On December 22 2022, an Imgur account shared the following image of what appeared to be a vintage Christmas cartoon illustrating benefits offered by unions to working class Americans:
No contextual information was supplied alongside the image, which depicted a couple and a Christmas tree, with “gifts” labeled “shorter hours,” “better working conditions,” “decent wages,” and “old age pensions.”
A woman in the scene held a card labeled “union card,” and a speech bubble over her read:
That card makes it possible for us to have the best Christmas in the world!
For context, one of the labeled boxes (“old age pensions”) referenced a once-common benefit offered to a majority of workers. A June 2022 Fool.com article explained that workplace pensions have become functionally extinct:
How many people do you know with a pension? If you’re in the United States, the answer is likely very few. Across the private sector, defined benefit plans, including pensions, are on the decline. While in the 1980s about 60% of Americans had access to pension plans, that number has dropped to 14% today.
Our reverse image search suggested that the cartoon was fairly rare in terms of online distribution. We found a total of 13 iterations crawled, the first being a 2020 post to Imgur.
A New York-based labor council tweeted the image on December 19 2022, also without information about the cartoon itself. AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler tweeted the image in December 2021, as did labor reporter Steven Greenhouse in 2020 and 2021 (the latter including the name of the artist, John Miller Baer):
John Miller Baer was the subject of a special collection at Syracuse University. We were unable to access copies of Baer’s work on the collection’s website, but it did include a brief biography and summary of Baer’s connection to both labor and cartoons:
John Miller Baer (1886-1970) was an American cartoonist and politician.
John Miller Baer was born on March 29, 1886 on a farm in Blackcreek, Wisconsin. After graduating from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1909 with a bachelor of arts degree, Baer moved to Beach, North Dakota. Baer worked as a civil engineer, a farmer and postmaster and began submitting cartoons and articles to newspapers. Baer’s political ideology solidified as he began to feel that big business and corruption led to farmers being taken advantage of. Baer drew cartoons for the Non-Partisan Leader and in 1916 resigned as postmaster and moved to Fargo where he was a cartoonist for the Fargo Courier-News.
Baer entered politics as the first person elected to Congress with the endorsement of the National Nonpartisan League. He was elected on the Nonpartisan ticket in 1916 to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican representative for 1st District of North Dakota. But controversy followed Baer to Washington D.C. Baer refuted the New York Times‘ claim that during his campaign he declared “this is no time to make an issue of Americanism” and the paper accused him of being too closely aligned with socialism. Others in Congress insinuated that he was an unpatriotic, foreign influence. While in office, he continued to use his cartoons to influence others and received criticism from his colleagues in 1920 for drawing for the Plumb Plan League which was thought to be responsible for the railroad strike.
After failing to win another term during the 1920 election, Baer returned to journalism as a cartoonist for the National Railroad Union newspaper, Labor, where he produced cartoons arguing for improved conditions for the American worker and the unemployed.
The earliest variation of the cartoon we were able to track down online was shared by the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21 (IFPTE 21) on Facebook and Twitter on December 25 2019:
A separate search for the cartoon’s top text (“That card makes it possible for us to have the best Christmas in the world!”) matched with an entry on Google Books. The entry was on page 380 of The Signalman’s Journal in December 1953, and “John Baer” was visible as a signature on the bottom left:
Several editions of The Signalman’s Journal were bundled together on Google Books, and a somewhat similar cartoon appeared in the December 1952 edition:
A December 22 2022 Imgur repost featured a vintage Christmas union cartoon. The cartoon appeared to begin circulating in December 2019, after IFPTE 21 shared it to Facebook and Twitter. As indicated, the cartoon was created by politician and cartoonist John Miller Baer. It appeared in the December 1953 edition of labor trade publication The Signalman’s Journal, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the cartoon dated back to 1936, as described in some versions. However, the cartoon is real and authentic, and it was drawn by John Baer, designer of the AFL-CIO “handshake” logo.