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The Bloomington Labor Party

Inspired by the post-World War I reconstruction plan of the British Labour Party, the Illinois State Federation of Labor met in convention in Bloomington in November 1918, adopting "Labor's Fourteen Points" as a political platform. The convention debated and supported the idea of a Labor Party. The 14 Points included the right to organize unions, democratic control of industry, establishment of a minimum wage and an eight-hour day, inheritance taxes and "an end to kings and wars." A statewide poll of union members overwhelmingly supported establishing a labor party by a ten-to-one margin (Staley, 363-364).

A convention was called for Springfield, Illinois on April, 10, 1919 to establish an Illinois Labor Party. Before that Bloomington became the first test case, with Lennon leading the ticket for the "Bloomington Labor Party" for the April 1, 1919 municipal election. Bloomington was under the commissioner form of government, with each elected official operating a different city department. Lennon ran for Mayor, with four union members running for commissioner: James Nevin, Frank Morgan, Louis Salch and George Meyers. For the platform the Labor Party advocating municipal ownership of utilities, improved health and sanitation and free textbooks for school children (Labor's Choices).

The Democrats did not run a slate in 1919 but the Republicans did, attacking the union effort as socialist. In the days before the election, full-page advertisements ran in the Bloomington Pantagraph, the headline blaring "Do We Want Socialists To Govern Our City?" on March 29 and "Crush Socialism in Bloomington" on election day ("Crush Socialism," 10-11).

The opposition ads noted the Labor Party effort was not sanctioned by the AFL and attacked Lennon for running on the Socialist ticket in Denver 38 years previously. The ad said:

It's candidate for Mayor in his published remarks made in accepting his nomination, stated he was a candidate for municipal office in Denver 38 years ago upon a Socialist ticket.

Recently in a published statement, he said, They have said we are all Socialists. Well, I'm not a Socialist although I have nothing to say against Socialists.' The other four boys may be Socialists -- I don't know and I don't care -- that's their business.' ....

No matter under what party name they may be elected, if Bloomington elects a governing council dominated by Socialists and actuated by Socialistic beliefs, Bloomington will be proclaimed the world over as an American city of 30,000 people in which the Socialist predominate and are in full control of its government ("Do We Want Socialist," 11).

The Bloomington Pantagraph, normally a staunchly Republican newspaper, made no endorsement in the municipal elections, instead concentrating on referendum efforts. Commenting the day before the election, the Pantagraph noted:

Organized labor in Illinois has turned its eyes toward the Evergreen City to watch the results of the new-born Independent Labor party's first effort in politics. ....

The city election this spring is a clear-cut issue with the administration ticket led by Mayor E.E. Jones in an enforced defensive position in a non-partisan election contest. ...The contest was a clear-cut fight between the Labor ticket and the administration ticket from the primary to the wind-up tomorrow ("Results watched,"12).

The labor ticket lost by a slim 286 vote margin. Interestingly, Lennon won the male vote, incumbent mayor Edward Jones winning with female support. Votes for men and women were still counted separately in Illinois during that election. Lennon defeated Jones, 2,874 to 2,731 amongst men, but 2,309 women favored Jones, Lennon gathering 1,880 votes from women. In his election comments, Jones noted that "The spirit of patriotism has prevailed. ....I shall endeavor to serve the masses and classes alike (Pantagraph, 3)."

Lennon at least fared better than Chicago Federation of Labor leader John Fitzpatrick, who ran for Chicago mayor, only polling eight percent of the voter (Staley, 364-365).

Despite their municipal defeats, union delegates convened in Springfield on April 10 and established the Labor Party of Illinois. Defeated Bloomington commissioner candidate Louis Salch, a carpenter, served on the executive board. The group established a dues structure and adopted a platform. That November they ran candidates for the state's constitutional convention, but none were successful. The labor party convened a national meeting in Chicago in November 1919 to explore a national Labor Party, which was opposed by Gompers (Staley, 365-373).

In June 1920 the Labor Party ran statewide candidates for office, slating Illinois State Federation of Labor president John H. Walker for Governor. Lennon was slated for state treasurer. They attempted to broaden their appeal by changing the name to the Farmer-Labor Party. The party fared poorly, Walker only drawing 56,480 votes out of 2 million cast, pulling little support from Chicago. Labor withdrew its support and the party's remnants were captured by William Z. Foster and the Communists in 1923 (Staley, 373-381). John B. Lennon died on January 17, 1923 and was buried in Park Hill Cemetery, leaving his young wife and an infant son.

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