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Guide to the Daily Worker and  Daily World Photographs Collection  PHOTOS.223

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630
tamiment.wagner@nyu.edu


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Hillel Arnold. Finding aid by Hillel Arnold, Erika Gottfried and Michael Nash.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 03, 2019
Finding aid is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Box numbers updated to match rehousing efforts.  , September 2018

Historical Note

The Daily Worker traces its origins to the Communist Labor Party, founded in Chicago in 1919, and its newspaper the  Toiler. When the Communist Labor Party merged with the Workers Party in 1921 the  Toiler became the weekly paper  The Worker. On January 13, 1924 it changed its name to the  Daily Worker. It continued to be published in Chicago until 1927, when the Communist Party moved to New York City. As the official organ of the Communist Party, USA, the  Daily Worker's editorial positions reflected the policies of the Communist Party. At the same time the paper also attempted to speak to the broad left-wing community in the United States that included labor, civil rights, and peace activists, with stories covering a wide range of events, organizations and individuals in the United States and around the world. As a daily newspaper, it covered the major stories of the twentieth century. However, there was always an emphasis on radical social movements, social and economic conditions particularly in working class and minority communities, poverty, labor struggles, racial discrimination, right wing extremism with an emphasis on fascist and Nazi movements, and of course the Soviet Union and the world-wide Communist movement.

After the Communist Party moved its operations to New York City the Daily Worker became one of the most influential papers on the American Left. In the late 1920s its circulation was estimated at 17,000 and at its peak in the late 1930s it may have been as high as 35,000.

In October 1935 the Daily Worker began to publish a Sunday edition, later known as the Sunday Worker. That same year, it also added comic strips such as Louis Ferstadt's  Little Lefty, a countercultural retort to the mainstream press'  Little Orphan Annie. In 1938 it added a women's page edited by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Over the years, the paper would publish the work of many notable graphic artists and cartoonists, including prominent figures such as Fred Ellis, who also contributed artwork  The New Majority,  The Liberator and  The Labor Herald; radical illustrator and muralist Hugo Gellert; painter, journalist and cartoonist Robert Minor; and Ollie Harrington, an African American cartoonist who lived in exile in East Germany for much of his life.

In the mid-1930s the Daily Worker established a sports page that combined extensive sports coverage with incisive social criticism. Sports page editor Lester Rodney led the campaign for the desegregation of professional sports in the United States, particularly baseball. Featuring regular articles on the accomplishments of African American athletes, such as Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, the  Daily Worker made the case that all sports would benefit from integration. As part of this campaign it sponsored a basketball team made up of Harlem's top high school players and persuaded a black professional football team to play a benefit game to raise funds for the paper.

With their leadership role in the Southern Negro Youth Congress, the Communist Party and the Daily Worker played a central role in the early civil rights movement and the anti-lynching campaigns of the 1930s and 1940s, including the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys, the Angelo Herndon trial, and the work of the International Labor Defense. The  Daily Worker denounced the Jim Crow laws of the Southern United States, focusing its coverage on violence directed against the black community and on the emerging struggles to end segregation and racial intimidation.

The Daily Worker's coverage of the unemployment marches in the early years of the Great Depression and the fight for social security and unemployment insurance made it one of the most influential papers on the American Left. Its coverage of the labor battles of the 1930s shaped the way many Americans thought about organized labor. Its reporters and photographers captured the struggles textile workers in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929; Illinois miners in 1930; California lettuce workers and Flint, Michigan autoworkers in 1931; coal miners in Harlan County, West Virginia ("Bloody Harlan") and teamsters in Minneapolis in 1934. During these years, the paper also documented the impact of the Great Depression on American working people, with stories on housing conditions in Harlem, Hunger Marches and unemployed movement organizing across the country, the campaign for social security, the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work Campaign," and mobilizations for improved housing. The paper was noted for its investigative reporting about slum housing and block busting in Harlem. Civil rights was an important part of the  Daily Worker's agenda and the paper covered most of the major lynching cases of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys was on its front pages for nearly seven years.

