A Proud History In Presidential Campaigns

October 30, 2020

We’ve been foot soldiers for progress.

ProudHstory_fa.jpgFrom its founding, 1199’s commitment to social and economic justice led it to the political arena.

Founded in 1932 as a drug workers’ union during the nation’s Great Depression, 1199 was a staunch supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Because they were barred from many medical schools, Jews who sought work in the healthcare industry often chose the pharmacy trade. Although the pharmacists were predominantly Jewish, about 20 percent were Irish or Italian. Drugstore porters and stockmen were predominantly Black. Constantly pushing for societal anti-discrimination laws and regulations, the Union launched a successful campaigns in the 1930s to secure jobs for Black pharmacists and promote porters to higher paying jobs such as sodamen.

And while many unions turned their backs on civil rights, particularly after the purge of socialists and communists at the onset of the Cold War, 1199 never wavered. It was one of the few unions to support the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956, at which its relationship with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began. In 1964, members worked to elect President Lyndon Johnson and strongly supported his Great Society program, which included landmark legislation such as the Voting and Civil Rights Acts, Medicare and Medicaid. The Union later opposed President Johnson’s execution of the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

Members took part in protest demonstrations and worked in campaigns against anti-labor presidents Richard Nixon in the early 1970s and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

During the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1988, 1199’s headquarters served as Rev. Jackson’s New York State headquarters. The Union’s work helped Rev. Jackson carry New York City and laid the groundwork for David Dinkins’s election the next year as the city’s first African American mayor.

After the 2000 presidential elections, thousands of 1199ers hit the streets to protest the state of Florida’s refusal to recount the state’s votes in the contested outcome. At the time, Democrat Al Gore had won the popular vote, but Republican George W. Bush had won the plurality of electoral college votes based on his narrow victory in Florida. Bush’s Florida win by just 537 votes was called into question because some 56,000 Florida votes in Democratic-leaning districts had been discounted.

“If votes don’t count, then democracy is in danger,” said Maria Velasquez, a home attendant at Washington Heights Home Care Program during a Dec. 7 protest in Manhattan’s Times Square. Other members carried placards at the demonstration that read, “Democracy Ambushed in Florida,” and “This is America. Count Every Vote.”

- 1199 Magazine - September / October 2020