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Beck, Dave (16 June 1894–26 December 1993), labor union leader, was born David Daniel Beck in Stockton, California, the son of Lemuel Beck, a carpet cleaner and part-time auctioneer, and Mary Tierney, a laundress. His father, who had migrated to California from his native Tennessee in search of work, moved his family to Seattle, Washington, when Beck was four years old. Beck had dreams of becoming a lawyer but dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen to help support his chronically impoverished family. After four years of odd jobs, he found steady work driving a truck for the laundry where his mother was employed and developed a lucrative route of his own. At night he took extension courses in law, economics, and business administration at the University of Washington. Beck enlisted in the navy in 1917 and saw action as a gunner on anti-zeppelin patrols over the North Sea. While on furlough the next year, he married Dorothy E. Leschander of Seattle. The couple had one child, Warren David, who later legally changed his name to Dave Beck, Jr....

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Chávez, César Estrada (31 March 1927–23 April 1993), labor leader and social activist, was born in North Gila Valley, near Yuma, Arizona, the son of Librado Chávez and Juana Estrada. In 1888 two-year-old Librado, his siblings, and his mother immigrated to the Arizona territory to join his father, who had fled the harshness of life at Hacienda del Carmen in Porfirian, Mexico. Juana Estrada, also a native of Chihuahua, married Librado in 1924, and soon after the couple purchased a small grocery/garage/pool hall not far from his parents’ 160-acre ranch and raised six children. After losing their property during the depression, the family soon joined the migrant harvest circuit....

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Comey, Dennis J. (26 May 1896–14 October 1987), Roman Catholic clergyman and labor arbitrator, was born Dennis Joseph Comey in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Dennis Joseph Comey, an iron worker at the Baldwin Locomotive Works, and Catherine Veronica Reagan Comey; the parents had been farmers who emigrated from Timoleague, County Cork, Ireland. The oldest of thirteen children, he excelled in studies and athletics at St. Joseph's College Preparatory School in Philadelphia. On 30 July 1914 he entered the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, New York, and continued his classical studies. He earned his A.B. (1920), M.A. (1921), and Ph.D. (1929) in philosophy from Woodstock College, Maryland; he first taught Latin at Boston College High School (1921–1922) and then Latin, Greek, Spanish, and rhetoric at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (1922–1925). He pursued theological studies at Woodstock College, where he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on 20 June 1928. A year's concentration on ascetical theology at St. Beuno's College, Wales, preceded his solemn profession of his Jesuit vows in Rome, Italy, on 15 August 1931. In 1931 the Gregorian University in Rome named him a doctor of theology and in 1932 ...

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Coxey, Jacob Sechler (16 April 1854–18 May 1951), businessman, politician, and head of "Coxey's Army" of the unemployed, businessman, politician, and head of “Coxey’s Army” of the unemployed, was born in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Coxey, a stationary engineer, and Mary Sechler. Six years later his family moved twenty miles farther north to Danville, in Montour County, where his father worked in an iron-rolling mill. Young Jake attended public school for eight years and, at age sixteen, took a summer job as a water boy in the mill with his father. He quickly advanced to machine oiler and then boiler tender. By the time he left the mill at the age of twenty-four he had become a stationary engineer like his father....

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Debs, Eugene Victor (05 November 1855–20 October 1926), labor organizer and presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, the son of Marguerite Bettrich and Daniel Debs, Alsatian immigrants and retail grocers. Following the completion of ninth grade, Debs left school to work as a paint scraper on the Terre Haute and Vandalia Railroad. Within a year he rose to locomotive fireman but was laid off in the sustained economic depression of the mid-1870s. Searching for work in St. Louis in 1874, he encountered extensive urban poverty for the first time....

