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Guide to the Abram Flaxer Papers WAG.073

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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10th Floor
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Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Sarah Graff

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on June 01, 2018
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Flaxer, Abram, 1904-
Source - dnr: Rosswaag, Charlotte
Title: Abram Flaxer Papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1935-1992
Abstract: Abram Flaxer was deeply involved in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) during its formation and early development, and served as the President of the United Public Workers of America, a CIO union, from 1946. He was an active member of the radical left wing of the CIO until his union was expelled in 1950. The collection consists primarily of Flaxer's unpublished memoir and related research materials. The memoir conveys Flaxer's personal perspective on events he witnessed or participated in, and touches on prominent figures, including Fiorello LaGuardia, Vito Marcantonio, John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, and Jimmy Hoffa. Among the events described are the organizing of a State, County and Municipal Workers of America local in Stockton, CA (the "Stockton Raiders") and of so-called "silver" workers in the Panama Canal Zone, who eventually became UPW, Local 713.
Quantity: 1.5 Linear Feet (2 boxes)
Call Phrase: WAG.073

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Historical/Biographical Note

Abram Flaxer was born in Vilna, Lithuania, September 12, 1904. At the age of six, he immigrated to the United States with his family, settling in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was exposed to socialist ideas early on, first at the Rand School of Social Science in Manhattan and later at City College, where he was involved in a Marxist study group while earning his B.S. degree. After graduation he joined the radical "Pen and Hammer" club, where he further developed the ideological orientation that he was to maintain throughout his career in labor organizing. He also did graduate work at Columbia University in mathematics.

As a teacher in a Bronx vocational school, Flaxer organized unemployed teachers throughout the New York City school system at a time of widespread union discrimination against unemployed workers. He went on to work for the New York City Emergency Relief Bureau, where he organized the agency's workers against the opposition of Tammany Hall. He had joined the Communist Party by this point but his level of involvement throughout his life is not always clear; his attempt to gain support from the CP for ERB organization failed. After successfully organizing ERB workers in the Bronx, Flaxer took a position with the new union as assistant to the Executive Secretary and widened his scope to include efforts at citywide organizing. Eventually he became Executive Secretary and worked with Charlotte Carr to expand the ERB union, which then changed its name to the Association of Workers in Public Relief Agencies. It was at this time that Flaxer developed political relationships with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Harlem Congressman Vito Marcantonio, often clashing with the former while working closely with the latter in the American Labor Party.

Flaxer's ultimate goal was the organization of all New York City public employees, and to that end he became involved in the establishment of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), an American Federation of Labor (AFL) union. Flaxer soon joined a dissident left-wing faction within that union to split off and form the State, County and Municipal Workers of America (SCMWA), chartered by the CIO in 1937 with jurisdiction over all workers in local government units. Flaxer became national president of the SCMWA, which maintained its national office in New York City, and sat on the Executive Board of the CIO. He was also active in the National Municipal League and the Civil Service Assembly. Both the SCMWA and Flaxer personally would be affected by the hardships of World War II, bitter infighting within the union between pro-Communist and anti-Communist groups, and persecution of the union as a perceived Communist-allied organization under HUAC. In 1946, a merger between the SCMWA and the United Federal Workers of America, resulted in the creation of the United Public Workers of America (UPWA); the new union was to take explicitly pro-Soviet stands on foreign policy, and experienced a severe loss of members to its rival AFSCME. On March 1, 1950 the UPWA was expelled from the CIO in a purge of Communist dominated unions; it continued to exist for only a brief period thereafter.

Flaxer strongly opposed Cold War anti-subversive witch-hunts and debated then-Congressman Richard Nixon on the radio on the topic of the federal loyalty program under Executive Order 9835. He was found guilty of contempt of Congress in 1952 for refusing to divulge names of leftist union members to the Senate Internal Security subcommittee, although the charges against him were eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court.

Abram Flaxer spent several years researching and writing a memoir, titled A View from the Left Field Bleachers, which remains unpublished. He died in 1989, survived by his wife Charlotte Rosswaag.

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Scope and Content Note

The collection consists primarily of Abram Flaxer's memoir, in draft form. The multiple versions are undated and are divided into numbered parts I through V, with several additional sections on specifically named subjects, e.g. "The Marshall Plan." Both typescripts, some of them annotated, and handwritten drafts are represented. A few files of research material used in writing the memoir and correspondence regarding the memoir comprise the remainder of the collection.


Files are arranged alphabetically.

The files are grouped into one series:

Missing Title

  1. I, Subject Files, 1935-1992

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • La Guardia, Fiorello H. (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947
  • Marcantonio, Vito, 1902-1954.
  • Rosswaag, Charlotte

Document Type

  • Correspondence.
  • Memoirs
  • Drafts (documents)

Subject Topics

  • Collective bargaining -x Government employees -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Civil service -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Municipal officials and employees -x Labor unions -- New York (State) -- New York.

Subject Places

  • New York (N.Y.)

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by Abram Flaxer was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Abram Flaxer's widow, Charlotte Rosswaag, in 1989. The accession number associated with this gift is 1989.006.

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Container List

Series I: Subject Files, 1935-1992

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Correspondence and Address Book
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Correspondence: Gold, Martin
1984-1986 , 1989 , 1992
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Interview Transcript: AF Interviewed by Debra Bernhardt
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Memoir: Drafts: Part I
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Memoir: Drafts: Part II
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Memoir: Drafts: Part III (1)
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Memoir: Drafts: Part III (2)
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Memoir: Drafts: Part IV
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Memoir: Drafts: Part V
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Memoir: Drafts: Parts I-V: Annotated Originals
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Memoir: Drafts: "In the Beginning"
Box: 2 Folder : 5 Memoir: Drafts: "The Marshall Plan"
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Memoir: Drafts: "The Truman Cold War"
Box: 2 Folder : 7 Memoir: Notes
Box: 2 Folder : 8 Memoir: Notes and Edits by Sue Kozel
Box: 2 Folder : 9 Panama Canal Zone: Correspondence, Research Materials, Drafts
1948-1950 , 1984-1985 , 1987
Box: 2 Folder : 10 Research Materials: Clippings
Box: 2 Folder : 11 Research Materials: CIO Eleventh Constitutional Convention
Box: 2 Folder : 12 Research Materials: CIO Internal Documents: Addresses, Convention Texts
1938 , 1947-1949
Box: 2 Folder : 13 Research Materials: Miscellaneous
Box: 2 Folder : 14 Research Materials: Re: Unions, Cold War
Box: 2 Folder : 15 Research Materials: United Public Workers of America
1946-1950 , 1952
Box: 2 Folder : 16 Souvenir Journal: State, County and Municipal Workers of America, First National Convention

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