Labor History News

  • 21 Oct 2012 8:50 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    GNHLHA recently learned that a grant proposal submitted in 2011 to finish production of the exhibit, “Our Community at Winchester: An Elm City Story” has borne fruit. We have just received a generous donation from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers that provides the funds needed to complete the exhibit, and we look forward to an early spring opening at a venue as yet to be determined. (We have one in mind, not yet confirmed.) Stay tuned for more details and more information.

    It’s not too late to get your Winchester story recorded, or to contribute your artifacts, photographs or other types of memorabilia to the exhibit. If you have materials that you’d like to submit, or a story that you would like to share, please contact joan@laborhistory.org or call (203) 777-2756 ext.2.

  • 21 Oct 2012 8:45 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    Historical Notes

    “THE MOLLIES”

    By Troy Rondinone

    Of the many legends of American Labor History, few strike a more defiant pose than the mysterious Molly Maguires.  Haunting the sleep of many a Gilded Age mining capitalist, the Mollies brought terror to the coal fields, beating and even assassinating scabs, destroying company property, and causing general mayhem. Acquiring their name from an Irish rebel woman who “blackened her face and under her petticoat carried a pistol strapped to each of her stout thighs,” the Molly Maguires were made up of Irish American miners who imported anti-British vigilantism to America.

    Then again, there may never have been any such group.

    Historians cannot be sure whether a coherent, secret group of outlaws calling itself the Molly Maguires was ever real, or whether it was a product of the fevered imagination of coal mine operators bent on breaking unionism in the coal fields.

    What is clear is that in the 1870s, violence was rife in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal country, as miners and owners battled over working conditions in a very dangerous period of labor history. Thousands of workers perished in these years from cave-ins, gas explosions, black lung disease, and assorted other calamities. One miners’ union, the Workers Benevolent Association (WBA), fought to reduce the back-breaking labor required of miners and increase their benefits and overall safety.  The WBA successfully established a miners’ hospital in Schuylkill, PA, provided benefits to widows, and even helped get safety legislation passed. 

    Coal baron Frank Gowen was determined to crush the WBA. In 1873 he placed a mole in the miners’ union, and eventually the mole, a man named James McParlan, testified that the Mollies had indeed infiltrated the union and were responsible for numerous murders. Despite the fact that no real evidence connected any of the accused miners to any crimes, twenty men went to their deaths at the gallows. The Philadelphia Inquirer praised the executions as the death of “the most relentless combination of assassins that had been known in American history.”  

    Today there is a plaque in the old Schuylkill County prison yard commemorating the largest mass execution of the Mollies (which took place on June 21, 1877). The plaque ends by describing how historians now believe that “the trials and executions were part of a repression directed against a fledgling mineworker’s union of that historic period.”  The plaque only took a little over a century to go up.

                                        

     

  • 23 Sep 2012 10:57 PM | Posted by GNHLHA
    SAVE THE DATE: Saturday, December 15th, 2012: New Haven Public Library
    Community Room, 1:30-4:30pm,
    “THE UPRISING OF ‘34”-- Film showing and discussion led by Anthony Riccio and Troy
    Rondinone

    This remarkable documentary by the late George Stoney and his former student, Judith Helfand,
    depicts the events of the Southern Textile Strike of 1934. It includes a powerful section about
    a horrific event at Chiquola Mill in Honea Path, South Carolina, where the mayor who was
    also superintendent of the mill organized gunmen to fire their weapons at the striking workers,
    killing seven men. According to Frank Beacham, the grandson of the mayor/ mill owner, “when
    I was growing up in Honea Path during the 1960s, the subject of the mill violence was taboo…I
    learned the truth about Honea Path’s history in 1994 from a rough-cut of Stoney’s film.”

    Join us for a powerful film and a discussion of its implications today!
  • 30 Aug 2012 11:06 PM | Posted by GNHLHA
    The Labor History Association joined the greater New Haven community in welcoming Gateway Community College to its beautiful new downtown location on August 29, 2012. GNHLHA had an information table at the opening ceremony and set up three panels of our upcoming exhibit, "Our Community at Winchester: an Elm City Story" in the Gateway art gallery. We look forward to an ongoing partnership between GNHLHA and GCC. 





























    Bill Berndtson, Photo
  • 03 Jul 2012 9:17 PM | Posted by GNHLHA






























    John Wilhelm, President of UNITE HERE, presents the Augusta Lewis Troup Preservation Award posthumously to "New Haven's Mr. Labor," the late Vincent Sirabella at the Greater New Haven Labor History Association Annual Meeting on June 3, 2012 . Accepting the award of Mr. Sirabella's behalf were his widow, Jean, two sons and their families. The projected image of Mr. Sirabella appeared in The Labor Almanac: New Haven's Unions in the 1990s, published by the Labor History Association and the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council in 1995.  Bill Berndtson, photos.
  • 22 May 2012 8:51 AM | Posted by GNHLHA

    The Greater New Haven Labor History Association is pleased to invite you and your members to this year’s annual meeting and conference, featuring  key note speaker John Wilhelm, President of UNITE HERE, who will be presenting the annual Augusta Lewis Troup Award to the late Vincent Sirabella. We are delighted that Mr. Sirabella’s family will be joining us.

