The story of the Labor Tribune began in 1935. Maury Rubin, an architecture student at Washington University, founded a monthly broadsheet entitled the Union Labor Advocate. He changed the name of the newspaper in June 1937 to the Labor Tribune.
In the second issue, Rubin teamed-up with Carpenters’ District Council leader Dick Adams to report on the poor quality of construction work at local non-union housing projects. The report, and week-end leafletting of the construction sites, led to union organizing of nearly the entire St. Louis construction industry. This in turn led to the continued low cost of quality housing in the metropolitan St. Louis area.
Rubin guided the development of the Labor Tribune for its first 40 years, along with a colorful staff that gave the newspaper character. Staff members included Ben Sabol, a cane-wielding photographer and who brought a ladder to his shoots, which facilitated wide-angle perspectives on group labor photographs; editorial chief Harry Winkeler, a devout anti-Communist whose red-bashing editorials were reprinted by newspapers around the country, and phone-bound ad salesmen, Morris Bass and Harry Barge.
A staunch opponent of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, Maury Rubin also organized an American Federation of Labor-affiliated union for journalists in St. Louis in 1937: The Advertising, Publicity and Newspaper Representatives Local 20711.
The Labor Tribune staff joined Newspaper Guild Local 47 after the 1955 AFL-CIO merger.
In 1947, the Labor Tribune organized another labor newspaper in East St. Louis called the Southern Illinois Labor Tribune. The new paper was printed in the National Stockyards, the site of the Livestock Reporter. However, the Southern Illinois Labor Tribune closed its advertising and circulation office in East St. Louis after refusing to fall victim to a protection racket.
In 1955, Rubin offered his help to the AFL to start an official newspaper to report on organized labor in Indiana. Gene San Soucie, president of AFL Teamster Joint Council 69 for the state of Indiana, served as the associate editor. St. Louis Labor Tribune advertising salesman Joe Gordon later handled the Indiana paper’s business operations. Rubin attempted to continue the Indiana Labor Tribune after San Soucie died in an airplane crash in 1973, but economic factors eventually caused it to fold.
The St. Louis Labor Tribune built its reputation by being in the forefront of national issues that affected labor. It took strong positions against the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act and the Landrum-Griffin Amendments in 1959. Locally, it exposed shoddy workmanship and promoted worker safety.
The paper was supported in part by Maury Rubin’s ownership of Quality Beverages, a beer distributorship. In March 1957, the St. Louis Labor Tribune changed its broadsheet format to that of a tabloid.
The first photo of fledgling labor journalist Ed Finkelstein that appeared in the Labor Tribune when he re-joined the staff fresh out of six years in the U.S. Air Force where he was an award-winning public relations officer with the Strategic Air Command in Wyoming and England.
Ed Finkelstein, Maury Rubin’s nephew, joined the newspaper for a summer job when he was 14 years old. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism in 1959 and served six years as an information officer with the Strategic Air Command in Wyoming and England. When he left the service, Finkelstein returned to the Labor Tribune as an executive assistant to Maury Rubin. Often at odds with Rubin over policy issues, Finkelstein left the paper in the late 1960s and joined the Regional Industrial Development Corporation as its director of public relations and labor liaison.
In 1970, Finkelstein started a public relations firm, Union Communications, to help improve the image of organized labor with local business and the public. Jim Templeton became one of his first employees and later became the Labor Tribune’s managing editor. Much of Union Communication’s business involved providing the Labor Tribune with labor news from the firm’s union clients.
Union Communications, one of the first all-union public relations firm in America, provided local regional and international unions with a wide array of professional communications services until that time only available to corporations. It innovated many communications processes to help labor tell its story — to the public and its own members.
In the early 1970s, with his health failing and the paper suffering from criticism that it was growing stagnant, Rubin asked Finkelstein to take over management of the paper. Shortly thereafter, Rubin retired as publisher emeritus. He died in 1982.
Finkelstein, now a professional journalist and skilled public relations practitioner, reinvigorated the newspaper and restored its aggressiveness and broad coverage of local and national labor news. He also stabilized its finances which were at a critical juncture when he took over.
Finkelstein brought two key staffers to the paper: Union Communications employee Jim Templeton as managing editor, and Sherwood Kerker as reporter. Finkelstein brought a less confrontational style and one that aimed more to promote cooperation between labor and business when it was appropriate.
Nevertheless, the St. Louis Labor Tribune remained an influential and aggressive defender of labor causes. It worked ceaselessly to expose worker-safety hazards and the poor quality of non-union construction, and it has helped organized labor groups against anti-labor legislation.
The Labor Tribune played a particularly-important role in defeating the anti-worker, anti-union so called “right-to-work (for less)” legislation in Missouri in 1978, and rose to the challenge again in 2018 with the defeat of Proposition A (RTW).
In 1984, the St. Louis and Southern Illinois Labor Tribunes merged to form the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune.
Today, the Labor Tribune is one of the few remaining labor weekly newspapers in the country. It has a symbiotic relationship with its subscribers: the paper exists because of their continued and unwavering support and the St. Louis/Southern Illinois labor movements are considered among the strongest in America in great part because they have a solid, strong voice that allows their positions to be heard in the general community.
The Labor Tribune also serves to “spread the word” about Labor’s issues throughout the Labor community and thus serves to cement the strong bond between the unions and their members and families.
Democracy flourishes in great measure because of a free press; in the United States, the Labor Press plays a similar role for the Labor Movement as a whole. In Missouri and Southern Illinois, the Labor Tribune stands out for its role in providing the Labor Movement with its voice and its “muscle” to be heard and get things accomplished.
Publisher Ed Finkelstein donated the records of the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection-St. Louis on June 19, 1990.
The records included editions of the Labor Tribune from 1935, in addition to 78,000 photo negatives.
The Labor Tribune collection consists primarily of over 78,000 photograph negatives that comprised the Tribune’s photograph morgue. The negatives have been indexed as part of the Western Historical Manuscript Collection’s NEWPHOTO database.
The Labor Tribune collection also contains correspondence, memoranda and reports documenting the newspaper’s history, including personal correspondence of its founder Maury Rubin; records of the Advertising, Publicity and Newspaper Representatives Local 20711, the journalists’ union that Rubin help found, and bound volumes of an entire run of the Indiana Labor Tribune, 1955-1973, that Rubin also helped found.
The collection also includes many photograph prints that have subject but no chronological identification.
The collection is divided into seven series:
The Labor Tribune collection may be reviewed at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection in the Thomas Jefferson Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge Rd., Normandy, Mo. Call (314) 516-5143 or visit the website at firstname.lastname@example.org.