters' union and a national federation of trade unions, the letters from this period deal with local carpenters' disputes, the activities of the Knights of Labor, and McGuire's evaluations of Samuel Gompers' first years as AFL President. The letters dating from the late 1880's and 1890's are primarily from Gompers, and focus on Edmonston's roles as Treasurer of the AFL, lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and leader in the labor movement in the capital; also included is personal correspondence relating to Gompers' family. The few twentieth century documents in the collection consist of personal items and material related to the carpenters' union.
B. Executive Council Records
Minutes, 1893-1924 (Reels 2-7)
Description: The minutes of the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor record the deliberations of the council at its formal sessions. They deal with a wide variety of matters including organizing activities, lobbying efforts, jurisdictional disputes between unions, strikes and boycotts, and reports by officers of the Federation. While they outline the council's decisions on questions before it, they generally do not summarize the discussion nor record the votes of individual council members. The minutes were filmed in chronological sequence by meeting.
Finding Aids: Detailed, alphabetically arranged subject indexes, which the AFL prepared contemporaneously with the minutes, accompany most but not all meetings. On the film the indexes immediately precede the records of the particular meeting to which they relate. Researchers should note that the page numbers appearing in these indexes refer to the original page numbers of the minutes, not to the numbers that the AFL staff added when reorganizing the records in the 1950's.
Vote Books, 1892-1924 (Reels 8-18)
Description: The vote books contain correspondence from Gompers to members of the Executive Council, addressing specific issues upon which the council members then returned their votes, or conveying information which required no vote including, for example, the agenda for forthcoming council meetings. This microfilm edition includes records from the first seventy volumes of the AFL-CIO's collection of Executive Council vote books. Two books are incomplete; they contained records dating from October 1913 to February 1914, and from April to August 1917.
Organization: Generally speaking, the AFL compiled the vote books in chronological order. In large part they consist of letters, numbered consecutively, from Gompers to members of the council. Typically, Gompers presented an issue in such a letter, briefly sketched its background, framed the question on which council members were to vote, and enclosed copies of relevant documents.
Finding Aids: At frequent intervals in the vote books are contemporary summaries of the council's votes. These detail each issue on which votes had been taken and recapitulate the votes of the respective council members.
Correspondence,1901-1924 (Reel 19)
Description: This reel contains two small collections of unbound correspondence between members of the Executive Council. One consists of approximately forty letters and other documents. They span the years between 1901 and 1924, but are concentrated in the post-World War I period. They consider such subjects as demobilization, postwar domestic and international problems, strikes, the AFL's political activity, national and international union affairs, and personal matters concerning individual members of the council.
The other group of documents contains letters to the Executive Council from Frank Morrison, Secretary of the Federation from 1896 to 1939; it consists of some 150 letters dating from 1911 to 1914. Enclosed with the correspondence are other items such as speeches, clippings, pamphlets, and circulars. Among the most important subjects in this correspondence are strikes and other affairs of AFL affiliates, socialist activities, political developments, organizers' reports, National Civic Federation activities, and relations with the Canadian labor movement.
C. Files of the Office of the President (See also Part 2: Reels 59-137)
Letterbooks, 1907-1924 (Reels 20-23)
Description: The five letter books on these reels contain letterpress copies of Gompers' outgoing correspondence. Three of these (on reels 20, 21, and 22) contain his correspondence as Commissioner and Chairman of the Committee on Labor of the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense, a wartime agency established by Congress in 1916 to coordinate the resources and industries of the nation and to provide for their security and mobilization during World War I. Major correspondents in these letter books include Newton D. Baker, Walter S. Gifford, Florence Jaffray Harriman, V. Everit Macy, Daniel Willard, and William B. Wilson.
There are two letter books on reel 23. In the first are miscellaneous Gompers letters dating from 1907 to 1924, many of which are marked confidential. Major correspondents in this volume include members of the Executive Council.
The second letter book contains Gompers' correspondence during 1917 and 1918 as president of the American Alliance for Labor and Democracy. The Alliance was organized to counteract pacifist and anti-war sentiment in the labor movement. Major correspondents include Robert Maisel, Herman Robinson, and Chester Wright.
Many of the letter book pages have deteriorated over time and are now barely legible. The General Correspondence section of the Files of the Office of the President, published in Part 2 of this microfilm edition, contains copies of some of these letters.
Organization: The documents are in letterpress books bound in chronological order.
Finding Aids: There is a contemporary name index of correspondents at the beginning of each volume.
Scrapbooks, 1886-1905 (Reel 24)
Description: This reel contains two scrapbooks of clippings:"Old Clippings Left by Mr. Gompers' Son" and "Labor Book." The first consists of newspaper clippings that span the period from 1886 to 1902, but most date from between 1895 and 1900. The second scrapbook contains articles from newspapers printed in the Boston area between 1899 and 1905. Both books are in poor condition.
