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Labor Union History

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The History of Labor Unions

Daniel Shays led a group of farmers and an armed uprising. They were angry about taxes levied by the state of Massachusetts. And, on Labor History in , the year was ; more than , union members marched in Labor Day's first Solidarity Day demonstration in Washington, D. That was the day Rhode Island governor Theodore Green demanded that federal troops be sent to crush a textile strike in his state. He was also an ardent unionist, serving two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild. That was the day that the first labor day celebration and parade took place in New York City. Thousands took to the streets of Washington DC yesterday to commemorate the 58th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two anarchists accused of murder and tried unfairly, were executed on August 23, in Boston, Massachusetts. Also this week, journalist and historian Edward McClelland recounts the gripping details of the historic Flint sit-down strike. AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka, who died August 5, returned to federation headquarters yesterday for the last time, giving the public the opportunity to pay its respects to the labor legend. Labor History Today pays our respects today with Part 2 of our interview with Trumka, in which he talks with labor historian Joe McCartin about the current state — and the future -- of the American labor movement.

Plus, Mark Potashnick on Jim Pohle, the founder of the American Union of Pizza Delivery Drivers, class action law suits, and the app-based revolution in food delivery services. Rich Trumka died this week, of a heart attack at the age of He was also a devoted father, grandfather, husband, brother, coach, colleague and friend. And he loved labor history. Two years ago, he sat down with labor historian Joe McCartin for a conversation for this podcast on the 30th anniversary of the Pittston strike. One last thing: on Saturday, August 14, between 10 a. Rich is making one last trip to the House of Labor, a place and an idea that he loved so much.

All safety protocols will be strictly enforced, including mask requirements and social distancing. Union membership and activities fell sharply in the face of economic prosperity, a lack of leadership within the movement, and anti-union sentiments from both employers and the government. The unions were much less able to organize strikes. In , more than 4 million workers or 21 percent of the labor force participated in about 3, strikes. In contrast, witnessed about , workers or 1. After a short recession in , the s was a generally prosperous decade outside of farming and coal mining.

The GNP growth was a very strong 6. The s also saw a lack of strong leadership within the labor movement. Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor died in after serving as the organization's president for 37 years. Observers said successor William Green, who was the secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers , "lacked the aggressiveness and the imagination of the AFL's first president". Employers across the nation led a successful campaign against unions known as the "American Plan", which sought to depict unions as "alien" to the nation's individualistic spirit. US courts were less hospitable to union activities during the s than in the past. In this decade, corporations used twice as many court injunctions against strikes than any comparable period.

In addition, the practice of forcing employees by threat of termination to sign yellow-dog contracts that said they would not join a union was not outlawed until Although the labor movement fell in prominence during the s, the Great Depression would ultimately bring it back to life. The Great Railroad Strike of , a nationwide railroad shop workers strike, began on July 1. The immediate cause of the strike was the Railroad Labor Board's announcement that hourly wages for railway repair and maintenance workers would be cut by seven cents on July 1.

This cut, which represented an average 12 percent wage decrease for the affected workers, prompted a shop workers vote on whether or not to strike. The operators' union did not join in the strike, and the railroads employed strikebreakers to fill three-fourths of the roughly , vacated positions, increasing hostilities between the railroads and the striking workers. On September 1, a federal judge issued the sweeping "Daugherty Injunction" against striking, assembling, and picketing. Unions bitterly resented the injunction; a few sympathy strikes shut down some railroads completely. The strike eventually died out as many shopmen made deals with the railroads on the local level.

The often unpalatable concessions — coupled with memories of the violence and tension during the strike — soured relations between the railroads and the shopmen for years. The stock market crashed in October , and ushered in the Great Depression. By the winter of —33, the economy was so perilous that the unemployment rate hit the 25 percent mark. Some workers did indeed turn to such radical movements as the Communist Party, but, in general, the nation seemed to have been shocked into inaction". Though unions were not acting yet, cities across the nation witnessed local and spontaneous marches by frustrated relief applicants.

