Labor 12.1-2 (May, 2014)

Labor 12.1-2 Cover

In This Issue

Guest Editors’ Introduction

  • Susan Levine and Steve Striffler, “From Field to Table in Labor History

The Common Verse

  • Sara Ries, “American Cheese Family


  • Sarah Besky and Sandy Brown,”Looking for Work: Placing Labor in Food Studies

  • Rachel B. Herrmann, “‘Their Filthy Trash': Taste, Eating, and Work in Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative

  • William Bauer, “Sudsy Sovereignty: Indigenous Workers and the Hops Industry of the Pacific Slope

  • April Merleaux, “Sweetness, Power, and Forgotten Food Histories in America’s Empire

  • Vanessa May, “‘Obtaining a Decent Livelihood': Food Work, Race, and Gender in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro

  • Felicia Kornbluh, “Food as a Civil Right: Hunger, Work, and Welfare in the South after the Civil Rights Act

  • Sarah Lyon, “The Hidden Labor of Fair Trade

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Teaching Labor History »

Empire of Cotton Still Based on Violence

At the 2 year anniversary of Rana Plaza: Is there no hope remains for us. Credit: Solidarity Center/Balmi ChisimBy Tula Connell on July 10, 2015 | Comments: (0)

At the recent LAWCHA conference here in Washington, D.C., I was among those applauding heartily when Empire of Cotton: A Global History, Sven Beckert’s sweeping study, received the Philip Taft Labor History Book Award. It’s worth taking a look at how the “empire,” carries on today, as Beckert asserts. [Read More]

All Work and No Play: Players Associations and the State of American Labor

Malcolm Butler’s Superbowl Interception. Credit: Kathy Willens, APBy Jonathan Cohen on June 29, 2015 | Comments: (0)

On May 25, 2015, weather conditions forced the cancelation of a flight from Atlanta to Boston. One of the flight’s intended passengers was Malcolm Butler, defensive back for the New England Patriots, best known for his game winning interception in the final seconds of the Super Bowl this past February. Butler had to take a flight the next day, meaning he missed the opening of the Patriots’ voluntary organized team activities as they prepare for the 2015-2016 season. And he found quickly what it meant to have union representation. [Read More]

From Worker Education Center to Hedge Fund and State Department Cabal: An Open Call to Struggle Against an Obscene Transformation

Graduate Center for Workers Education in Brooklyn was the site of the recent LAWCHA conference. Now it is scheduled for elimination.By John Alter on June 27, 2015 | Comments: (0)

Dear friends and supporters of Worker Education: After more than three years of the collective efforts by The Committee of Concerned Alumni, Students, Faculty and Staff to save and restore the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education, City University of New York, we have deeply disturbing developments to report about management's recent actions. See this for previous report. [Read More]

The More Things Stay the Same: Lessons from 1934

The Toledo News-Bee reports on the violence, 1934. Credit: The Toledo Regional TourBy Brad Sommer on June 17, 2015 | Comments: (5)

It has been 81 years since the workers of the Toledo Electric Auto-Lite Company went on strike. A modest but extremely profitable auto parts company, Auto-Lite had gained a level of success before and during the Depression as a major supplier of parts to Ford and Chrysler. Success brought tension, as the rapidly accumulated wealth of Auto-Lite was not reflected in the employment practices. The firm cut wages, seniority carried with it no security, and jobs at the plant were often scarce. Corruption trickled down from the executive offices to the factory floor, with foremen notoriously accepting bribes and administering physical punishment to underproductive or confrontational workers. Hostile to union recognition and home to a variety of physically dangerous jobs, Auto-Lite’s anti-worker and anti-union policies had a rather inverse effect; instead of subduing the workforce, Auto-Lite created a natural recruiting ground for unionization. [Read More]

Collection Spotlight: The Utah Philips Papers

Utah Phillips performing in Washington state in front of an Industrial Workers of the World sign. Utah is playing a guitar and facing toward the camera.By The Walter P. Reuther Library on June 17, 2015 | Comments: (0)

