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AFSCME: 75+ Years of History

The history of AFSCME began in 1932, as the country suffered through a severe economic depression, when a small group of white-collar professional state employees met in Madison, Wisconsin, and formed what would later become Wisconsin State Employees Union/Council 24. The reason for the group’s creation was simple: to promote, defend and enhance the civil service system. They also were determined to help spread the civil service system across the country.

State employees feared that politicians would implement a political patronage or “spoils” system and thousands of workers would lose their jobs. Meetings were held, marches and demonstrations were organized, and the Wisconsin State Employers Association saved the civil service system in Wisconsin. By the 1930s, such organizations existed in major cities and states around the country, saving the civil service system nationwide. In 1936, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) granted a charter for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). And Arnold Zander was chosen as AFSCME’s first International President.

With the turn of the new century, we find America at a crossroads. A battle for the country’s soul, over its basic values, places us on the front lines. Privatizers, deregulators, tax-cutters, people who want to turn back the clock on racial justice and women’s equality, and selfish people at the helm of corporations all seek to undermine and malign every area of public service, and to disarm our union. The stakes are high, and only a progressive organization like AFSCME — built by the sacrifices and risk-taking of public service workers for more than 70 years, and reinforced by the energies of committed organizers and new members joining our ranks — is up to the task.

Visit the 75 Years of AFSCME website to view historical timeline.