Local 1199, the Drug and Hospital Workers in New York led by Leon Davis, became the first U.S. labor union to oppose the war in Vietnam by sending a telegram to President Lyndon Baines Johnson on this date in 1965. In August, Jesse Olson, a vice president of the union, would testify before Congress during hearings on Vietnam about his union’s participation “in the largest peace rally in the history of the City of New York.” A few months later, Moe Foner, another 1199 leader, created a New York Times ad opposing the war, which was also a first for the labor movement. By contrast, the AFL-CIO’s President George Meany aggressively supported U.S. military action in Vietnam (“no matter what the academic do-gooders may say, no matter what the apostles of appeasement may say”) and attacked antiwar unionists as Communists or Communist dupes. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called 1199 “my favorite union,” chose its “Salute to Freedom” program at which to present his talk, “The Other America,” in which he vigorously opposed the brutality and the wastefulness of the Vietnam War.
“The union never wavered from three fundamental commitments: it would conduct mass strikes as well as elections to gain recognition; it would take issues of race and gender into consideration of the demands it advanced and the composition of its own leadership; it would participate in solidarity struggles with other workers and with the civil rights movement. All major national civil rights demonstrations and many antiwar rallies were strengthened by thousands of 1199 members wearing the union cap. Since the retirement of its initial corps of officers, in the 1980s, who were mostly white and Jewish, the leadership has reflected the racial and ethnic composition of its varied membership.” —Stanley Aronowitz