Originally posted October 16th, 2014. Written by Dallas Pillen, Archives Technician at the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University. Bruce Duncan “Utah” Phillips (1935-2008) was one of the most prominent members of the American folk community in the latter half of the 20th century. He became well known as a folk singer, storyteller, poet, radio host, and activist beginning in the late 1960s and continued to be a distinguished figure in the folk and labor communities for the following four decades. [Read More]

Journey into an Undocumented Past: Why I Became a Historian

By Eladio Bobadilla on June 11, 2015 | Comments: (0)

I became interested in history when I was deployed in the Middle East in 2008. I was troubled by boredom and the simplistic (and nationalistic) ways in which both my subordinates and superiors spoke and thought about American history and politics. I began reading history books that complicated the past and reconfigured the present. I also became fascinated by social and cultural history—something that at once excited and baffled me. Before then, I had only learned about great men, but now I discovered histories of slaves, workers, dissident soldiers, and scrappy radicals. I knew I wanted to write this kind of history.

Baltimore Steel Stories

EAGN00385-86 (top to bottom): eagn00385 is a picture of the L furnace. eagn00386 is an unknown location of the Sparrows Point Steel Mill. 1981. Credit: Baltimore Steel StoriesBy Ryan Poe on June 11, 2015 | Comments: (0)

This is the first video for the Baltimore Steel Stories Project out of Towson University's Anthropology Department. About half of the material used in the film are materials found in the basement of the U.S.W.A. Local 2609 hall. This is a collaborative ethnography and a part of a larger project on Baltimore's deindustrialization and the steel industry. [Read More]

Battle of the Overpass

UAW Organizing, Reuther, Frankensteen, Battle of the Overpass, 1937By The Walter P. Reuther Library on June 10, 2015 | Comments: (1)

Originally posted at the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University. May 19, 2011. Written by Kristen Chinery, Reference Archivist. On May 26, 1937, nearly sixty UAW members from Local 174 arrived at Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant to pass out leaflets, with city permit in hand, as part of a campaign to secure union representation for Rouge workers. Several neutral observers were also present, including clergy, reporters, and photographers. In order to access the greatest number of workers, participants met at the pedestrian overpass on Miller Road at Gate 4 of the complex during a shift change. As UAW leaders Walter Reuther, Robert Kantor, Richard Frankensteen, and J.J. Kennedy posed for photographers, they were approached by members of the Ford Service Department and severely beaten. [Read More]

Twenty Best Labor Books – First Cut

By James Green on June 8, 2015 | Comments: (13)

On September 7, I’ll be presenting a reading from my new book on the West Virginia mine wars, The Devil Is Here in These Hills, at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA. The store events manager has asked me to compile a Labor Day list of the twenty best books on workers and unions, books that would appeal to the general reader. This list will be available to customers on line and in the store during the month of September. In this first cut, I’ve combined books on current, ongoing issues and struggles with history books, and have listed a few of local interest, but the list is not rank ordered by merit. [Read More]

Older Entries

Remembering the Flint Sit-Down Strike

By The Walter P. Reuther Library on June 1, 2015 | Comments: (0)

Originally posted on December 17, 2010. Written by Troy Eller English, Society of Women Engineers Archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University. Tired of reductions in pay and jobs, increased workloads, and harassment of United Automobile Workers organizers, on December 30, 1936 automotive workers in the General Motors Fisher Number One Plant in Flint, Michigan sat down on the job. For the next 44 days workers refused to work or leave the Fisher One and Two plants, and later Chevrolet Number 4. [Read More]

Standing Up for a House of Labor–the Debs Home in Terre Haute

By Wesley Bishop on May 26, 2015 | Comments: (1)

In 1968, on the corner of the campus of Indiana State University, there sat a small home. Previously a member of Terre Haute’s older downtown suburb, time and the university’s expansion had witnessed the neighborhood go from row upon row of upper class homes, to areas annexed for the college’s use. [Read More]

Society of American Archivists Labor Archives Roundtable at the 2015 LAWCHA Conference

