On this date 80 years ago, the American Federation of Labor voted to approve a boycott of products and services from Nazi Germany. It was the first non-Jewish organization in the US to join the boycott. (The British Labour Party endorsed an anti-Nazi boycott on October 5 of the same year.)
The AFL stated:
The revolution in Germany, resulting from the designation of Adolf Hitler as chancellor, has meant the overthrow of the Weimar constitution (the Republic) and the inauguration of the Third Reich. Rallying to his support the discontent and unrest in all groups, Hitler’s regime turned upon the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions which accepted the Versailles Treaty because it afforded opportunity for building up democratic institutions. Many trade unionists were active in the Social Democratic Party which had been responsible for the government. The Nazi Government, therefore, struck directly at trade union officials and machinery in order to establish its power. First, methods of communications within the unions were suppressed or intercepted, and this was followed by the arrest and imprisonment of executives and leaders. Terror and brutality followed, together with the inauguration of a campaign of Jewish persecution unparalleled in modern history.
The utter destruction of the independent trade union movement of Germany by those now in control of the German government has been equaled only by the ruthless persecution of Germany’s Jewish population. Persecution of this kind arouses intense feeling among the membership of organized labor. Our great movement rests upon the broad principle of racial tolerance and of no discrimination because of creed or nationality. Our great organized labor movement is engaged in the noble work of blending into a common brotherhood all working people, without regard to creed, color or nationality. We abhor racial persecution and we protest vigorously against the persecution of the Jewish people of Germany.
Owing to the fact that those who are administering the government of Germany and who are shaping its destinies are pursuing a ruthless campaign of persecution against the Jews of Germany, and because the Hitler government refused to heed or respect the protests of the people in all nations throughout the world, the Executive Council recommends that the American Federation of Labor join with other public-spirited organizations in our own country in officially adopting a boycott against German-made goods and German service, this boycott to continue until the German government recognizes the right of the working people of Germany to organize into bona fide, independent trade unions of their own choosing, and until Germany ceases its repressive policy of persecution of Jewish people…
While America’s labor unions were taking a principled stand against the Nazis less than a year after Hitler’s rise to power, some of America’s largest businesses, um, weren’t.
In 1937 IBM president Thomas Watson (pictured below seated next to Hitler), as head of the International Chamber of Commerce, accepted the Order of the German Eagle with Star from the Nazis.
In 1940, rather belatedly some might say, Watson returned the award.
Henry Ford– honored by Glenn Beck for his opposition to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal– received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from the Nazis in 1938.