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In March 1903, J. Harvey Lynch, a plasterer from Lawton, issued a call among labor organizations in Oklahoma and Indian territories for a general convention to be held in Lawton on December 28 of that year. According to Lynch, the reason for the meeting was "for the purpose of standing in a closer compact body in order to be better able to redress wrongs and make just demands for wage workers of Indian and Oklahoma territory." With the decline of the once formidable Knights of Labor in the late nineteenth century, workers in the Twin Territories needed structure and organization. Although numerous unions representing dozens of trades and crafts existed in both territories, they had no overarching communication system. Lynch intended that the meeting provide the territorial unions with an avenue to work together and to coordinate their various efforts. The final outcome of the convention was the creation of the Twin-Territorial Federation of Labor.

Forty-one delegates representing almost all of the various trades and crafts in the territories arrived in Lawton for the December 1903 meeting. The convention, held in the Odd Fellows Hall in Lawton, officially opened with addresses and welcomes from Lawton's Mayor Turner and Sen. Thomas P. Gore. Delegates then elected Peter Hanraty as president and J. Harvey Lynch as secretary-treasurer. Convention members drafted the federation's constitution, established rules governing elections, officers' term limits, and union representation, and set dues. At that time the federation claimed approximately twelve thousand organized workers.

Although officers served one-year terms, they could be reelected. A monthly dues or "tax" of five cents per member was established in order to maintain a central federation office that would monitor union activity as well as legislative and political actions. Individual unions were allowed one federation representative per one hundred dues-paying members with each representative having one vote. An annual meeting was to be held in June with locations to be determined.

On February 15, 1904, the group received an official charter from American Federation of Labor Pres. Samuel Gompers. The Twin-Territorial Federation of Labor came into existence in a relatively peaceful time for Oklahoma labor. A multiyear coal strike had ended in 1903 and other typical areas of heavy labor activity were either without strife or as yet undeveloped in the region. Generally, the Territorial Federation devoted annual meetings and various communications to the discussion of statehood. Federation officers began working immediately to procure the favor of prominent politicians and to secure labor's influence in the much anticipated Constitutional Convention. At the 1906 annual convention in Shawnee members voted to change the name from Twin-Territorial Federation of Labor to the Oklahoma State Federation of Labor, reflecting both the upcoming declaration of statehood as well as the group's intention to maintain an active role in state politics.

The Twin-Territorial Federation of Labor, during its brief existence, maintained a quiet but active role. While labor disputes were few between 1904 and 1906, federation members and officers used the time to plan the best way to influence the creation of a labor-friendly state constitution. The groundwork begun by the territorial federation helped to provide the Oklahoma State Federation of Labor with a positive beginning.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Fred W. Dunbar, Champion of the Working Man: The Life and Times of Peter Hanraty (New York: Carlton Press, 1991). Federal Writers' Project of Oklahoma, Labor History of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, Okla.: A. M. Van Horn, 1939). "Labor," Vertical Files, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Steven Kite

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