Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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The Oklahoma State Federation of Labor had its beginnings at the 1906 Twin-Territorial Federation of Labor annual convention held in Shawnee. At that time officers and constituents agreed to rename the organization and to move ahead with preparations for statehood. During its history the state federation of labor has had three main areas of activity: action taken during the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention, its annual meetings, and its continual role in monitoring state legislation.

In August 1906 the Twin-Territorial Federation of Labor, the State Farmers' Union, and the four railroad brotherhoods met in Shawnee, Indian Territory. The three groups worked together to prepare a list of resolutions, known as the Shawnee Demands, to be addressed at the Constitutional Convention. Among the twenty-four proposals were the initiative and referendum, compulsory education and free textbooks, sanitary inspection of shops and homes, workmen's compensation, and child labor legislation. The federation's success was such that more than 75 percent of the Constitutional Convention attendees signed all of the resolutions, while 90 percent signed some. Peter Hanraty, first president of the Twin-Territorial Federation of Labor, was elected vice president of the Constitutional Convention. He managed to negotiate the inclusion of most of the federation's resolutions into the final constitutional draft. Because of the Oklahoma State Federation of Labor's work at the Shawnee convention and at the Constitutional Convention, Oklahoma's constitution was considered the most labor friendly in the United States. The constitution created the Oklahoma Department of Labor, which reported 303 labor organizations with 21,200 active members in 1907.

Much of the Oklahoma State Federation of Labor's history and work is revealed through the annual convention minutes. Most convention work focused on legislation and political activity. However, at various times it dealt with broader areas of concern. For example, at the 1921 federation convention held in Shawnee several groups joined with the state federation to form the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League, a last, desperate effort to maintain some remnant of a once pervasive, progressive spirit. The reconstruction league supported the election of Oklahoma City Mayor John C. "Jack" Walton, a labor- friendly candidate, as governor. Although Walton was elected, various circumstances resulted in his impeachment. Subsequently, the league disappeared, and an antilabor atmosphere pervaded Oklahoma politics that exists to this day. The 1937 convention witnessed the near collapse of the state federation as various factions battled for control of the official federation newspaper, the Oklahoma Federationist. With a rump committee bolting from the convention, the future of the Oklahoma State Federation of Labor lay in doubt for several months.

Since World War II the Oklahoma State Federation has concentrated on procuring and defending prolabor legislation. In October 1957 the federation combined with the state committee for industrial organizations to become the Oklahoma State American Federation of Labor-Committee for Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO). The combination provides Oklahoma workers with a broad base of support and organization. In recent years the Oklahoma AFL-CIO has promoted and maintained legislation such as the vocational technology apprenticeship program, worker's compensation reform, unemployment benefits, and collective bargaining for municipal employees. Although the past several decades have seen the diminishment of labor's strength in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State AFL-CIO still maintains an active role in protecting Oklahoma workers' rights.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: "Labor," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Frederick L. Ryan, A History of Labor Legislation in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1932).

Steven Kite

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