By Conor Casey on April 29, 2015 | Comments: (0)

May 28-29, 2015. As part of the Society of American Archivists Labor Archives Roundtable’s ongoing efforts to coordinate with LAWCHA, two conference sessions and several archival repository open houses will be on the LAWCHA 2015 conference program this year. [Read More]

Workers Memorial Day and Earth Day: Links in a Chain

By Rosemary Feurer on April 28, 2015 | Comments: (0)

The waning days of April have a little recognized convergence, inviting us to think about connections between workers issues and environmental concerns. [Read More]

The State of Wisconsin: Neoliberalism’s Ground Zero

By Jon Shelton on April 7, 2015 | Comments: (2)

Readers of this blog are probably aware of what has been going on in the state of Wisconsin over the past couple of months. To recap: back in early February, Governor Scott Walker proposed a massive cut to the state education system of about $300 million, with the promise of reducing the state’s system of higher education to a “public authority.” Then, in February, the Republican-dominated legislature held an “extraordinary” session to turn Wisconsin into the nation’s 25th right-to-work state. Walker, who initially opposed the effort , signed the bill into law in early March, outlawing union security clauses in the private sector (Act 10, of course, had already stripped agency shop provisions from the state’s public sector workers). [Read More]

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum Opening May 16-please donate

By Louis Martin on April 1, 2015 | Comments: (1)

Between 1912 and 1922, violence ripped across the coalfields of southern West Virginia as miners and their families took up arms to fight against a near-complete system of exploitation. Miners faced dangerous working conditions and often lived in company towns ruled by companies intent on controlling every aspect of workers’ lives. [Read More]

SLSA Symposium and Labor Archives

By Jennifer Eidson on March 2, 2015 | Comments: (0)

NOTE: This event has been cancelled as a result of weather. On March 5, 2015, the Center for the History of the New America at the University of Maryland will host a symposium exploring workers and organizing in the twenty-first century. [Read More]

Paraprofessional Educators and Labor-Community Coalitions, Past and Present

By Nick Juravich on February 24, 2015 | Comments: (3)

Public education today is at the center of an unrelenting assault on the American labor movement. This is no accident; by some measures, nearly 40% of unionized workers in the United States work in education, and organized educators have proven vocal opponents of neoliberal politicians and policies. As a consequence, educational unions have been singled out for destruction by Republican governors, state legislatures, and courts as part of a broader attack on public sector organizing. From Wisconsin to California, these opponents challenge not just the gains made by public-sector unions, but their very right to exist. [Read More]

Remembering the Flint Sit-Down Strike

By The Walter P. Reuther Library on February 15, 2015 | Comments: (1)

Tired of reductions in pay and jobs, increased workloads, and harassment of United Automobile Workers organizers, on December 30, 1936 automotive workers in the General Motors Fisher Number One Plant in Flint, Michigan sat down on the job. For the next 44 days workers refused to work or leave the Fisher One and Two plants, and later Chevrolet Number 4. [Read More]

Australia and U.S. Labor: Transnational Influences and Historical Comparisons

By Peter Cole, Shelton Stromquist on January 30, 2015 | Comments: (0)

For three days in early January—summertime in the land “down under”—historians and other scholars interested in labor gathered on the campus of Australia’s oldest school of higher learning, the University of Sydney, for the lively Australian-US Comparative and Transnational Labour History Conference. This landmark gathering was co-sponsored by the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (AASLH), the Business and Labour History Group (at University of Sydney’s School of Business), and the US-based Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA). Greg Patmore (University of Sydney) and Shelton Stromquist (University of Iowa) conceived of and organized this conference, as they both possess long-standing research interests using comparative and transnational methods to examine labor, business, and politics in these two nations and others. [Read More]

Protest, Politics and Policing: What Bayard Rustin Could Tell the Ferguson-Garner Movement

By Roberta Gold on January 19, 2015 | Comments: (1)