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Dubinsky, David (22 February 1892–17 September 1982), labor union official, was born David Dubnievski in Brest Litovsk, Poland (now Brest, Belarus), the son of Bezalel Dubnievski, a bakery owner, and Shaine Wishingrad. The family moved to Lodz, Poland, where Dubinsky attended primary school. At the age of eleven he left school and became a baker’s apprentice. Four years later he advanced to master baker and joined the socialist General Jewish Workers Union, known as the Bund. Over the next several years, he was jailed and exiled to Siberia for his union activities....

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Ettor, Joseph James (06 October 1885–19 February 1948), labor activist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Manilo Ettore, an Italian immigrant laborer, and Maria (maiden name unknown), natives of Rome. Soon after Joseph’s birth, the family moved to Chicago, where the boy received his elementary education and his first jobs as newsboy, railroad waterboy, saw filer, and cooper. His father was a militant worker who had participated in the Haymarket Square demonstration of 1886) and had been wounded by the bomb that exploded there. Around 1900 Ettor went to San Francisco, where he learned iron working skills and cigar stripping. He worked in a hotel kitchen during the San Francisco earthquake and later assisted in organizing common laborers involved with clearing quake damage. While on the West Coast, he was attracted to the Socialist party and the radical labor movement....

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Giovannitti, Arturo Massimo (07 January 1884–31 December 1959), poet, journalist, and labor leader, was born in Ripabottoni (Molise), Italy, the son of Domenico Giovannitti, a physician and pharmacist, and Adelaide Levante. Raised in a family of middle-class professionals in southern Italy, Arturo Giovannitti was educated at the Collegio Mario Pagano in Campobasso, the regional capital, where he first demonstrated his literary ability by winning a national contest for poetry. Rather than attend university in Italy, Giovannitti decided to “visit the world,” immigrating to Canada by himself at age sixteen or seventeen. Little is known about Giovannitti’s activities in Canada before he enrolled in a theological seminary affiliated with McGill University in Montreal and became a pastor’s assistant at a Presbyterian mission for Italians. His early attraction to Protestantism has never been adequately explained....

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Gompers, Samuel (27 January 1850–13 December 1924), cofounder and first president of the American Federation of Labor, was born in the working-class East End of London, England, the son of Solomon Gompers, a cigar maker, and Sarah Rood, Dutch Jewish immigrants. At age six he attended the Jewish Free School, where he studied Hebrew and French, but four years later the family’s economic needs required that he apprentice himself first to a shoemaker and then a cigar maker. Difficult economic times continued for the Gompers family, however, and with financial aid from his father’s union, Samuel and his family immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on 29 July 1863....

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Green, William (03 March 1870–21 November 1952), American Federation of Labor president, was born in Coshocton, Ohio, the son of Hugh Green, a coal miner, and Jane Oram. Green’s father had come to the United States two years earlier, bringing with him a heritage of trade unionism and an unshakable Baptist faith, both of which he imparted to his son. Green was born in a miner’s shack in the “Hardscrabble Hill” section of town. He was an energetic and precocious child, excelling at school and developing an appetite for reading. In a rare achievement for a miner’s son at the time, he completed the eighth grade before his labor was needed to supplement the family income. An intensely religious youth, Green aspired to the Baptist ministry, but his family could not afford the training for such a career. Later, as a local union official, Green would conduct Sunday school classes, and as AFL president he welcomed opportunities to address church and religious organizations....

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Kirkland, Lane (12 March 1922–14 August 1999), labor union leader, was born Joseph Lane Kirkland in Camden, South Carolina, the son of Randolph Withers Kirkland, a cotton buyer, and Louise Richardson Kirkland. He grew up in nearby Newberry, where many of his public school classmates had to work long hours after school in substandard conditions; Kirkland would later credit this exposure as the source of his interest in improving the lives of working men and women. Following the outbreak of World War II, he twice unsuccessfully tried to enlist in the Canadian armed forces—prior to the entry of the United States into the war—before returning to South Carolina, where he enrolled at Newberry College. In 1940 Kirkland dropped out of school and spent a year as a deck cadet with the merchant marine before enrolling in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. After graduating from the newly opened facility in 1942, he spent the remainder of the war as a chief mate on various cargo ships. In due course he received his master's license and subsequently joined Local 688 of the International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots; it was to be his only direct experience as a rank-and-file union member....

