In 1983 Gary Huck and I attended a convention of the International Labor Press Association (now the International Labor Communications Association). Our mutual friend David Elsila, editor of the UAW Solidarity magazine, introduced us to his fellow labor editors. As a result, we collected about 25 subscribers and mailed our first package of labor cartoons in October of 1983.
Over the following years our subscription list grew to about 120 subscribers in the US and Canada. Because of their support we were able to create 37 years of labor cartoons and seven published collections of our work. Today our archive resides at the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University: http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/wag_264/
Sadly our tenure as labor cartoonists coincided with the decline of the U.S. labor movement. When we started, labor union density in the U.S. was 20.1%. In 2019 the movement had shrunk to 10.3%.
“Had shrunk” is the passive voice. In reality, federal government and corporate policies hostile to organized labor has slowly killed off the movement.
Before the New Deal, labor unions and collective bargaining were illegal. That changed in 1937 when the Supreme Court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act was constitutional. From then until the 1970s labor unions created a broad middle class, the first time in American history.
In 1981 Ronald Reagan fired over 11,000 striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. This began a generation of union busting by corporate America and state governments and the forced decline of the middle class.
Our tenure as labor cartoonists also coincided with the decline of newspapers in general. At the start of the 20th century, there were nearly 2000 daily newspaper editorial cartoonists in the U.S. Today there are less than 40 daily newspaper cartoonists, with the number rapidly falling.
Gary and I inherited a noble working class art form, from the IWW to Fred Wright. We mourn its loss and hope that someone out there will take up the mantel.
Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
February 19, 2020