The International Fur Workers Union was founded on June 16, 1913, by the delegates of eight American Federation of Labor unions representing 14,000 workers in all branches of the fur trade.
During the 1920's the union was characterized by internal corruption, factional fighting, and heavy-handed leadership. Oranized crime gained a foothold in the New York fur district. Led by Ben Gold, chairman of the New York Joint Board, the radical element began a determined campaign to drive the gangsters out. This effort culminated in a strike which began on February 11, 1926.
The four month strike was largely successful. Nevertheless, the leadership of the International Fur Workers Union sought to expel Ben Gold. A January 27, 1927 decision by the American Federation of Labor's Executive Council authorized President William Green to appoint a special committee "to rid the [New York City Joint Board] of its Communist leadership."
During the next seven years Ben Gold and his followers waged a determined battle to regain their positions within the union. Finally, in May of 1935, with the union's right wing discredited by its connection with organized crime, Gold was named president. Three years later he once again led the fur workers out on strike. This time, the manufacturers were forced to sign an industry-wide collective agreement.
In 1937, the International Fur Workers Union left the American Federation of Labor and joined the C.I.O., lending support to the campaign for industrial unionism. In 1940, the International Fur Workers Union merged with the National Leather Workers' Association to form the Fur and Leather Workers Union; the new union began a campaign to organize the tanneries of Pennsylvania and the midwest.
During World War II, the union implemented the Fur Vest Project, producing 50,000 vests for America's merchant seamen. A no-strike pledge guaranteed labor-management peace.
In 1948, while most labor unions were supporting President Harry Truman and his cold war policies, the Fur and Leather Workers endorsed Henry Wallace's Progressive Party. Wallace, who had been Vice President in Roosevelt's third term, ran for President on a platform that stressed the need for peace, full employment and a continuation of the New Deal tradition. The Wallace campaign widened the breach within the C.I.O. and isolated the Fur and Leather Workers on the left.
McCarthyism and anti-Communist hysteria threw the labor movement on the defensive during the late 1940's and early 1950's. In 1950, the Fur and Leather Workers were expelled from the C.I.O. Ben Gold was forced to resign as President after he was accused of perjuring himself by signing a non-Communist Taft-Hartley affadavit.
In 1955, the union merged with the Amalgamated Butchers and Meat Cutters of North America. As part of this organization, the Joint Board Fur, Leather and Machine Workers' Union has continued in the progressive tradition. In the 1960's and 1970's it played active roles in both the civil rights and peace movements.