Labor History News

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  • 18 Apr 2014 10:00 PM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)

    April 29–June 4, 2014
    25 Science Park (Open to the public 9-3 M-F)

    June 4–June 30, 2014
    344 Winchester Ave. (Corner of Division and Newhall Streets; open to the public by appointment.
    Special Event, June 19th, 11 a.m.
    Tour of the exhibit as part of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas Farmington Canal Walk.

    July 1–August 27, 2014
    Atrium at City Hall, New Haven (Open to the public 9-5, M-F.)

    August 28–October 31, 2014
    Higher One, 115 Munson Street, New Haven (Open to the public 9-5, M-F.)

    The Olin-Winchester plant closed and left in New Haven in 2006, but the stories of its workers throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries have yet to be told. These stories undefined of labor struggles, workers’ culture within the plant, and the impact of the plant on the larger community undefined are the basis of the exhibit.

    The core of the exhibit comes from photographs and documents from the International Association of Machinists Local 609 records held in the Labor History Association’s archives, supplemented by oral history interviews with retired Winchester workers conducted by Association volunteers. Local 609 represented workers at the plant from 1956 until its closure. Images from earlier years as well as from workers’ lives in the community are culled from personal memorabilia and employee newsletters. For more information, contact joan@laborhistory.org.



    Do you know of future venues for this 33 panel exhibit and its artifacts?

    Like the well-traveled “New Haven’s Garment Workers: An Elm City Story,” the Winchester workers exhibit is designed to circulate. We’d like to find several long term venues in which to display it, in the greater New Haven area and beyond. In order to safely showcase the artifacts, including hand-made tools loaned to us by Lawrence Young, the first African American wood worker at the plant, we need venues with secure, locked display cases. Please contact us if you have suggestions or can help transport the exhibit materials!

  • 16 Dec 2013 10:42 AM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)

    THE WOBBLIES' IMPACT: PAST AND FUTURE

    By Steve Thornton


    November, 1912: Organizers from the Industrial Workers of the World are on the New Haven Green, distributing copies of the IWW’s Machinist Bulletin. They have been appearing regularly in the city's center, and at the Winchester Repeating Arms plant gates as well.  The police see it as their duty to interfere with the Wobbly organizers' efforts.  The cops allege that the literature distribution is illegal and demand that the labor men stop the handouts or face arrest.

    But selling newspapers is legal.  Young newsies do it every day. So in response to the police order, the Wobblies give pennies to the workers as they approach-- and charge them one cent a copy.


    Who were the Wobblies? 

    The Wobblies were a labor union like no other: the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). These militant, courageous men and women, from all races and ethnic groups, changed the way working people of the early 20th century responded to the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.

    The IWW established an organizing model still being used today by unions, civil rights groups and other progressive movements: effective cross-ethnic organizing, mass nonviolent direct action, community coalition building, and an inspiring, democratic vision of the future.


    What made the IWW exceptional?

    • The IWW was the first labor union of the 20th century to organize the 99% by directly challenging the one percent.

    • The first sit-down strike of the 20th century: It wasn't the 1937 Flint auto workers but the 1906 Wobblies at General Electric in Schenectady NY who occupied their factories;

    • Rejecting craft unionism and embracing the industrial model of organizing: Not the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO) in 1938 but the IWW from its founding in 1905;

    • Large-scale civil disobedience that filled the jails to change oppressive laws:The  powerful work of  SNCC and the civil rights movement owe their strategy to, among others, the Wobblies' Free Speech campaigns that stopped business as usual and guaranteed workers' First Amendment rights;

    • Organizing tactics such as mass, mobile picket lines, singing union songs, using "organized inefficiency" (work to rule): The staid Sam Gompers and George Meany despised direct action,  but thousands of mobilized Wobblies in the 1912 Bread and Roses textile strike began a new era of member participation;

    • Creating a labor culture that honored immigrant traditions: The Industrial Workers' troubador and satirist Joe Hill was the labor movement's Stephen Colbert; the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike Pageant at Madison Square Garden included 1,000 strikers as actors.  And although other unions embraced the "Americanization" of immigrants, the Wobblies did not insist that foreign-born workers reject their own culture or language;

    • The inclusion of African American, Chinese, and all other workers regardless of race: an important element of the progressive CIO of the 30's, and Operation Dixie in the 40's, some unions fought to integrate their membership but the Wobs battled racism decades earlier in Southern logging camps, southwestern farms, and the loading docks of Philadelphia.