The news coverage in the Daily Worker almost always reflected Communist Party policies. During the Trade Union Educational League years of the 1920s this meant support for revolutionary unionism. During the Popular Front years the paper was a leading voice for industrial unionism and the Congress for Industrial Organizations.

As the organ for the Communist Party, USA the Daily Worker provided extensive coverage about the international Communist movement. For the Communist Party the Soviet Union was the center of the world's revolutionary movement. The  Daily Worker's coverage of Soviet life, foreign, and domestic policies reflected an uncritical perspective on the Soviet system, as it celebrated life in what it called the "Socialist" countries. These stories often highlighted the miracles of Soviet economic development and ethnic harmony under Socialism. This internationalist perspective often resulted in extensive coverage of the struggles for declonialization in Asia, Africa, and Latin America which were largely invisible in the mainstream press. The  Daily Worker often focused on revolutionary nationalism in its various forms from Pan Africanism to the self determination struggles in the Middle East.

With the ascendancy of Adolph Hitler, the fight against Nazism and fascism moved to the center of the Communist Party's agenda in the late 1930s. It reported on Nazi atrocities, and the rising tide of anti-Semitism. In 1936 the Daily Worker sent teams of photographers and reporters to Spain, as it tried to rally the American people to support the Spanish Republic in its brutal civil war with the Falange of General Francisco Franco. These teams returned with images and stories depicting the lives of ordinary Spanish people resisting fascism, the relationship between the Republican army and the International Brigades, and the impact of the fascist bombing in cities such as Guernica.

With the fall of Spain and the signing of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, the CPUSA aligned itself with the new course in Soviet foreign policy, as World War II became an "imperialist war." Between September 1939 and June 1941, the Daily Worker refocused on the domestic scene and the peace movement as a way of trying to divert attention from the Soviet Union's pact with Germany. The paper highlighted campaigns for union rights, job security, and civil liberties.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, the Daily Worker's interpretation of the war changed dramatically. The message, as depicted in the articles and photography of the  Daily Worker, became World War II as an epic struggle against the Nazis, the role of the Soviet Union as the major battlefield of the war, and the impact of the German invasion on Russia's civilian population. On the cultural front, the paper documented the relationship between politics, folk music and folk dance, covering individuals such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Sophie Maslow and Martha Graham.

However, the post-war period saw the rise of McCarthyism and the Communist Party under relentless attack. As a result, the Daily Worker experienced a dramatic decrease in circulation and the paper's financial health, always tenuous at best, took a decided turn for the worse. The daily paper closed in January 1958 during the period when the Communist Party was forced to go underground as a result of the repression of the Red Scare. In 1960 it resumed publication as a weekly under the name of  The Worker and, although it began biweekly publication several years later, it never again achieved the level of popularity or circulation it enjoyed in the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1967 the paper, now renamed the Daily World, resumed daily publication. It reported on the rebirth of the civil rights movement, including sit-ins, voter registration campaigns and the Freedom Rides, following figures including Martin Luther King, Jr, Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. In the late 1960s and 1970s, as the CPUSA aligned itself with the anti-Vietnam War movement and Black Nationalist movements including the Black Panthers, the paper covered important events of that period, including the Soledad Brothers trial, the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of Angela Davis, demonstrations against the war in Vietnam – including massive Moratorium Day demonstrations – on college campuses in New York City and across the country, and the Black Panther Breakfast Program in Harlem.

In 1986 the paper merged with the CPUSA's West Coast weekly, the People's World. The newly formed  People's Daily World was published from 1987 until 1991, when daily publication was abandoned in favor of a weekly edition, renamed the  People's Weekly World. During this period the paper focused heavily on labor union activity, particularly in cities like Detroit and Chicago, as well as the growing anti-globalization movement.

Shifting its operations back to Chicago between 2001 and 2002, the paper changed its name to the People's World in 2009. In 2010, the paper ceased print publication and became an electronic, online-only, publication.