Labor History News

  • 23 Feb 2011 5:34 PM | Posted by GNHLHA
    Our friends in Madison have let us know that they will be sending out daily updates to news articles with the latest on the situation in WI. Sign up here to stay in the loop:

    To find out more, visit the Wisconsin Labor History Society's web site at
  • 18 Feb 2011 1:49 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    In December 2010, the Greater New Haven Labor History Association (GNHLHA) began gathering support for a legislative initiative, called Labor History in the Schools, with endorsement by the Connecticut AFL-CIO Executive Board.  On February 1, the GNHLHA officially began work on a new pilot program called “Family Work History Project” in collaboration with two New Haven public schools teaching labor history as part of  this initiative. 

    The Family Work History Project is a school-based residency in which students will learn to conduct oral history interviews with a mentor in the labor force and develop these interviews into essays.  The collaboration continues with the development a commissioned musical composition inspired by the student stories, as well as the development of a spoken-word piece to be read publicly by students, based on their collective stories.  The student piece and the musical composition will be performed on May 1, 2011 as part of the May Day Festival on the New Haven Green.

    The GNHLHA will collaborate with teachers of 8th grade students from the Katherine Brennan School and 6th and 8th grade students from Worthington Hooker School, both in New Haven, CT.  Sheryl Hershonik, Principal at Worthington Hooker, jumped at the chance to collaborate on the project: “We're so glad to have the Greater New Haven Labor History Association work with our students. New Haven has a rich history of labor organizing from factory workers and dress shop seamstresses to teachers and other professionals. It is important for students to understand that working together for a common goal demands commitment and perseverance which can then lead to an improvement in the lives of individuals and families.”  Adds Principal Karen Lott of Brennan School, the collaboration will “connect students’ learning to the larger community in which they live.”

    8th grade writing teacher Sandra Sprague of the Brennan School, a turn-around school struggling to improve student writing skills, feels that the program will help students to master key writing concepts required by state standards, but more importantly, the public performance aspect will instill much-needed pride.   Dianna Carter, 6th grade teacher at Worthington Hooker, said that the project dovetails perfectly with her curriculum on local history and collective bargaining, while inspiring students to explore possible career paths by interviewing mentors who have real work experiences to share.

    The study of labor history in the schools not only ties in with already-mandated educational standards, it is an important component in preparing students for the work force. The CT AFL-CIO has endorsed the Labor History in the Schools legislative initiative and has aided in beginning to gather popular support.  "Labor education at a grassroots level is critical to strengthening the labor movement. The CT AFL-CIO supports the Greater New Haven Labor History Association in its goal of providing each child with the tools they need to think critically about their society as they enter the work force," said CT AFL-CIO President John Olsen, who recently spoke to 6th grade students about the integrity of work and the role of unions in creating good jobs and working conditions at a GNHLHA event at the Augusta Lewis Troup School.

    Local professional musician Mike Kachuba, known for his curriculum-based work with children across Connecticut, will develop a song based on the student stories.  He will perform the song to accompany the student readings on May 1, 2011 as part of the May Day (International Workers’ Day) Celebration on the New Haven Green. 

    For more information about Mike Kachuba’s work with children, visit

    For information about the May Day celebration, visit 

    About the Greater New Haven Labor History Association

    The Greater New Haven Labor History Association (GNHLHA), the only labor history organization in Connecticut, tells the story of working class people in our region which otherwise would go untold.  Through research and preservation of stories, interviews, artifacts and documents, GNHLHA produces exhibits and events which illuminate our lives as workers.  The “New Haven’s Garment Workers: An Elm City Story” exhibit has toured throughout Connecticut since 2006. GNHLHA is currently preparing a new exhibit about workers at New Haven’s Winchester (U.S. Repeating Arms Company) plant, which had a major impact on the culture and political economy of the greater New Haven community.  GNHLHA is also seeking individual oral history interviews from retired workers through its “History Among Us” program. 

    For more information about GNHLHA programs, visit

  • 04 Feb 2011 10:05 AM | Posted by GNHLHA

    January 25, 2011

    Dear Friends of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association,

    The 100th anniversary of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City which killed 146 people, many of them young women between 13 and 23 years old, is coming up on March 25, 2011.  

