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AFL-CIO Community Service Activities records

Identifier: SW0020

Scope and Content

Organization of the AFL-CIO Community Service Activities was governed by the Community Services Committee. Composed of officers of international unions and appointed by the AFL-CIO president, the committee functions as a board of directors and is the final determinant of policy. The national staff of the department carries responsibility for the execution of the programs as well as for developing new proposals for the committee's consideration. A National Advisory Committee, composed of professional leaders in the area of social work and medical care, met several times a year in a consultative capacity until it was disbanded in 1966 in favor of specialized advisory committees organized on an ad hoc basis.

CSA jurisdiction overlaps somewhat with the AFL-CIO's Department of Social Security. In theory responsibility in the health and welfare field is divided so the Community Services concerned itself with the community and voluntary agencies while the Social Security concentrated on public, tax-supported agencies. But in fact the distinction is far from absolute. For example, in 1961 Leo Perlis expended considerable effort in responding to the controversy over Newburgh, New York's public assistance program.


  • 1942-1967

Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Open for use in Social Welfare History Archives reading room.


Contact the archivist for copyright information.

Historical Note

Until World War II labor's concern in the field of health and welfare was fragmented among various committees dealing with subjects such as housing, social security, education, unemployment, and legislation. The war, with its insatiable demand for relief funds, provided the stimulus for organized labor to develop the organizational means for concentrating its health and welfare efforts more efficiently. In 1938 the AFL formed the Labor League for Human Rights as its relief arm to "help mobilize organized labor in its fight against tyranny and barbarism." AFL vice-president Matthew Woll was associated with the League from its inception and served as its highest official, first under the title of chairman and later as president. Just before Pearl Harbor the CIO, at the urging of its president, Phillip Murray, authorized the formation of a similar organ, the National Committee for American and Allied War Relief.

The two labor groups also sought to enhance their effectiveness by coordinating their efforts with those of other organizations. During the summer of 1942 they reached a working agreement with the Community Chests and Councils, Inc. The effects of the agreement were far-reaching: labor representatives became involved not only in fund-raising but also in policy decisions. The Labor League and the War Relief Committee were among the groups whose pressure in 1943 resulted in the establishment of the National War Rind, a body designed to improve the coordination of fund-raising efforts for war relief and domestic services.

Although overseas aid continued during the early postwar period (particularly through the Labor League's Free Trade Union Committee which sought to restore labor organizations abroad), labor's emphasis shifted toward involvement with social welfare agencies in domestic affairs as the war neared its end. Labor representation on boards of social agencies increased markedly. The CIO acknowledged this change in 1945 by renaming its War Relief Committee the Community Services Committee. Irving Abrahamson, head of the New Jersey CIO, continued as chairman and Leo Perlis, who had become national director of the War Relief Committee in 1944 remained in that capacity. The Community Services Committee established the policy that the welfare of union members would better be served by cooperation with existing agencies than by the creation of separate organizations. Consequently, one of its chief projects was the development of a union counseling program which trained union members to act as referral agents to existing community agencies. Strike relief programs developed along similar lines.

As early as 1945 the AFL's Labor League for Human Rights opened a bureau in New York City to offer information and referral services to union members concerned with social and health problems. The League served a function comparable to that of the CIO’s Community Services Committee at the national level although it did not match the extensiveness of the CIO's local programs. In 1953 the AFL executive council called for the establishment of local committees "to increase the effectiveness of union efforts in the area of community affairs." This was followed in 1954 by the formation of a national Community Relations Committee.

The wartime cooperation with the Community Chests and Councils, Inc. led to the establishment in January, 1947, of a labor participation department within the CCC. This created a new figure, the labor staff representative who, as a liaison, spoke for the interests of organized labor and promoted increased labor participation in fund drives. The concept was applied at both the national and local level to other organizations as well, notably the American Red Cross.

These cooperative efforts of the community service repre¬sentatives of the AFL and the CIO facilitated the unification that came with the merger of the parent organizations in December, 1955. AFL-CIO president George Meany appointed a thirteen-man Community Services Committee chaired by Joseph Beirne, president of the Communications Workers of America, to direct the affairs of the new department known as Community Service Activities (CSA). Meany also appointed Leo Perlis to serve as national director with responsibility for day-to-day operations.

With its increased manpower and organization, CSA was able to expand its fund-raising and counseling activities as well as its cooperation with other organizations. Additionally, it developed a variety of new projects focusing on areas as diverse as retirement problems, rehabilitation, assistance for Hungarian and Cuban refugees, and polio vaccinations. Labor's changing societal role in the 196O's is reflected in the increased emphasis on leisure, recreation, and earlier retirement.

Prior to 1955 the CIO used "Community Services Committee" in a generic sense covering all aspects of its health, welfare, and recreation program. Probably for that reason there was a tendency for several years after the merger of the AFL and CIO to let "Community Services Committee” refer to the overall program as well as to the committee which functioned as its board of directors. But for the most part "Community Service Activities" and "Department of Community Services" have been employed alternatively as the generic term. For purposes of clarity and consistency this description will refer to the AFL-CIO's overall program as "Community Service Activities" (CSA). "Community Services Committee" should be understood to apply to the committee, i.e. the smaller governing body (except when referring to the CIO organ).


6.5 Linear Feet (16 document boxes and two scrapbooks)


The records reflect organized labor's efforts to increase membership involvement in such community health, welfare, and recreation programs as blood banks, counselling and referral services, or strike assistance. The collection includes incomplete material from predecessor agencies: the AFL's Labor League for Human Rights and the CIO War Relief Committee, later renamed the National CIO Community Services Committee. Also included are correspondence, a reference manual, director's reports, conference summaries, subject files, and articles and speeches by Leo Perlis, the national director.


  1. Series 1. Predecessor Agencies
  2. Series 2. Corporate Papers and Records
  3. Series 3. Correspondence and Papers, General
  4. Series 4. Subject File
  5. Series 5. Local Activities
  6. Series 6. Relations with other Organizations
  7. Series 7. Miscellaneous Organizational Papers

Other Finding Aid

Unpublished inventory available. Please contact Archives for more information.

Acquisition Information

Gift of the Community Services Committee of the AFL-CIO Community Service Activities, received in 1967. In addition, several labor leaders donated their files to augment this collection.

The Community Services Committee of the AFL-CIO Community Services Activities voted on November 10, 1966, to deposit in the Social Welfare History Archives those "records, publications, and correspondence which are no longer necessary for the day to day operations." The materials arrived in six shipments between February and November, 1967, and were processed in 1973. Since many of the older files, particularly those preceding the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, had been destroyed, numerous labor officials were contacted in an effort to locate copies of the papers. As a result, the collection has been drawn together from several sources within the AFL-CIO Community Service Activities or its predecessors.

Processing Information

Gathered from multiple sources, the papers reflected no single or established filing system to suggest order for the collection. Consequently, though the integrity of the folders as they were received was maintained as much as possible, it was necessary to impose an external order within which to arrange them.

AFL-CIO Community Service Activities records
David Klaassen
1974, revised 2006
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 8/11/2016: added inclusive dates
  • 8/11/2016: removed duplicate commas from series titles

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Social Welfare History Archives Collecting Area