Organization: Generally the clippings are arranged chronologically, but there are many exceptions to this, particularly in the first book.
Finding Aids: The Gompers Papers project staff prepared tables of contents for both scrapbooks, giving, where possible, the title, source, and date of publication for each clipping; on the microfilm each contents list precedes the scrapbook to which it pertains.
D. AFL-CIO Microfilm Files
The reels in this section are copies of reels of 16mm microfilm held at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO; that original film was made by members of the Federation staff for in-house use. The documents could not be refilmed for this edition because the Federation had discarded them. The AFL-CIO microfilm is flawed in a number of respects. The jamming of the rotary camera during the original filming resulted in blurred images of some of the documents. Other pages were filmed at incorrect light settings and for this reason are virtually unreadable. Furthermore, the original print of the film, the master negative, has been scratched as a result of serving as the Federation's use copy since the 1950's.
The AFL staff filmed the documents on these reels at a high reduction ratio, approximately 40 to 1. Consequently, the images are quite small. Using a microfilm reader with a high magnification lens, preferably about 40x, will make reading them easier. The AFL staff filmed the documents in a duo-format arrangement. This means that each reel contains two parallel rows or "tracks" of images. "Track I" reads from the beginning of the film to the end. "Track 2" runs parallel to "Track I" and reads from the end of the film to the beginning.
For this edition the Federation's 16mm film was duplicated on 35mm stock. To facilitate locating specific items or files, consecutive numbers were stamped at regular intervals along the margins of these copies of the film. Because of the duo-format arrangement, there are two sets of these margin numbers. The numbers 1000 to 1999, printed along one margin, relate to the documents on "Track l." The numbers 2000 to 2999, printed along the opposite margin, relate to the documents on "Track 2."
AFL Microfilm Convention File, 1909-1924;  (Reels 25-33)
Description: The AFL-CIO's microfilm Convention File consists of correspondence, reports, convention resolutions, and other records. Each reel contains some 8,000 to 9,000 pages of documents that complement the printed convention Proceedings. For example, the Proceedings of the 1909 convention indicate that it directed the officers of the Federation to press for passage of eight-hour legislation by Congress. The microfilm records of the 1909 convention contain a file entitled "EightHour Bill"; the file consists of documents resulting from the convention's action. It includes extracts from Executive Council meetings that considered the legislation (January and March 1910), Gompers' circular letter to organized labor and the responses to it (January and February 1910), the text of a bill presented to Congress, and Gompers' correspondence on the subject with members of Congress (March through May 1910).
Organization: AFL staff members organized the microfilm chronologically by convention and subdivided the records for the respective conventions into individual files by topic. They prepared cover sheets which precede most files on the film and identify their contents.
Finding Aids: The Gompers Papers project staff prepared tables of contents which appear at the beginning of each reel. They give the name of each file on a particular reel, indicate how the file's subject is listed in the index to the printed Proceedings of a convention, and specify the location of the file on the reel in terms of consecutive numbers stamped along the margins of the film. The file names in the contents derive from the cover sheets, prepared by the AFL staff, which precede each file on the microfilm. The reference to the subject entry in the Proceedings index is in brackets; when the entry was the same as the file name appearing on the film, it is not repeated in the contents list. The following entry is from the table of contents for the 1909 Convention File:
96. [Civil Service]............ 1001.
It indicates that the cover sheet preceding the file carries the title "96"; that the subject, Resolution 96, can be found in the index of the 1909 convention's Proceedings under the heading "Civil Service"; and that the file is located at margin number 1001 on the film.
AFL Microfilm National and International UnionFile, 1890-1937; [1938-1948] (Reels 34-46)
Description: The National and International Union File consists of correspondence and other documents relating to affiliates of the Federation. Each reel contains from 6,000 to 9,000 pages of documents.
Organization: AFL staff filmed the files of the Federation's early affiliates in alphabetical sequence based on key words in the unions' names, and the files of later affiliates in the approximate sequence of their affiliation. They generally subdivided the records of each affiliate into files, which they designated as "White," (correspondence with union headquarters) "Blue" (correspondence with local unions) and the "Bonds" or "Red" files (correspondence related to the bonding of union officers). A small number of documents are not grouped by union; the AFL collected some twenty files on the first reel of this series of film under the title, "Miscellaneous Information regarding Nationals." These files relate to such subjects as the eight-hour day, salaries of union officers and union wage scales, the affiliation of unions with the AFL, and the Paris Peace Conference.
Finding Aids: Each reel begins with a table of contents that lists the files of each union on a particular reel, the inclusive dates of the documents they contain, and the location of these records on the reel in terms of consecutive numbers stamped in the margins of the film. The file names and dates were taken from the cover sheets that the AFL staff prepared and placed before each file on the microfilm. The following entry is from the table of contents for the first reel in this series: