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Maida Springer

Maida Springer: Pan Africanist and International Labor Leader

Yevette Richards
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Maida Springer
    Book Description:

    Maida Springer was an active participant in shaping a history that involved powerful movements for social, political and economic equality and justice for workers women, and African Americans.Maida Springeris the first full-length biography to document and analyze the central role played by Springer in international affairs, particularly in the formation of AFL-CIO's African policy during the Cold War and African independence movements.

    Richards explores the ways in which pan-Africanism, racism, sexism and anti-Communism affected Springer's political development, her labor activism, and her relationship with labor leaders in the AFL-CIO, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), and in African unions. Springer's life experiences and work reveal the complex nature of black struggles for equality and justice. A strong supporter of both the AFL-CIO and the ICFTU, Springer nonetheless recognized that both organizations were fraught with racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism. She also understood that charges of Communism were often used as a way to thwart African American demands for social justice. As an African-American, she found herself in the unenviable position of promoting to Africans the ideals of American democracy from which she was excluded from fully enjoying.

    Richards's biography of Maida Springer uniquely connects pan-Africanism, national and international labor relations, the Cold War, and African American, labor, women's, and civil rights histories. In addition to documenting Springer's role in international labor relations, the biography provides a larger view of a whole range of political leaders and social movements.Maida Springeris a stirring biography that spans the fields of women studies, African American studies, and labor history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7263-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. A CHRONOLOGY of Maida Springer-Kemp’s Life
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  2. MEMBERSHIPS (Past and Present)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    I FIRST LEARNED OF MAIDA SPRINGER IN 1985, WHEN I saw a postcard showing a picture of her that had been taken in Timbuktu, Mali, in 1974.¹ Microphone in hand and wearing African garments, Springer was speaking about the massive drought in the Sahel. She was in Mali as a member of the African American Labor Center (AALC), one of the international auxiliaries of the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).² An avid student of African American history, I was astonished to discover this woman, a pioneer domestic and international labor activist, whom I had never heard...

  4. 1 “My Wonderful Young Mother”: Springer’s Formative Years
    (pp. 13-35)

    BY ALL ACCOUNTS ADINA STEWART’S SPARKLING personality was irresistible, and her culinary talents were legendary. Vivacious and engaging, she could hold the center of attention in any social setting. In contrast, young Maida was serious, sensitive, and shy. Noting her adult daughter’s demure manner and penchant for subdued clothing, Stewart would say in jest that Maida did not have a “dash of paprika.” However, Stewart did impart to her daughter important marks of her own personality and character. Both became renowned for their hospitality, generosity, commitment to struggle, and love for Africa.

    The genesis of Stewart’s strong feelings for Africa...

  5. 2 “My Union Was a Very Political Union”: Springer Joins Local 22
    (pp. 36-56)

    UNTIL SHE HEARD A SPEECH A. PHILIP RANDOLPH gave shortly before she entered the labor force in 1932, Springer had been unsympathetic toward organized labor. Randolph’s analysis of the ways employers used racism as a means of dividing and exploiting all workers moved her to view the fight against union exclusion and discrimination as essential for black advancement. Springer’s experiences in the garment industry soon reinforced her beliefs. For example, a contractor who had not paid her and the other workers for two weeks secretly moved the shop over a weekend. In May 1933, enraged over this kind of treatment,...

  6. 3 The Dilemma of Race and Gender during World War II
    (pp. 57-76)

    BECAUSE OF THE PROMINENCE SPRINGER GAINED representing Local 22 in labor and community functions and through her volunteer position as chair of the local’s education committee, the leaders of Local 132, the plastic, button, and novelty workers union, approached Local 22 manager Charles Zimmerman to inquire about her becoming the educational director. While remaining a Local 22 executive board member, Springer accepted this paid staff position with Local 132 in March 1943. The remarks of former Lovestoneite Minnie Lurye to Zimmerman following Springer’s departure demonstrate that Springer stood out because her activism was stellar and because there were relatively few...

  7. 4 The National and International Struggle against the Color Line
    (pp. 77-99)

    AS A PARTICIPANT IN A 1945 LABOR-EXCHANGE TRIP to England, Springer had the distinction of becoming the “first Negro woman to represent American labor abroad.”¹ The governmental agencies promoting the exchange trip included the British Ministries of Information and Labor and, in the United States, the Office of Labor Production of the War Production Board and the Office of War Information (OWI). Springer was one of four delegates. Their responsibilities included meeting with British women working in the war industries, exchanging experiences concerning war work conditions, and discussing postwar plans. Newspaper coverage of the mission singled Springer out for special...

