ONE OF THE AMERICA'S most powerful and influential labor leaders, Sidney Hillman cofounded the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which later merged with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and mobilized its members into the first truly effective labor force in electoral politics. He was also one of the earliest trade-union advocates of constructive cooperation, recognizing that what helped an industry's workers benefited the industry itself. He was also a close confidante of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)—to the point where Hillman himself became a major issue during the 1944 presidential campaign, inspiring one of the most famous controversies, and slogans, in U.S. political history.

Born in Lithuania, Hillman abandoned rabbinical studies for a role in the struggle against Tzarist oppression: He took part in the ...

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