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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 115

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This is the grave of Adolph Strasser.

Born in 1843 or 1844 in what is today Hungary, Strasser emigrated to the United States in 1871 or 1872. He settled in New York and took up cigar making. He very quickly became involved in the city’s burgeoning trade union movement, meeting another young unionist cigar maker named Samuel Gompers in 1872. He organized the workers in the new tenement system of cigar making, where people were contracted to roll cigars in their homes, into the United Cigarmakers Union and then joined the other union in that industry, the Cigar Makers International Union, where he was editing their journal by 1875. He built a central trade union body in New York in 1876 and 1877 to coordinate strategy between unions, a precursor to what is today a central labor council. He was elected vice-president of the CMIU in 1876 and remained in that position until 1891. He was an effective union leader and helped the CMIU start winning strikes. He and Gompers were very close; both believers in “pure and simple unionism” that avoided politics or demands that transformed society, they worked together to isolate and defeat union factions that wanted to become what today we might call social justice unionists.

In 1886, Strasser helped Gompers found the American Federation of Labor at a conference in Columbus. In 1891, he retired from the CMIU and worked full-time for the AFL until 1914 as a speaker and internal union organizer, including arbitrating disputes between unions. He was a truly foundational figure in the history of the AFL. He left the labor movement in 1914 and decided to spend his old age selling real estate in Buffalo. He retired from that in 1919, lived in Chicago for the next decade, and then moved to Florida. He died in 1939, at the age of 95. By this time, he was a completely forgotten figure. His role in founding the AFL more than half-century ago was barely recognized. The CIO had split from the AFL and the entire world had changed from Strasser’s unionist days. CMIU Local 14 brought his body back from Florida and had it reburied at their memorial in Chicago.

Adolph Strasser is buried at Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois.

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