    • A true sense of international solidarity: The United Electrical workers (UE) 1992 forged an alliance with the Mexican Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT) that is inspiring, but the Wobblies successfully organized in Europe, Australia and South Africa.


    The IWW's Work in Connecticut

    From 1905 until at least 1920, the IWW organized in Connecticut's textile and metal industries.  They fought battles in a dozen cities and towns with a 60% win rate (9 out of 15 strikes during that period).  They organized low skilled and women workers-- in places like Mansfield, Mystic, Shelton, Norwalk-- who were being ignored by the elite, all-male craft unions.

    The IWW's Connecticut history is as vibrant as anywhere else in the nation, despite being "lost" and ignored.  It was in Bridgeport where Elizabeth Gurley Flynn organized her first strike at the age of sixteen.  It was Waterbury where Joe Ettor was arrested and ejected from the state for addressing Italian workers. In Hartford, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, and James Connolly inspired thousands of workers to take charge of their own lives.  Anarchist and IWW organizer Carlo Tresca was defended by a nascent ACLU and its leader Roger Nash Baldwin in Connecticut meeting halls.

    Connecticut also produced exceptionally skilled and successful IWW organizers like Matilda Rabinowitz and Benjamin Legere, both of whom started here as young Wobblies and went on to spend their adult lives in the cause of labor.

    The Wobblies' legacy is still alive and well, though not easily detected.  If it is true that the CIO played the central role in organizing Connecticut workers in the 1930s and 1940s, it's also important to remember (as union activist and writer Len DeCaux pointed out) when CIO organizers "let down their hair, only the youngest had no background of Wobblie associations."

    And as Connecticut historian Cecelia Bucki has written, one early IWW strike in Bridgeport had a lasting impact on that city's industrial and political power structures. The 1906 strike at

    American Tube & Stamping company was considered a failure by some observers because workers rejected the Wobblies' radicalism.  But, as Bucki states, "Far from being a repudiation of radicals, the strike actually established a strong radical presence in the Hungarian community" which later led to the remarkable electoral capture of City Hall by the Socialist Party.

    Ever since the 1999 Battle in Seattle for global justice, young activists have shown us that "another world is possible."  Their challenge is a renewal of the IWW's pledge to "build a new society within the shell of the old."  There are the lessons we can still learn from the Wobblies.

    [The IWW should not be spoken of only in the past tense.  The Wobblies are still around, and have been organizing low-wage workers in all industries without interruption.  They are smaller now, but just as feisty.  Visit their website at IWW.org.]


    Steve Thornton's book, A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies: Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Connecticut, can be purchased from his website, www.ShoeleatherHistoryProject.com. Read an excerpt inside, pp.4-5.


    Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2014 from the LHA Board and Staff

  • 16 Dec 2013 10:40 AM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)

    ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND MEETING

    Labor History Association members and friends who were able to attend the event on May 19th found it an interesting and enjoyable afternoon. It included a lively panel discussion on Health Care Workers in Today’s Economy led by SCSU Professors Virginia Metaxas and Troy Rondinone and long time SEIU/1199 activist Steve Thornton. We were treated to a warm and engaging talk by Augusta Lewis Troup award recipient Edwin Gomes and his friend Edith Prague, both retired state senators and long time labor advocates. As always, our troubadour, Frank Panzarella provided wonderful music, and there was ample time for refreshments, socializing and discussion.


    CHARLIE KING/ KAREN BRANDOW CONCERT

    Charlie King and Karen Brandow presented a stirring concert and performance piece, “1912undefinedOccupy Lawrence: the Great Textile Strike” as a benefit for Labor History on September 21st. We thank Charlie, Karen and everyone who made the event such a success, especially Frank Panzarella (who opened the second set), United Church on the Green for providing us with such a welcoming venue, and all our members and supporters who attended and contributed.


    OUR COMMUNITY AT WINCHESTER: AN ELM CITY STORY

    The exhibit is being completed as we go to press, and will be on display at the Gateway Community College Art Gallery starting on December 14th. There will be an opening reception, with a date to be announced in January. See page 3 for details!


    Also included in this edition: an article on “Getting Involved in LHA” by board member Anson Smith (page 2) and an excerpt from Steve Thornton’s new book on the Wobblies in Connecticut (pages 4-5.)

  • 16 Dec 2013 10:39 AM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)

    Dear Members and Friends of GNHLHA:

    We need your help.