    “Vinnie Sirabella was an extraordinary labor leader, truly a prophet,” Mr. Wilhelm wrote in a recent email message. “Working people in New Haven are better off today because of his amazing work in such historic struggles as the three strikes of Local 35 at Yale in the 1970’s and his militant support of the 1975 strike by the New Haven Federation of Teachers.  UNITE HERE members throughout North America are better off because he inspired so many rank and file leaders and staff.  The whole labor movement today would be better off if more labor leaders had listened to him.”

    In 1995, the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council and the Greater New Haven Labor History Association dedicated their joint publication, the Labor Almanac: New Haven’s Unions in the 1990s, to “New Haven’s Mr. Labor,” Vincent Sirabella. The Almanac included excerpts from John Wilhelm’s 1993 eulogy for his friend and mentor. He wrote of Mr. Sirabella’s deep commitment to and passion for the labor movement and his work in New Haven and across the country.

    Sirabella was a rank and file union member for 20 years, Wilhelm wrote, “working in hotels, restaurants and race tracks on the East Coast from Rhode Island to Florida” before coming to New Haven to work as trustee and then elected leader of Local 217, later serving as the Business Manager of Local 35 at Yale University and the President of the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council.

    “[His] remarkable set of talents enabled Vinnie to accomplish things which seemed impossible,” Wilhelm wrote. “I think of the 1971 strike by Local 35 at Yale, a resounding victory for the union, in what turned into a nationally known civil rights struggle. He literally carried that strike on his back, standing up to an incredibly wealthy and powerful employer that no one in Connecticut had ever successfully challenged. He united union members who had never stuck together before: skilled tradesmen, dining hall workers, custodians, groundskeepersundefinedItalian, Irish, Polish, Blackundefinedmen and women…

    “I think too of the general strike he organized in New Haven in 1975, in response to a local judge jailing 100 members of the Teachers’ Union, because they went on strike,” Wilhelm continued. “Vinnie insisted that in his town we could not tolerate anyone going to jail for striking…I don’t think there had been a general strike in the U.S. for several decadesundefinedhe put it together. We were set to go, all over town, for noon on a Tuesday. Because the threat was real, the Board of Education settled and the teachers were freed.”

    Our second Augusta Lewis Troup award recipient this year is Anthony Riccio, the author of several books about the Italian American working class experience, including the soon to be published Farms, Factories and Families: Italian-American Women of Connecticut. Riccio, who is the Stacks Manager at Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to documenting the important history of this population that has contributed so much to the labor movement’s struggles and achievements. In addition to his writings, his remarkable photographs vividly evoke the lives of workers and their families, and he graciously contributed several of them to our traveling exhibit, “New Haven’s Garment Workers: An Elm City Story.” One panel of that exhibit, entitled “Garment Workers: Their Stories and Their Lives,” consists almost exclusively of photographs from Anthony’s book, The Italian American Experience in New Haven.

    The event will also include a tribute to the late David Montgomery, our long time member, mentor and inspiration, presented by Professor Cecelia Bucki of Fairfield University; opening remarks from our dedicated outgoing President of eight years, Nicholas Aiello; and a preliminary discussion about the possibility of expanding to become the Connecticut Labor History Association. Music will be provided by our troubadour, Frank Panzarella; refreshments will be served; and there will be ample opportunity to meet other GNHLHA members and friends.

    Please join us for this exciting event!

    The GNHLHA Executive Board and Staff

    Nicholas Aiello, President; Mary Johnson, Vice President; Bill Berndtson, Treasurer; Troy Rondinone, Secretary; Dorothy Johnson, Lula White, Steve Kass and Anson Smith, Board members

    Joan Cavanagh, Archivist/ Director

    See below for detailed meeting agenda

    GREATER NEW HAVEN ANNUAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION

    ANNUAL MEETING & CONFERENCE
    Sunday, June 3rd, 2012, 1:30-5:30 p.m.  