In , more than relief protests erupted in Chicago and that number grew to in The leadership behind these organizations often came from radical groups like Communist and Socialist parties, who wanted to organize "unfocused neighborhood militancy into organized popular defense organizations". Organized labor became more active in , with the passage of the Norris—La Guardia Act. Additionally, the act outlawed yellow-dog contracts , which were documents some employers forced their employees to sign to ensure they would not join a union; employees who refused to sign were terminated from their jobs.

The passage of the Norris—La Guardia Act signified a victory for the American Federation of Labor , which had been lobbying Congress to pass it for slightly more than five years. Up until the passage of this act, the collective bargaining rights of workers were severely hampered by judicial control. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, , and immediately began implementing programs to alleviate the economic crisis. In June, he passed the National Industrial Recovery Act , which gave workers the right to organize into unions. This portion, which was known as Section 7 a , was symbolic to workers in the United States because it stripped employers of their rights to either coerce them or refuse to bargain with them.

Although the National Industrial Recovery Act was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in and replaced by the Wagner Act two months after that, it fueled workers to join unions and strengthened those organizations. In response to both the Norris—La Guardia Act and the NIRA, workers who were previously unorganized in a number of industries—such as rubber workers, oil and gas workers and service workers—began to look for organizations that would allow them to band together. In , 1, strikes occurred, involving more than 1.

The elections of might have reflected the "radical upheaval sweeping the country", as Roosevelt won the greatest majority either party ever held in the Senate and Democrats won seats in the United States House of Representatives versus Republicans. It is possible that "the great social movement from below thus strengthened the independence of the executive branch of government". Despite the impact of such changes on the United States' political structure and on workers' empowerment, some scholars have criticized the impacts of these policies from a classical economic perspective. Cole and Ohanian find that the New Deal's pro-labor policies are an important factor in explaining the weak recovery from the Great Depression and the rise in real wages in some industrial sectors during this time.

The AFL was growing rapidly, from 2. But it was experiencing severe internal stresses regarding how to organize new members. Most AFL leaders, including president William Green , were reluctant to shift from the organization's long-standing craft unionism and started to clash with other leaders within the organization, such as John L. The issue came up at the annual AFL convention in San Francisco in and , but the majority voted against a shift to industrial unionism both years. After the defeat at the convention, nine leaders from the industrial faction led by Lewis met and organized the Committee for Industrial Organization within the AFL to "encourage and promote organization of workers in the mass production industries" for "educational and advisory" functions.

John L. Lewis threw his support behind Franklin D. After the passage of the Wagner Act in , Lewis traded on the tremendous appeal that Roosevelt had with workers in those days, sending organizers into the coal fields to tell workers "The President wants you to join the Union. Lewis expanded his base by organizing the so-called "captive mines", those held by the steel producers such as US Steel. That required in turn organizing the steel industry, which had defeated union organizing drives in and and which had resisted all organizing efforts since then fiercely. The task of organizing steelworkers, on the other hand, put Lewis at odds with the AFL, which looked down on both industrial workers and the industrial unions that represented all workers in a particular industry, rather than just those in a particular skilled trade or craft.

Lewis was the first president of the Committee of Industrial Organizations. The most dramatic success was the sit-down strike that paralyzed General Motors. The CIO's actual membership as opposed to publicity figures was 2,, for February The remaining membership of , was scattered among thirty-odd smaller unions. Historians of the union movement in the s have tried to explain its remarkable success in terms of the rank and file—what motivated them to suddenly rally around leaders such as John L.

Lewis who had been around for decades with little success. Why was the militancy of the mids so short lived? The war mobilization dramatically expanded union membership, from 8. For the first time large numbers of women factory workers were enrolled. Both the AFL and CIO supported Roosevelt in and , with 75 percent or more of their votes, millions of dollars, and tens of thousands of precinct workers.

However, Lewis opposed Roosevelt on foreign policy grounds in All labor unions strongly supported the war effort after June when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Left-wing activists crushed wildcat strikes. Nonetheless, Lewis realized that he had enormous leverage. In , the middle of the war, when the rest of labor was observing a policy against strikes, Lewis led the miners out on a twelve-day strike for higher wages. The bipartisan Conservative coalition in Congress passed anti-union legislation over liberal opposition, most notably the Taft-Hartley Act of A statistical analysis of the AFL and CIO national and local leaders in shows that opportunity for advancement in the labor movement was wide open.