    The economic downturn has taken its toll on just about everyone, including nonprofits. The Greater New Haven Labor History Association is no exception. Our financial survival is dependent on membership dues, proceeds from special events, and various other contributions. Unfortunately, we have seen these sharply reduced, as members and other contributors have been forced to tighten their belts. In an effort to remain viable, we’ve been forced this year to cut back on the hours of our archivist/director, a cut back that has slowed down much of our programming. Clearly, our goal is to reverse this trend of cut backs.

    To help us weather this storm, members of the executive board, which does much of the Association’s work, have paved the way as leaders, making contributions over and above their dues. One was seen renewing his membership with a hundred dollar bill and declining change. One donated a speaking-engagement fee to the Association. One bought tickets to an event he couldn’t attend.

    Now we turn to you, our members and supporters, to ask if you would consider doing the same. Any and all support over and above your annual membership dues would be deeply appreciated. You can send your contribution, with your check made payable to GNHLHA, in the envelope provided.

    With your support in these difficult times, we assure you that the Greater New Haven Labor History Association will succeed in emerging from the economic downturn as a viable, vibrant organization.

    We thank you in advance for your continued support.


    In solidarity, for the Executive Board of the Labor History Association,

    Louis W. Berndtson, Jr. Anson Smith

    President Chair, Development Committee

  • 16 Dec 2013 10:35 AM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)

    There’s much more to the Greater New Haven Labor History Association than a newsletter, annual meeting and an occasional event. The group was founded by veterans of the labor movement and supporters to gather and preserve their history and the history of other working people of the Greater New Haven Area. That remains its purpose and its function today.

    What does this mean for you, the member? It means you have the opportunity to play a hands-on role in preserving labor history that’s important to you, be it your own personal experiences, the experiences of your friends and families, or anything else that interests you. You can research a topic for a paper for our archives, or you can record on video or in writing the experiences of veterans of the labor movement.

    WHAT: It can be the story of a labor leader, from a shop floor activist to a union organizer or leader. It can be the story of an organizing drive, or strike. It can be the first-person account of someone who lived through a strike or organizing drive. It can be a story of abuses at various shops. It can be the story of union-busting activities at a company or group of companies. You can be the judge. It can be a primary source document or a research project. It can be a traveling exhibit about the people and events involved with the labor history of the area.

    HOW: Once you have an idea, you can do your own research or enlist a task force to help you with it. The executive board will be happy to advertise your project in the newsletter to help you recruit task force members. History instructors can develop a list of possible projects for students’ required assignments.

    ALTERNATIVES: If you’re not excited by research, writing, photography and/or videography, you can still participate in LHA work by helping to set up and take down traveling exhibits; staffing information tables; and transcribing oral history interviews.

    IN ADDITION: In an effort to plan and implement long term financial stability, the board has formed a development committee to raise funds for Labor History. The committee needs both members and contacts. If you are interested in joining the committee and/ or if you know of potential funding partners, please contact the committee chair, Anson Smith, at 602-300-2000 or at ansonsmith@att.net.


    You can get more information about any of these endeavors by contacting any board member or Archivist/Director Joan Cavanagh at (203) 777-2756 ext. 2.; joan@laborhistory.org

  • 24 Apr 2013 9:19 PM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)
    Labor History Association Annual Meeting May 19th
    By Joan Cavanagh, Archivist/ Director

    Calling all members and friends of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association! This year's annual conference and meeting will occur on Sunday, May 19th from 1:30-4:30pm at the Council/ Teachers Building, 267 Chapel Street in New Haven. The Augusta Lewis Troup Pass It On Awards will be presented to the HealthBridge District 1199/ SEIU strikers and to former State Senator Ed Gomes. A panel discussion about health care workers in the new economy will feature labor history professors Troy Rondinone and Virginia Metaxas and long time labor movement activist Steve Thornton. The event will include music by LHA's own troubadour Frank Panzarella, with refreshments and time for socializing.

    District 1199/ SEIU workers successfully challenged the HealthBridge nursing homes' CEO Daniel Straus, who stripped 700 workers of their pension and health insurance, and slashed other benefits. The CNAs, housekeepers, dietary and maintenance employees went on strike in July 2012 rather than accept the illegal cuts. They returned to work in March of 2013 after an administrative judge ordered HealthBridge to take them back with all benefits intact.

    Troup Honoree Gomes was an employee and union activist at Bridgeport's Carpenter Steel, an International Representative of District 1 for the United Steelworkers of America, a City Council member in Bridgeport, and a state senator who served on the Labor and Public Employees Committee and as co-chair of the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Collective Bargaining.

