Bloomington labor unions banded together on October 18, 1891, to establish the Bloomington Trades and Labor Assembly. Union organizations had existed in Bloomington since the 1860s and concerted activity often took place, but formally bringing all labor together under one central organization provided a place for concerted activity.
The Knights of Labor were active in Bloomington in the 1870s and 1880s. Meanwhile, railroad workers were also organizing according to their craft, along with construction trades, molders and other occupations. Bloomington representatives were present in 1884 for the Illinois State Federation of Labor’s establishment.
In the decade after the Trades & Labor’s founding, a variety of American Federation of Labor
(AFL) craft unions organized in the community. In 1902, the Trades & Labor formally affiliated itself with the AFL.
The purpose of the Trades & Labor is to:
1) Bring affiliated labor organizations together for a united voice in the community;
2) Mutual support and solidarity between labor organizations;
3) Political action to support and endorse “labor friendly” candidates;
4) The public voice or presence for organized labor in the community.
Various activities have reflected these goals. Beginning in 1892, Bloomington workers marched in their first Labor Day Parade. This was an extremely popular and well-attended full day of festivities in the early 20th century. The parade ended in 1922 but was revived in 1977, becoming the community’s largest.
The Trades & Labor continues to organize political forums for candidates to address labor questions and legislation. At various times, union members have run for public office with some success. In the 1919 municipal election, Bloomington was the “test case” for the viability of an Illinois Labor Party. Bloomington’s candidates barely lost the 1919 election locally, but the
Labor Party fared poorly in the 1920 statewide elections.
Through the years the organization has sponsored a labor newspaper and occasionally radio and television programming as part of its public outreach effort.
During strikes, lock-outs and lay-offs, the Trades & Labor Assembly coordinates support for the impacted workers.
For various community efforts, the Trades & Labor is the representative for labor’s inclusion. In the 1930s Depression, this included serving as a partner with the Chamber of Commerce and other groups for local relief efforts. Trades and Labor affiliated union members serve on a variety of local charities and committees. One hallmark of labor involvement is not necessarily cash donations, but donated labor. Using craft skills, unions are often able to physically build, renovate and repair structures and other items for local charities and community efforts. These efforts can be traced back to the 1940s. --Provided by Mike Matjeka, January 2018.