In contrast with other elites, the labor leaders did not come from established WASP families with rich, well-educated backgrounds. Indeed, they closely resembled the overall national population of adult men, with fewer from the South and from farm backgrounds. The union leaders were heavily Democratic. The newer CIO had a younger leadership, and one more involved with third parties, and less involved with local civic activities.

He ousted the Communists from the positions of power, especially at the Ford local. Using brilliant negotiating tactics he leveraged high profits for the Big Three automakers into higher wages and superior benefits for UAW members. New enemies appeared for the labor unions after Newspaper columnist Westbrook Pegler was especially outraged by the New Deal's support for powerful labor unions that he considered morally and politically corrupt. Pegler saw himself a populist and muckraker whose mission was to warn the nation that dangerous leaders were in power.

In Pegler became the first columnist ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting, for his work in exposing racketeering in Hollywood labor unions, focusing on the criminal career of William Morris Bioff. Pegler's popularity reflected a loss of support for unions and liberalism generally, especially as shown by the dramatic Republican gains in the elections, often using an anti-union theme. With the end of the war in August came a wave of major strikes , mostly led by the CIO. In November, the UAW sent their , GM workers to the picket lines; they were joined in January by a half-million steelworkers, as well as over , electrical workers and , packinghouse workers. Combined with many smaller strikes a new record of strike activity was set.

The results were mixed, with the unions making some gains, but the economy was disordered by the rapid termination of war contracts, the complex reconversion to peacetime production, the return to the labor force of 12 million servicemen, and the return home of millions of women workers. The conservative control of Congress blocked liberal legislation, and " Operation Dixie ", the CIO's efforts to expand massively into the South, failed. The Republicans exploited public anger at the unions in , winning a smashing landslide. Labor responded afterwards by taking strong actions.

The CIO systematically purged communists and far-left sympathizers from leadership roles in its unions. The AFL increasingly abandoned its historic tradition of nonpartisanship, since neutrality between the major parties was impossible. By , the AFL had given up on decentralization, local autonomy, and non-partisanship, and had developed instead a new political approach marked by the same style of centralization, national coordination, and partisan alliances that characterized the CIO. The Labor Management Relations Act of , also known as the Taft—Hartley Act , in revised the Wagner Act to include restrictions on unions as well as management. It was a response to public demands for action after the wartime coal strikes and the postwar strikes in steel, autos and other industries that were perceived to have damaged the economy, as well as a threatened railroad strike that was called off at the last minute before it shut down the national economy.

The Act was bitterly fought by unions, vetoed by President Harry S. Truman , and passed over his veto. Repeated union efforts to repeal or modify it always failed, and it remains in effect today. The Act was sponsored by Senator Robert A. Taft and Representative Fred Hartley , both Republicans. Congress overrode the veto on June 23, , establishing the act as a law. Truman described the act as a "slave-labor bill" in his veto, but after it was enacted over his veto, he used its emergency provisions a number of times to halt strikes and lockouts.

The new law required all union officials to sign an affidavit that they were not Communists or else the union would lose its federal bargaining powers guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Board. The amendments added to the NLRA a list of prohibited actions, or "unfair labor practices", on the part of unions. The NLRA had previously prohibited only unfair labor practices committed by employers. It prohibited jurisdictional strikes , in which a union strikes in order to pressure an employer to assign particular work to the employees that union represents, and secondary boycotts and "common situs" picketing , in which unions picket, strike, or refuse to handle the goods of a business with which they have no primary dispute but which is associated with a targeted business.

A later statute, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act , passed in , tightened these restrictions on secondary boycotts still further. The Act outlawed closed shops , which were contractual agreements that required an employer to hire only union members. Union shops , in which new recruits must join the union within a certain amount of time, are permitted, but only as part of a collective bargaining agreement and only if the contract allows the worker at least thirty days after the date of hire or the effective date of the contract to join the union. The National Labor Relations Board and the courts have added other restrictions on the power of unions to enforce union security clauses and have required them to make extensive financial disclosures to all members as part of their duty of fair representation.