    267 Chapel Street, New Haven

    KEY NOTE SPEAKER: John Wilhelm, presenting a posthumous award to Vincent Sirabella

    1:30-1:45 Gather; music by Frank Panzarella

    1:45-2:15

             Welcome--Nicholas Aiello, Outgoing President, GNHLHA
             Program OverviewundefinedJoan Cavanagh, Archivist/ Director

             Tribute to David MontgomeryundefinedProfessor Cecelia Bucki,     

                                                 Fairfield University


    2:15   Presentation of Augusta Lewis Troup Award to Anthony                                                             

              Riccio, author of The Italian American Experience in New   

              Haven; Cooking with Chef Silvio; and Boston's North End:

              Images and Recollections of an Italian Neighborhood --   

                                                  Steve Kass

    3:00   Music--Frank Panzarella


    3:30  Presentation of Posthumous Augusta Lewis Troup Award to   

             the late labor leader Vincent Sirabella and keynote   

             addressundefined John Wilhelm, President, UNITE HERE; followed

             by question/ answer session with discussion

    4:30-5:15 Pizza & refreshments

            Business Meeting: Report on the Year’s Work

                                Joan Cavanagh & Steve Kass

            Election of Officers

            Preliminary Discussion about Transitioning to become the    

              Connecticut Labor History Associationundefineddiscussion led by

              Troy Rondinone     

    5: 15 Closing Remarks by the new President
      

    This event is free to current (dues paid to May 1 2013) GNHLHA members with a $10 suggested donation for all others. Please pre-register if possible so we can get a head count for seats and pizza! Email joan@laborhistory.org or call (203) 777-2756 ext. 2

    PLEASE JOIN TODAY OR PAY YOUR ANNUAL DUES, if you haven’t already done so! Make your check out to GNHLHA and mail to 267 Chapel Street, New Haven CT 06513, or join online.

                           Regular Individual                                       $25_________
                                  Unemployed                                               $10_________

                                 Organizations:            100 members or less $100________  

                                                                        101-300 members   $250________

                                                                       Over 300 members    $500_________

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • 30 Apr 2012 9:33 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    Remember Lawrence!

    The Industrial Workers of the World were once at the vanguard of the class war. They formed in Chicago in 1905, with such labor history luminaries as Big Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, and Eugene in attendance at their inaugural meeting. They composed a constitution, the preamble of which began: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”

    The Wobblies, as the group came to be known as, would go on to strike fear into the heart of corporate America. Their ultimate goal was the upturning of the capitalist order and the replacement of the rule by the rich Few with one in which the producers held the levers of power in an “industrial democracy.”

    The Wobblies’ greatest victory took place in Massachusetts in 1912, in the textile city of Lawrence. The battle began when the mill owners, who lorded over a beaten-down city of impoverished workers, cut wages after the state passed a law that shortened the work week from 56 to 54 hours. A Wobbly local organized the workers in protest, and on January 12, 1912, the workers struck.

    The Lawrence strike lasted over two months, involved over 20,000 workers, and resulted in a stunning victory for labor. Not only were dismissed strikers reinstated, but they got a pay raise. The mainstream labor movement, headed by the conservative AFL, stood in disbelief as a rag tag bunch of radicals headed a union filled with immigrant womenundefinedlong dismissed by the mainstreamundefinedin a signal victory that demonstrated that unity and perseverance could win the day over the harsh demands of management.

    This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Lawrence strike.  Today, the Few have never been fewer. Will the Many ask, as did the Wobblies 100 years ago, for Bread and Roses?  

  • 30 Apr 2012 9:32 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    LEGISLATIVE EFFORT HAS A GOOD RUN                   

    By Steve Kass

    Teaching Labor History in the Connecticut public school legislation received a public hearing in the education committee of the Connecticut state legislature on March 5, 2012. This legislative effort initiated by the Greater New Haven Labor History Association had strong support from the Connecticut AFL-CIO and many statewide unions.

    More than 10 people testified in favor of Senate Bill 304 sponsored by Senate Majority leader Martin Looney (11th District) and State Representative Roland Lemar (96th District). Specifically, the bill calls for the teaching of “labor history and law, including the history of organized labor, the collective bargaining process and existing legal protections in the workplace.” In fact, Martin Looney felt so strongly about the bill, he took the unusual step of testifying himself and citing personal family union history.

    Considering the bill was introduced in a short session during a pressing debate on the most significant educational reform bills in 30 years, it did quite well for a first attempt. Usually, the first time a bill is introduced, the main task is lining up support and generating publicity about the legislation. By any measure, this first organizing effort was a success.

    Planning will continue with the Teaching Labor History Task Force for a second attempt in next year’s longer legislative session. All are welcome to join.

    For more information about upcoming meetings and how to get involved in the project, contact steve@laborhistory.org. See pages 3-4 for more on the public hearing.

