President Abraham Lincoln was a “liberator of labor,” a union leader said Tuesday during an inaugural lecture at SUNY Oneonta dedicated to the Great Emancipator.
Frederick E. Kowal, president of the United University Professions at SUNY Cobleskill, said Lincoln was the first president to be an advocate of the working class and the rights of unions. Lincoln established a beacon of light for workers and unions that has lasted and gives hope for organized labor today, Kowal said.
Kowal spoke at the Morris Conference Center at the State University College at Oneonta.
The audience of 110 listeners included students and members of UUP chapters and of the Oneonta Chapter of the NAACP, William Simons, president of the UUP chapter at SUNY Oneonta, said. Simons said the lecture series has been started to broaden recognition of Lincoln’s contributions to the working class and to democracy.
This year is the 150th anniversary year of the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address.
Kowal’s presentation at the Lincoln Day Lecture was titled “The Great Labor Emancipator: Lincoln, Free Labor, and the Rise of the Working Class.”
Lincoln, who had been paid meager wages as a laborer, took political action based on his belief that anyone in the United States could achieve success, Kowal said, and Lincoln’s words, policies and actions set a template for support of labor and the working class by later presidents.
Kowal, who teaches political science and Native American studies at the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, said too often today Lincoln is remembered solely for his role as the Great Emancipator who freed slaves.
“He’s much more than that,” Kowal said. Lincoln spoke strongly in favor of workers rights in the marketplace, including rights to quit, organize and strike, Kowal said. Lincoln sympathized with collective-worker actions, though some decisions pertaining to labor were tempered by government needs in the Civil War, Kowal said.
In response to questions Tuesday, Kowal said the future of unions depends on energizing units in the private sector, educating new members to benefits won through collective representation and focusing on building bonds at the local level.
Simons said the lecture program was by UUP, the Africana-Latino studies department, the history department, and the history club at the college.