    Professor Rondinone, LHA Board member and Recording Secretary and Southern Connecticut State University's resident labor historian, will moderate the panel discussion. Mr. Thornton, a Hartford resident who has been active in the labor movement for 35 years, will discuss the community/ labor coalition that successfully fought the privatization of Waterbury Hospital. Professor Metaxas, the author of Occupational Therapy: the First 30 Years and Poor Mothers and Babies: a Social History of Childbirth and Child Care Hospitals in Nineteenth-Century New York City, as well as numerous journal articles on various subjects, will provide historical background on health care workers.

    The event is free to current members, with a suggested donation of $10 or whatever you can afford or wish to donate to all others.
  • 24 Apr 2013 9:17 PM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)
    Did you or a family member or friend ever work at the old Winchester Repeating Arms plant? LHA is producing an exhibit, "Our Community at Winchester: an Elm City Story," for a pre-opening in June at the Winpisinger Center for Education and Technology in Hollywood, Maryland to be followed by a gala opening event in October at Gateway Community College in New Haven. To help tell the story, we're seeking artifacts of all sorts - tools, products, photographs, and other memorabilia. We particularly want to illustrate the other products that Winchester made: "Yes, they made guns, but did you know what else they made?" We also want to illustrate workers' experiences on the job, as well as community connections. Please contact joan@laborhistory.org or call (203) 777 2756 ext. 2 and leave a message.
  • 23 Jan 2013 1:43 PM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)

    On Friday, November 16, I had the opportunity to go and talk to the students of 

    Troup  Middle School  about their school’s namesake, Augusta Lewis Troup. I spoke in the auditorium twice, once each to lower and upper grade students, with the help of a PowerPoint presentation. Our President, Bill Berndtson, came as well and assisted me with both technological and historical knowledge.

    TROY RONDINONE SPEAKS TO AN ASSEMBLY AT 

    TROUP  MIDDLE SCHOOL  ABOUT THE SCHOOL’S NAMESAKE, AUGUSTA LEWIS TROUP (Bill Berndtson photograph; with thanks to Virginia Blaisdell for image editing and photo color conversion)







    I found that the students were excited to learn about the labor pioneer who, at age twenty, formed a Women’s Typographical Union and helped change the way that workers organized themselves according to gender. I showed them images of Troup’s past, as well as close-ups of the mural at their school. They were interested in Troup’s legacy and in the labor history of their city. 

    This assembly was part of a broader objective of our organization, that being to get labor history into the schools. 

    Students, while in general woefully unaware of our country’s past, are especially in the dark in regards to labor’s role in shaping our laws and institutions. Students might know about the Civil Rights movement, for instance, but do they know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while supporting a massive sanitation workers strike in

    Memphis ? They might know that American colonists raged against “taxation without representation,” but do they know that the folks who dumped tea into Boston Harbor in 1773 were mainly working-class folks, who raged at an insidious global corporation? Do students know that Abraham Lincoln thought labor should be viewed as superior to capital?  Do they know that World War II inspired a massive strike wave aimed at bringing about “an industrial democracy”?

    This “hidden” history is all the more important because organized labor is under attack, its contributions untaught. Students today might think that overtime pay was just a gift of benevolent bosses, or that workplace safety was created just because it was the right thing to do. Without labor agitation, much of what we call “progress” in 

    America simply wouldn’t exist. Bringing a little labor history to Troup Middle School is a nice start, but of course it is not nearly enough. It was a pleasure to talk about workers at Troup. Now it’s time to get labor history into the curriculum.

  • 23 Jan 2013 1:33 PM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)

    “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

    These words of Milan Kundera, the Franco-Czech author of many novels including The Unbearable Lightness of Being, flash on screen at the end of this remarkable documentary film by the late George Stoney, Judith Helfand and Susanne Rostock, which was shown on December 15th at the New Haven Public Library to an audience of about 50 people. The event, which included a discussion led by Professor Troy Rondinone and author Anthony Riccio, was co-sponsored by the library and the Labor History Association.

    Although the film was released in 1995 and deals with events that occurred 61 years earlier, the story it tells is highly relevant in the 21st century as we witness the all too successful efforts on the part of those in power to extinguish or distort historical memory. The film graphically illustrates the truth of Kundera’s words and underscores the importance of the work historians must do.