  • 30 Apr 2012 9:30 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    PUBLIC COMMENT ON LABOR HISTORY IN THE SCHOOLS LEGISLATION

    By Joan Cavanagh

    It began on February 10th with a 40 minute rant by former Connecticut Governor John Rowland on the weekly radio program that he co-hosts, “Church and State.”  Inmate # 15623-014, convicted in 2003 of “depriving the public of honest service,” denounced the proposed legislation to teach labor history in Connecticut’s schools as a “communist bill” to “indoctrinate children about unions.”

    It’s a wonderful surprise to get 40 minutes of free publicity from such a credible enemy, but it was even more heartwarming to learn how many friends and supporters are out there. The testimony offered at the public hearing before the Education Committee of the State Legislature demonstrated that this initiative has broad support.

    • Sen. Martin Looney, who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Roland Lemar, stated the case succinctly and clearly: “The history of organized labor is a crucial part of American History. It is little taught as part of the general curriculum. In these times when challenges are being issued to hard won rights, it is crucial that younger workers understand what is at stake…The advocacy of labor unions can be credited for a much higher standard [of  working conditions generally] that extends way beyond their own membership.”
    • Other speakers highlighted the same themes. Stacey Zimmerman of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), CT State Council wrote, “For a nation that was founded in a Carpenter’s Union hall, the history that binds all who have to work for a day’s wage is sadly ignored.” Beverly Brakeman, Political Representative of the United Auto Workers Region 9A, said that her “sources” for the fact that this history isn’t being taught are her 12 and 16 year old daughters, adding emphatically, “unions are the reason that my daughters will be able to get jobs with benefits and a weekend, and I want them to learn this!”
    • John Harrity, President of the State Council of Machinists, argued that, in addition to being an integral part of U.S. history, an “understanding of the employer-employee relationship is key to helping students and families develop ‘life skills’ that will benefit them and contribute to their earning power.”
    • The day’s testimony was capped by Jeremy Brecher, whose credentials as a public historian were immediately visible to the legislators. His exhibit, “An Orderly and Decent Government” about the history of representative government in Connecticut is on permanent display at the capitol concourse; and GNHLHA’s “New Haven’s Garment Workers: An Elm City Story” exhibit, for which he wrote the original outline, was also being shown there for the week of March 5-9. “How do we expect young people to relate intelligently to the world of work without some knowledge of how workers have organized themselves in the past?” he asked the legislators. “How do we expect them to grapple intelligently with the problems of today’s changing and extremely challenging workplace without an understanding of how relations in the workplace have changed in the past and how challenges have been met? How do we expect them to be informed participants in the setting and enforcement of rules governing the workplace if they know nothing about the rationale for such rules and how they developed?”
    • Also submitting written and/or spoken testimony in support of the legislation were Roch J. Girard, President of the Connecticut Federation of School Commissioners, AFSA; Kimberly Glassman, Director, Foundation for Fair Contract of Connecticut; Sharon Palmer, President of the American Federation of Teachers, CT; Lori Pelletier, Secretary/Treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO; Joelle Fishman of the New Haven People’s Center; Greg Beyer, Vice-President, State Vocational Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 4200A; and Ray Rossomondo and Gayle Hooker of the Connecticut Education Association.
    • Concluding the day’s testimony was GNHLHA Board member Steve Kass,  coordinator of the legislative effort, who spoke about the Shankar Report which concluded that “U.S. history texts have essentially taken sides in the intense political debate around unionsundefinedthe anti-union side,” adding that “in the face of such depressing news, the GNHLHA hopes to turn around young people’s knowledge of unions and labor history in Connecticut.”
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  • 26 Mar 2012 10:06 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    Legislative effort has a good run

    By Steve Kass

    Teaching Labor History in the Connecticut public schools legislation received a public hearing in the education committee of the Connecticut state legislature on March 5, 2012. This legislative effort initiated by the Greater New Haven Labor History Association had strong support from the Connecticut AFL-CIO and many statewide unions.

    More than 10 people testified in favor of Senate Bill 304 sponsored by Senate Majority leader Martin Looney (11th District) and State Representative Roland Lemar (96th District). Specifically, the bill calls for the teaching of “labor history and law, including the history of organized labor, the collective bargaining process and existing legal protections in the workplace.” In fact, Martin Looney felt so strongly about the bill, he took the unusual step of testifying himself and citing personal family union history.

    Considering the bill was introduced in a short session during a pressing debate on the most significant educational reform bills in 30 years, it did quite well for a first attempt. Usually, the first time a bill is introduced, the main task is lining up support and generating publicity about the legislation. By any measure, this first organizing effort was a success.

    Planning will continue with the Teaching Labor History Task Force for a second attempt in next year’s longer legislative session. All are welcome to join in the planning process.  To take part, please visit our Labor History in the Schools web page where you can sign up to receive meeting announcements and updates.

Greater New Haven Labor History Association  •  267 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06513 •  info@laborhistory.org •

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