On the other hand, a few years after the passage of the Act Congress repealed the provisions requiring a vote by workers to authorize a union shop, when it became apparent that workers were approving them in virtually every case. The amendments also authorized individual states to outlaw union security clauses entirely in their jurisdictions by passing "right-to-work" laws. Currently all of the states in the Deep South and a number of traditionally Republican states in the Midwest , Plains and Rocky Mountains regions have right-to-work laws. The amendments required unions and employers to give sixty days' notice before they may undertake strikes or other forms of economic action in pursuit of a new collective bargaining agreement; it did not, on the other hand, impose any "cooling-off period" after a contract expired.

Although the Act also authorized the President to intervene in strikes or potential strikes that create a national emergency, the President has used that power less and less frequently in each succeeding decade. Historian James T. Patterson concludes that:. The AFL had always opposed Communists inside the labor movement. After they took their crusade worldwide. The CIO had major Communist elements who played a key role in organizational work in the late s and war years.

By they were purged. Left-wing elements in the CIO protested and were forced out of the main unions. As a leader of the anti-Communist center-left, Reuther was a founder of the liberal umbrella group Americans for Democratic Action in He had left the Socialist Party in , and throughout the s and s was a leading spokesman for liberal interests in the CIO and in the Democratic Party. Marxian economist Richard D. Wolff argues that anti-communism was part of a strategy by big business, Republicans and conservatives to single out and destroy the members of the coalition that forced through the New Deal , namely organized labor, socialist and communist parties.

Since its peak in the midth century, the American labor movement has been in steady decline, with losses in the private sector larger than gains in the public sector. In the early s, as the AFL and CIO merged, around a third of the American labor force was unionized; by , the proportion was 11 percent, constituting roughly 5 percent in the private sector and 40 percent in the public sector. Organized labor's influence steadily waned and workers' collective voice in the political process has weakened. Partly as a result, wages have stagnated and income inequality has increased.

The act enshrined the right to unionize, but the system of workplace elections it created meant that unions had to organize each new factory or firm individually rather than organize by industry. In many European countries, collective-bargaining agreements extended automatically to other firms in the same industry, but in the United States, they usually reached no further than a plant's gates. As a result, in the first decades of the postwar period, the organizing effort could not keep pace with the frenetic rate of job growth in the economy as a whole". By the s, a rapidly increasing flow of imports such as automobiles, steel and electronics from Germany and Japan, and clothing and shoes from Asia undercut American producers.

Union membership among workers in private industry shrank dramatically, though after there was growth in employees unions of federal, state and local governments. Republicans, using conservative think tanks as idea farms, began to push through legislative blueprints to curb the power of public employee unions as well as eliminate business regulations.

Union weakness in the Southern United States undermined unionization and social reform throughout the nation, and such weakness is largely responsible for the anaemic US welfare state. The friendly merger of the AFL and CIO marked an end not only to the acrimony and jurisdictional conflicts between the coalitions, it also signaled the end of the era of experimentation and expansion that began in the mid s. The CIO was no longer the radical dynamo, and was no longer a threat in terms of membership for the AFL had twice as many members. Furthermore, the AFL was doing a better job of expanding into the fast-growing white collar sector, with its organizations of clerks, public employees, teachers, and service workers.

The problem of union corruption was growing in public awareness, and CIO's industrial unions were less vulnerable to penetration by criminal elements than were the AFL's trucking, longshoring, building, and entertainment unions. But Meany had a strong record in fighting corruption in New York unions, and was highly critical of the notoriously corrupt Teamsters. Unification would help the central organization fight corruption, yet would not contaminate the CIO unions. The defeat of the New Deal in the election further emphasized the need for unity to maximize political effectiveness.