“I can’t breathe” actions in street crossings, sports fields and other civic spaces have blown new life into civil rights public history. Demonstrators seek their antecedents, and scholars are eager to remedy America’s amnesia of past struggles against police violence. But bygone reformers and rebels won little. Activists hoping for better this time might heed one forebear in particular: Bayard Rustin. [Read More]

Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, “History Shows How 2 Million Workers Lost Rights,” Time

By Eileen Boris, Jennifer Klein on January 14, 2015 | Comments: (0)

Over the last year, the nation has seen a tumultuous wave of low-wage workers contesting terms of employment that perpetually leave them impoverished and economically insecure. It’s a fight in which home-care workers—one of the fastest growing labor forces—have long participated, as home attendants and aides have historically been singled out for denial of basic labor rights. [Read More]

LAWCHA Session at the 2015 AHA: “From the Frontlines with New York Labor: What Is Working?”

By Lara Vapnek on January 13, 2015 | Comments: (1)

Historians and activists gathered at the Murphy Institute on Friday, January 2nd for a LAWCHA event: “From the Frontlines with New York Labor: What Is Working?” CUNY professor Josh Freeman chaired a lively discussion featuring three organizers who suggested creative solutions to some of the serious challenges labor faces. [Read More]

Stop Kidding Yourself: The Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People

By Sam Mitrani on December 29, 2014 | Comments: (76)

In most of the liberal discussions of the recent police killings of unarmed black men, there is an underlying assumption that the police are supposed to protect and serve the population. That is, after all, what they were created to do. [Read More]

Ferguson and Emerson Electric: The Paradox of Imperial Reach

By Henry Berger on December 19, 2014 | Comments: (0)

Six weeks following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri Emerson Electric Chairman and CEO, Michael Farr, unveiled the corporation’s $1.5 million “Forward Program,” a multifaceted five year education and employment package to support “renewed community enrichment and development in Ferguson and the North County area.” [Read More]

Long Time LAWCHA Activist Undertakes Building a New Institution Devoted to Working Class History

By Peter Rachleff on December 15, 2014 | Comments: (3)

A year and a half ago, I left Macalester College after a three decades-long career. I decided that it's time to devote myself more fully and directly to the kind of work I have educated many students to do. [Read More]

Launch of LAWCHA’s Teacher/Public Sector Initiative

By Rosemary Feurer on December 9, 2014 | Comments: (8)

Today we launch the teachers/public sector toolkit, a set of resources that we hope will contribute to dialog on teacher and public sector unionism. We are asking for help in disseminating and adding to this toolkit, which is accessible under teaching resources. [Read More]

Growing Apart by Colin Gordon: Great Teaching Resource

By Rosemary Feurer on November 14, 2014 | Comments: (0)

Growing Apart is one of the most valuable tools for teaching about labor and inequality that I have seen in recent years. It’s a one-stop place for all the great graphs and charts to show the rise in inequality, the rise of right-to-work states, the declining value of the minimum wage versus the rise in executive pay at the top.This great new website by Colin Gordon is a treasure trove as a teaching resource. [Read More]

Dining Out in Dinkytown: Remembering the Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934

By Bryan Palmer on November 7, 2014 | Comments: (1)

This is a different and expanded version of a previously published essay that appeared in Jacobin. Dinkytown’s Best Breakfast If you are in Minneapolis, after a hard day’s night, the place to go for a morning pick-me-up is Al’s Breakfast. Or so I was informed. Being in the Twin Cities in mid-July, I made my way to the legendary AM eatery, located in the heart of Dinkytown, the neighborhood adjacent to the University of Minnesota where Al’s is located. [Read More]

A Century of Teacher Organizing: What Can We Learn?

By Adam Mertz on October 30, 2014 | Comments: (0)

The history of teacher unionism is rich and vibrant, filled with numerous triumphs, tensions, and setbacks. For over a century, most education employees have been part of a public sector workforce that has been constrained by legal frameworks that assume that they are not entitled to the same rights as private sector workers. Because they comprise the largest segment of public sector labor, the story of why and how teachers sought to organize helps us understand many current debates surrounding education policies and the labor movement.

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