    The brutal murder in cold blood of seven men at the Chiquola Mill in

    Honea Path, South Carolina , participants in the General Strike of 1934, was ordered by the town’s Mayor, Dan Beacham, who was also the superintendent of the mill. He deputized and armed other townspeople who literally turned their guns on their neighbors. But the history was suppressed and what little was known of it was turned into a source of shame, fear and intimidation for the families and friends of the victims.

    The documentary is largely an oral history of those who lived the story in Honea Path, but it puts the events in their larger context as part of a little-known strike of Southern Textile Workers in the middle of the Great Depression. In his remarks, Southern Connecticut State University professor of history Troy Rondinone pointed out that expected support from the Roosevelt administration for the strikers wasn’t forthcoming, and that the President’s agenda was considerably less pro-labor than commonly believed, then or now.  Anthony Riccio, author of several books, including the well-known Italian American Experience in New Haven, compared the event to the much more successful Northern garment workers strikes in 1933, which began in

    New Haven. In both cases, he said, the strikes were led by strong, determined women.

    Time did not permit the showing of a 15 minute short, filmed in 1995, where the survivors of the strike teamed up with Frank Beacham, the Mayor’s grandson, who learned of his grandfather’s treachery only by watching the documentary, to erect a monument in the town to those who were killed. It is a moving coda to the story, and is also on the “Uprising” DVD, which is owned by the library and can be checked out by patrons for home viewing. We strongly recommend that you do so!

     

  • 21 Oct 2012 8:54 PM | Posted by GNHLHA (Administrator)


    By Steve Kass                                                                                         

    Greater New Haven Labor History Association Executive Board Member

    “The history of the American labor movement needs to be taught in every school in this land….America is a living testimonial to what free men and women organized into free democratic trade unions can do to make a better life….we ought to be proud of it.”                                                          

    Hubert H. Humphrey, Former Vice President

    According to a poll by the independent Hart research, 54 percent of adults said they know just a little or don’t know much about unions. They said their chief sources of knowledge were personal experience (37 percent), people in unions (26 percent) and the media (25 percent). Significantly, learning in school was not even mentioned.

    The implications of the research are clear. To a very large degree, Americans are uninformed or misinformed about union, the labor movement and the role that workers have played, and do play, in our nation’s economic, political and cultural life.

    For these reasons the Greater New Haven Labor History Association (GNHLHA) is proposing legislation requiring the teaching of labor history in Connecticut public schools. The legislation specifically calls for “the teaching of organized labor, the collective bargaining process, and existing legal protections in the workplace in Connecticut public school classrooms.” The purpose of the legislation is to get labor’s untold story told.

    This legislative proposal follows the lead of the Wisconsin labor history association that organized the first in the nation passing of historic legislation in 2009. Similar legislation is being presented in other states across the country.

    Unfortunately, apathy and indifference are at the center of young people’s lack of understanding the role of unions and labor history. Students have simply been taught little or no labor history. Because of this fact, generations of workers don’t have a basic understanding about the historical role that unions played in helping to create the middle class. They don’t know that it was unions that helped give American society the weekend, minimum wages, health care benefits, social security, Medicare, 40-hour work week and unemployment insurance.

    Most people don’t remember or know how important the labor movement was in pushing Depression-era politicians to pass legislation that systematizes the basic features of American work wage earners now take for granted.

    In the face of such depressing news, the GNHLHA hopes to turn around young people’s knowledge of unions and labor history in Connecticut. Academic standards and curriculum resources such as textbooks have historically ignored or been deficient in their treatment of workers and the labor movement. Significantly, many teachers want to cover this history in their classrooms, but there are few written curriculum standards by local and state educational institutions to encourage the teaching of this material. An excellent website for labor curriculum is labor-studies.org/(American Labor Studies Center).

     “Our sons and daughters deserve to know that the fruits of our labor were not handed down to us by those in power but rather won by the efforts of extraordinary people who sacrificed to produce a better life for all of us.”

    Ken Germanson, president of the Wisconsin Labor History Society

    Next Steps:

    After a successful introduction of the Teaching Labor History in the Connecticut Public Schools into the 2012 state legislative process, the GNHLHA is preparing to present the same bill again in next year’s longer session. Last year, testimony was present by ten unions statewide with support from the Connecticut AFL-CIO in a public hearing with the legislature’s education committee.

    The emphasis next year will be on generating publicity for the legislation, organizing legislative support, introducing a pilot project for teaching labor history in the public schools, and training teachers in using curriculum resources.

    If you are interested in serving on the GNHLHA legislative task force, contact SteveKass@sbcglobal.net.

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