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Lewis, John L. (12 February 1880–11 June 1969), labor leader, was born John Llewellyn Lewis in Lucas County, Iowa, the son of Thomas Lewis, a coal miner and policeman, and Ann Louisa Watkins. Both parents were Welsh-born. Through the 1880s and into the early 1890s, the family lived in ill-constructed, company-owned houses with an outdoor privy....

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Meany, George (16 August 1894–10 January 1980), labor leader, was born in New York City, the son of Michael J. Meany and Anne Cullen, both of whom were American-born children of Irish families that had migrated to the United States during the early 1850s. In 1899 the Meanys moved across the East River to a comfortable working-class neighborhood in the Bronx, where George (the first name on his birth certificate, William, seems never to have been used) grew up. Mike Meany was a plumber, and against his father’s hopes for something better for his son, George Meany chose to follow in his father’s footsteps. He left school at fourteen, worked for over a year as a messenger for an advertising agency, and in 1910 was taken on as a plumber’s helper. He was inducted into Local 463 as a journeyman plumber in early 1917. By then his father had died, and when his older brother left for the army in April 1917 he became the sole supporter of his large family. In 1919, after a prolonged courtship, he married Eugenie McMahon, a garment worker. They had three daughters and a happy home life, which Meany assiduously shielded from his public career as a rising labor leader....

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Phillips, Wendell (29 November 1811–02 February 1884), orator, abolitionist, and women's rights and labor advocate, orator, abolitionist, and women’s rights and labor advocate, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Phillips, a well-to-do politician and philanthropist, and Sarah Walley. The youngest of eleven children, Wendell received strict and loving attention from both of his parents. From the first he was trained to see himself as a great leader, committed to addressing the great moral and political questions of his age. This drive for leadership was compounded by his early discovery that he possessed extraordinary gifts as an orator. Athletic, handsome, and intelligent, he impressed teachers and classmates alike with his unusual capacity to express himself and to influence others with eloquent speaking. After attending the Boston Latin School, he graduated from Harvard in 1831 and obtained a Harvard law degree in 1833. For the next three years Phillips resided in and around Boston as he attempted, halfheartedly, to establish a legal practice, a career for which he felt no great enthusiasm. Instead he yearned to pursue a vocation worthy of his august legacy. That vocation, finally, was the cause of abolitionism, which he discovered through the process of courtship and marriage....

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Randolph, Asa Philip (15 April 1889–16 May 1979), founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and civil rights leader, was born in Crescent City, Florida, the son of James William Randolph, an itinerant African Methodist Episcopal preacher, and Elizabeth Robinson. The family placed great stress on education. Thus Randolph, an honor student, was sent to Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Florida (later Bethune-Cookman College). Although greatly influenced by his father’s political and racial attitudes, Randolph resisted pressure to enter the ministry and later became an atheist. Upon graduation from Cookman, in 1907, he found himself barred by racial prejudice from all but manual labor jobs in the South, and so in 1911 he moved to New York City, where he worked at odd jobs during the day and took social science courses at City College at night....

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Shanker, Albert (14 September 1928–22 February 1997), teacher and union leader, was born in New York City, the son of Morris Shanker, a union newspaper deliveryman and a former rabbinical student from Poland, and Mamie Burko Shanker, a sewing-machine operator. The son of immigrants whose first language was Yiddish, Shanker grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Queens, where he learned the benefits of trade unionism from his parents and the effects of prejudice from neighbors of predominantly Irish and Italian extraction. He attended local public schools and entered the University of Illinois in Urbana after graduating from Manhattan's prestigious Stuyvesant High School. While attending Illinois, Shanker became politically active by joining the Young People's Socialist League and picketing segregated restaurants and movie theaters in the community....