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John H. Cooper, President, CIO Industrial Union Council

Number one CIO man in Rochester is John H. Cooper, president of the CIO Industrial Union Council since its inception two years ago, and business agent for two CIO locals.

A staunch union man from scratch, Mr. Cooper called a strike on the first real job he had. He was working in the then B.R. and P. Railroad machine shop, where he was shop chairman, for one year after he finished school. “Always for the underdog,” he saw that the employees were not getting a square deal, and then when the employers instituted piece work, “it was more than anyone could stand. I stepped out to take up the fight of a certain group then,” he said, “and have been fighting ever since.”

The youngest of four children, Mr, Cooper was born here in 1891. He attended Nos. 33 and 31 schools, at the same time working at odd jobs during vacations. Although he would have liked to have received further education, he went to work immediately after he finished school because he felt it his duty to at least take care of himself.

After the railroad job, he worked in the trimming room at Stein-Bloch, clothing manufacturers, where he was first on the shop committee, then shop chairman. From 1919 to 1930 he was on the executive board of the Cutters’ Union, Local 205, after which he was elected business agent for the cutters and trimmers union. In 1935 he was elected business agent for the spongers, shipping room, stock keepers and miscellaneous workers union, local 230.

A religious man, Mr. Cooper is a member of the Salem Church and has been a church councilman and a member of the Board of Trustees for many years.

Expressing his views on the vital needs of labor at the moment, Mr. Cooper is of the opinion that the Wages-and-Hour law must remain intact. He proposes a determined campaign on the part of labor and its sympathizers to support the law as it is. “All organizations should put up a fight to keep the gains labor has made,” he said, “because they can all be wiped out so quickly when the conservatives come to power.”

He is wholeheartedly for a housing project in Rochester because, for one thing, it would employ large numbers of carpenters, masons, electricians and all the other workers essential to construction. “The need is not debatable,” he indicated, “you just have to see some of the districts I’ve seen, if you doubt that we have slum areas.”

Discussing a matter of great concern to labor, health, Mr. Cooper remarked that the time is coming when industry will have to protect the health of the worker. He likened employees today to slaves in the 19th century who were cared for by their masters. Mr. Cooper believes that industry would benefit itself as well as the workers if it instituted an extensive system of company doctors and hospitals, for the company doctor would naturally do everything in his power to keep the employees well and at work, since illness is costly to the employer. The alternative, Mr. Cooper stated, is for employers to pay workers high enough wages so they could take care of their medical needs.

Aside from his labor activities Mr. Cooper is an ardent gardener. He boasts of having had the finest garden in every neighborhood he has lived in. This hobby, however, has taken every minute of his spare time, and has resulted in higher taxes on his house.

A story that he tells on himself concerns his brief excursion into creative writing, which resulted a number of years ago in the unauthorized production by one of the local theaters of a play written by Mr. Cooper and Lew Baker. When they heard the play was being put on, Cooper and Baker went down to the theater, saw the show, and thought it so good that they asked for and got $50 for the rights.