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Louis Marciante headed the New Jersey AFL from 1934 to 1961.

Labor Leader: Louis Marciante headed the NJ AFL for 27 years

Marciante ousted an incumbent state union boss on his second try in 1934

By David Wildstein, September 06 2021 12:09 am

Louis P. Marciante (1898-1961) was the president of the New Jersey American Federal of Labor (AFL) from 1934 until his death of a heart attack at age 62 amidst a stressful merger between the AFL and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

Besieged by vicious clashes over the New Jersey merger, Marciante had just returned from a national AFL-CIO convention when he became ill in Atlantic City.  New Jersey as the only state that had not yet consolidated the two unions.  He believed the CIO, the smaller of the two unions, was asking for too big a piece of the pie as a condition of the merger.

As a result of the dispute, national AFL-CIO president George Meany had not permitted the New Jersey AFL to hold a state convention for four years.

Born in Louisiana, Marciante moved to New Jersey as a child and became an electrician joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 269 in Trenton.

He became the president of the Mercer County Central Labor Council and a member of the IBEW international executive committee.

Marciante ran for president of the New Jersey State Federation of Labor in 1933 when State Sen. Arthur Quinn (D-Perth Amboy) resigned after 20 years as a union leader to become the comptroller of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Quinn backed his vice president, Thomas Eames, an organizer for the Glass Bottle Blowers Association of the United States.  Eames beat Marciante by 38 votes, 231 to 193.

In 1934, Marciante mounted a rematch and defeated Eames by sixteen votes, 238 to 222.

Running on Marciante’s ticket was Vincent J. Murphy, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Plumbers Union Local 24 and later the Mayor to Newark.

When Carl Holderman, who would later head the New Jersey CIO and become state Commissioner of Labor, considered forming a third party – the Labor Party– in New Jersey in the late 1930s, Marciante refused to go along with it.  He endorsed A. Harry Moore for governor and forged an alliance with Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague.

Marciante helped engineer the 1943 Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Murphy, but he lost the general election to Republican Walter Edge.

During his years as AFL president, Marciante endorsed candidates from both parties and sometimes strategically remained neutral in order to help a particular candidate.

In 1953, Republicans nominated Paul Troast, a construction executive who built the New Jersey Turnpike, as their candidate for governor.  Officially, Marciante and the AFL declined to pick sides between Troast and Democrat Robert Meyner, a former Senate Minority Leader, but privately labor appeared to be working for Troast.  Several AFL locals came out publicly for Troast.

Troast  had been the favorite to win the general election against former State Sen. Robert Meyner (D-Phillipsburg) until The New York Times broke a story that Troast wrote a letter New York Gov. Thomas Dewey seeking clemency for Joseph F. Fay, the head of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 who had been convicted of extortion.

The Fay Letter send the Troast campaign into a tailspin and he wound up losing by 153,642 votes, 53%-45%.

The relationship between Marciante and Meyner became so heated that the union leader publicly called the governor a “political faker” and said organized labor should oppose any bid by the New Jersey governor to become the 1960 Democratic presidential nominee.

Meyner wondered when Marciante became a Democrat.

Murphy succeeded Marciante as president in 1961 and became the first New Jersey AFL-CIO president.   His son, Charles Marciante, became Secretary-Treasurer.

When Murphy retired in 1970, Charles Marciante took his father’s old job as state president.   He held that post until his retirement in 1997 and was succeeded by the current president, Charles Wowkanech.

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