To achieve the successful merger, they jettisoned the more liberal policies of the CIO regarding civil rights and membership rights for blacks, jurisdictional disputes, and industrial unionism. Fearing the fallout of a drawn-out negotiation process, the AFL and CIO leadership decided on a "short route" to reconciliation. This meant all AFL and CIO unions would be accepted into the new organization "as is," with all conflicts and overlaps to be sorted out after the merger. Labor unions were a whole high-profile target of Republican activists throughout the s and s, especially the Taft-Hartley Act of Both the business community and local Republicans wanted to weaken unions, which played a major role in funding and campaigning for Democratic candidates.

Republicans wanted to delegitimize unions by focusing on their shady activities. Hoffa as a public enemy. Young Robert Kennedy played a major role working for the committee. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition , with the aid of liberals such as the Kennedy brothers, won new Congressional restrictions on organized labor in the form of the Landrum-Griffin Act The main impact was to force more democracy on the previously authoritarian union hierarchies. Its troubles gained national attention from highly visible Senate hearings.

Hispanics comprise a large fraction of the farm labor force, but due to the fact that agricultural workers were not protected under the National Labor Relations Act NLRA of , [] there was little successful unionization before the arrival in the s of Cesar Chavez — and Dolores Huerta , who mobilized California workers into the United Farm Workers UFW organization. Chavez's use of non-violent methods combined with Huerta's organizational skills allowed for many of the bigger successes of the organization. Through collaboration with consumers and student protesters, the UFW was able to secure a three-year contract with the state's top grape growers to increase the safety and pay of farm workers.

Chavez had a significant political impact; as Jenkins points out, "state and national elites no longer automatically sided with the growers. Nationwide unions have been seeking opportunities to enroll Hispanic members. Much of their limited success has been in the hotel industry, especially in Nevada. Cloud argues, "the emblematic moment of the period from through the s in American labor was the tragic PATCO strike in On August 3, , the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization PATCO union — which had supported Reagan — rejected the government's pay raise offer and sent its 16, members out on strike to shut down the nation's commercial airlines.

Federal law forbade such a strike, and the Transportation department implemented a backup plan of supervisors and military air controllers to keep the system running. The strikers were given 48 hours to return to work, else they would be fired and banned from ever again working in a federal capacity. A fourth of the strikers came back to work, but 13, did not. The strike collapsed, PATCO vanished, and the union movement as a whole suffered a major reversal, which accelerated the decline of membership across the board in the private sector.

The average first-year raise for plus—worker contracts fell from 9. Salaries of unionized workers also fell relative to non-union workers. Women and blacks suffered more from these trends. By fewer than seven percent of employees in the private sector belonged to unions. The UAW's numbers of automobile union members are representative of the manufacturing sector: 1,, active members in , 1,, in , , in , , in , and , in with far more retired than active members. By , coal mining had largely shifted to open-pit mines in Wyoming, and there were only 60, active coal miners. The UMW has 35, members, of whom 20, were coal miners, chiefly in underground mines in Kentucky and West Virginia. By contrast it had , members in the late s.

However it remains responsible for pensions and medical benefits for 40, retired miners, and for 50, spouses and dependents. The number of union members nationwide increased from to , and some states saw union growth for the first time in several years or decades. For instance, about 76 percent of new UAW union members during their increase came from workers under the age of In recent years, efforts have also been made to extend the protections of the National Labor Relations Act , which excluded domestic workers and farm workers , to those groups on the state level.

The National Domestic Workers' Alliance has successfully advocated for a Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights in New York, California, and Hawaii, [] while several states have passed legislation expanding the rights of farm workers. In , a series of statewide teacher strikes and protests happened garnering nationwide attention due to their success, [] as well as the fact that several of them were in states where public-employee strikes are illegal. Many of the major strikes were in Republican majority state legislatures, leading to the name "Red State Revolt". The protests spread to a bus driver strike in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia , where nearly bus drivers participated. The relatively new high tech sector, typically dealing with the creation, design, development, and engineering of computer hardware and software products, has typically not been unionized as it is considered white-collar jobs, often with high pay rates and benefits.