  8. 5 Dancing on the End of a Needle: African Connections
    (pp. 100-128)

    MAIDA SPRINGER FIRST SET FOOT IN AFRICA IN 1955, just before the merger of the two national federations into the AFL-CIO. She came to Accra as an observer for the AFL and the only woman attending a seminar held by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The central conflict leading to the establishment of the ICFTU in 1949 was the opposition of Communist trade unions to the U.S.-sponsored Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. Consequently, the CIO and noncommunist European unions withdrew from the World Federation of Trade Unions and joined with the AFL to...

  9. 6 The Atlantic City Compromise
    (pp. 129-175)

    WITH TONGUE IN CHEEK SPRINGER MADE THIS comment. Although the AFL-CIO was considered conservative and even reactionary compared to European labor leaders on matters of economic philosophy and communism, on the issue of anticolonialism Africans viewed U.S. labor as their ally. Lack of opportunities for education and training were high on their list of grievances against the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). For example, Kenyan labor leader Tom Mboya criticized ICFTU general secretary Jacob Oldenbroek for opposing his plan to send Africans to study at the ICFTU’s Calcutta College with grant money Mboya had raised in Britain. Instead...

  10. 7 The Beginning of the Affiliation Struggle
    (pp. 176-197)

    AGAINST SPRINGER’S STRONG OBJECTIONS, PAULI MURRAY tried to influence the NAACP to award her the prestigious Springarn Medal for 1959. Murray praised Springer’s long history of involvement with African labor, and she credited Springer with responsibility for the resolutions on Africa passed by the AFL-CIO executive council earlier that year. Tom Mboya joined Murray in crediting Springer and others, as well as the influence of the December 1958 All-African People’s Conference (AAPC), for the passage of the 1959 resolutions, which called on the U.S. government and the ICFTU to support African labor and independence movements. They were deeply appreciated by...

  11. 8 Springer Joins the AFL-CIO Department of International Affairs
    (pp. 198-221)

    WHILE SPRINGER WAS RECUPERATING IN 1959 from her bout with prolonged illness, the struggle over ICFTU affiliation had intensified. Following her recovery, she was able to realize her desire to work more closely with African labor. In April 1960 she accepted the position of AFL-CIO international affairs representative. During a six-week tour to the continent with Irving Brown in the fall of 1960, she gained a sense of where the struggle was heading and assessed the current feelings of Africans. She clearly felt that the ICFTU was its own worst enemy and that the West’s increasing preoccupation with communism was...

  12. 9 AFL-CIO Africa Programs
    (pp. 222-245)

    SPRINGER’S PROPOSALS TO AID AFRICAN LABOR were not automatically embraced. Among her many ideas that failed to get support were proposals aimed at improving nutrition and food availability. Citing many places where African workers did not have decent midday meals, Springer wanted to institute a training program primarily for African women in nutrition and catering skills.¹ She proposed that the Caribbean would serve as an appropriate site for training African women, partly because culinary tastes there were similar to those of Africans. An earlier proposal to help build food cooperatives in Tanganyika in order to circumvent the high costs of...

  13. 10 Crossroads
    (pp. 246-261)

    EHUD AVRIEL, THE ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO GHANA, once commented to Springer about his trip to Tanganyika, “I am conscious of the value of your introduction…. the way I was received was clearly because of my presence having been sponsored by you.” During his 1965 trip to Africa, ILGWU leader Murray Gross attested to the respect accorded Springer, saying that her name served as “a password in most of Africa.”¹ Her reputation remained largely unchanged even as labor centers increasingly began to leave the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Interested in building socialist societies, many African nations developed into...

  14. 11 Continued Service
    (pp. 262-284)

    FOLLOWING HER RESIGNATION FROM THE AFL-CIO International Affairs Department in early 1966, Springer worked for the ILGWU as a general organizer in the South and served as Midwest director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute in Chicago. During her period of domestic labor activism she maintained ties with the African labor movements. From 1973 to 1976 she formally returned to international affairs when she joined the staff of the African-American Labor Center (AALC). Ultimately, her interest in programs designed to increase skill levels made her unattractive to the Agency for International Development (AID), the primary financial backer of the AALC...