White ring around edge of button with red text inside. White shape in the middle of the button with red text and a small blue illustration of a shoe. Blue background.
Made by Ehrman MFG CO Factory Milford NH, with union bug
Ehrman Mfg. Co. Boston
This button features the emblem of the Boot and Shoe Workers' Union (BSWU). Shoe unions existed in the United States through the 18th and 19th centuries - 1794 marked the formation of the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers. Cordwainer was the name given to a footman or leatherworker. In 1895 a number of these organizations came together to form the BSWU in Boston, that served as an affiliate to the American Federation of Labor. The BSWU even had an officall magazine at one point entitled The Shoe Journal. The union spread rapidly, having 14 branches in Canada by 1914.
Up until the 1960s the BSWU thrived but foreign made footwear's introduction into the market mixed with and job exportation caused a sharp decline in membership. The BSWU in response merged with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in 1977. This merger formed the Footwear Division of the Retail Clerks.
At the time this button was produced, the public had great sympathy for organized labor so much so that socialist and labor activist Eugene V. Debs garnered half a million votes for president in 1904 and 1908. At the latter portion of the Progressive Era that saw labor so fondly, Debs was able to get nearly a million votes in the 1912 presidential election.