There has been worker activism to try to get the employer to change their practices related to labor, such as a November walkout at Google by 20, employees to make the company change its policy on sexual harassment. One area where unionization efforts have become more intense is in the video game industry. Numerous publicized event since have revealed the excessive use of " crunch time " at some companies; where there is a reasonable expectation in the industry that employees may be needed to put in more time near the release of a game product, some companies were noted for using a "crunch time" approach through much longer periods or as a constant expectation of their employees; further, most of those employed in the video game market are exempt from overtime, compounding the issue.

Major grassroots efforts through the game industry since have promoted the creation of a new union or working with an existing union to cover the industry. Labor unions generally ignored government employees because they were controlled mostly by the patronage system used by the political parties before the arrival of civil service. Post Office workers did form unions. The National Association of Letter Carriers started in and grew quickly. By the mids it had , members in 6, local branches.

Several competing organizations of postal clerks emerged starting in the s. In the APWU had , members. Historian Joseph Slater, says, "Unfortunately for public sector unions, the most searing and enduring image of their history in the first half of the twentieth century was the Boston police strike. The strike was routinely cited by courts and officials through the end of the s. The police strike chilled union interest in the public sector in the s. The major exception was the emergence of unions of public school teachers in the largest cities; they formed the American Federation of Teachers AFT , affiliated with the AFL. In suburbs and small cities, the National Education Association NEA became active, but it insisted it was not a labor union but a professional organization.

The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. Change came in the s. Management complained but the unions had power in city politics. By the s and s public-sector unions expanded rapidly to cover teachers, clerks, firemen, police, prison guards and others. In , President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order , upgrading the status of unions of federal workers. After public sector unions grew rapidly and secured good wages and high pensions for their members. While manufacturing and farming steadily declined, state- and local-government employment quadrupled from 4 million workers in to 12 million in and In the US membership of public sector unions surpassed membership of private sector unions for the first time, at 7.

In states faced a growing fiscal crisis and the Republicans had made major gains in the elections. Public sector unions came under heavy attack especially in Wisconsin , as well as Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio from conservative Republican legislatures. Conservatives argued that public unions were too powerful since they helped elect their bosses, and that overly generous pension systems were too heavy a drain on state budgets. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Aspect of history. Timeline and periods. By group. See also. Historiography List of years in the United States. Main article: Commonwealth v.

Main article: Knights of Labor. Main article: American Federation of Labor. Main article: Western Federation of Miners. Main article: Pullman Strike. Active organizations. Defunct organizations. Related topics. Main article: Coal strike of Main article: Industrial Workers of the World. Further information: Taft—Hartley Act. Main article: —19 education workers' strikes in the United States. Main article: Public-sector trade unions in the United States.

Main article: Boston Police Strike. Organized labour portal. Union's th anniversary approaching". Hall, " The Knights of St. Fox Business. In the BLE joined the Teamsters. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. October—November TAMS Journal. A People's History of the United States. America: A Narrative History Brief 9th ed. ISBN p. Little, Brown and Company. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Belknap Press. As Equal As Sisters. McCartin, et al. Kerr Publishing Company, , p. The Great Coalfield War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company , Labor's great war: the struggle for industrial democracy and the origins of modern American labor relations, Harvard Law Review.

JSTOR American Quarterly. The Johns Hopkins University Press. National Museum of American History. Retrieved September 17, Boulder: University Press of Colorado. America's Part in the World War. The John C. Collection: Mary van Kleeck papers. Smith College Special Collections. Encyclopedia Britannica. Murray, "Communism and the great steel strike of Mitchell Palmer: politician. Da Capo Press. Prentice Hall, Chronology of Labor in the United States.

Haymarket Books, Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, Labor , Monthly Review Press, , p. Cole and Lee E. Zieger, The CIO, — pp. Van Tine, John L. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Temple University Press. Filippelli; Mark D. McColloch SUNY Press. Hower, "'Our conception of non-partisanship means a partisan non-partisanship': the search for political identity in the American Federation of Labor, — Cornfield and Holly J. McCammon, eds. Brown , U. Patterson Grand Expectations: The United States, Oxford University Press. New York: BasicBooks. Moore Times Long Past. Xlibris Corporation. Wolff September 2, Organized labor's decline in the US is well-known. But what drove it?

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