    To commemorate this terrible event ConnectiCOSH and its Injured Workers Unite Coalition are planning a week long exhibit from March 21 - 25 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford which will feature not only the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, but also workplace tragedies of the last 100 years here in Connecticut and the workers who have been affected by them.  A ceremony beginning at 4:30pm on Friday, March 25, will include a dramatic performance piece and awards for winners of an essay contest for high school students to raise awareness of labor history and workplace health and safety issues.  

    In order to help remember those who have died from workplace hazards we need your help now.  We are seeking information on workers who have died on the job.  We would like names, dates and location (workplace name and town) of anyone you know of, friends, family, union brothers or sisters who have died on the job. If you have any photos of that person or their workplace or the circumstances of their deaths, we would be pleased to honor them in our exhibit.

    Please send names, dates, locations and photos to Pamela Puchalski, ConnectiCOSH, 683 N. Mountain Rd, Newington, CT  06111, phone 860-953-2674.  Or, email or scan and email to  So please go back to your files, wrack your memories and send what you can to Pamela.  Time is short.  I’ve attached a very incomplete list to jog your memories.

    And, we look forward to seeing you on the afternoon of March 25, the very day, and almost the very time, when, one hundred years ago, 146 people died in less than 20 minutes.  Please put this event on your calendar now.

    Honor the dead and fight like H… for the living.

    In solidarity,

    Pamela Puchalski

  • 01 Feb 2011 2:47 PM | Posted by GNHLHA
    Congratulations to this year's Augusta Lewis Troup Award Winners, Paula Friedland Panzarella and Frank Panzarella, long time peace and justice activists and organizers of the annual May Day celebration on the New Haven Green, which has its 25th anniversary this year.  Stay tuned for photos and more info!
  • 10 Jan 2011 11:50 AM | Posted by GNHLHA
    By Joan Cavanagh

    Ernst Rosenzweig, brother of long time GNHLHA member Irmgard R. Wessel and uncle of life member Paul Wessel, passed away on January 4th. From the obituary in the New Haven REGISTER, January 5, 2011: “Known as ‘Rosie’ to his co-workers, he worked on the Yale University grounds crew for many years and was an active member of Local 35, UNITE HERE. A horticulturalist, he had a long standing affection for trees, flowers and the beauty of nature. Ernst was born in Kassel, Germany, on October 4, 1922 to the late Louis and Grete Rosenzweig. He left Germany for England at age 16, and joined his parents and his sister in the U.S. in Eureka, Il. in 1947 and later moved to New Haven.”

    Irm Wessel remembers her brother as a committed union member who “never missed a picket line” and was buoyed up in his later years by the health pension support he received as a retiree.  One of his duties as a grounds crew worker was to rise at 4 o’clock in the morning in the event of snow to shovel the walkway at Kline Tower - by hand. In his last hours of life, he knew it was snowing hard outside, and he asked for two shovels so that he might begin to clean off the sidewalk, Irm said.


  • 14 Dec 2010 1:37 PM | Posted by GNHLHA
    CT AFL-CIO Executive Board Hosted by GNHLHA at Troup School on December 8

    December 8, the GNHLHA welcomed the CT AFL-CIO Executive Board for a performance by local musician-activist Bill Collins at the Troup Magnet School in New Haven. 
    The concert was attended by 6th graders studying local history. Afterward, there was a tour of the labor history mural, which is in permanent residence in the school foyer.  The 51 foot long mural, designed and installed by artist Susan Bowen in 2006, was a project of the GNHLHA and was funded by the City of New Haven Percent for Art Program. The tour was followed by lunch and the annual CT AFL-CIO Executive Board meeting. Thank you, CT AFL-CIO!
    Read more about the mural>>
    Visit CT AFL-CIO website>>
    Visit musician Bill Collins website>>

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  • 24 Sep 2010 2:48 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    It's the Union Lady: Betty Murray

    July 24, 1920-May 31, 2010

    On Tuesday, June 1, 2010, Betty’s daughter, Ai’fe (Betsy) Murray, wrote:        

    “Family and Friends, Betty passed gently out of this world surrounded by family members on Monday just after tea time.”

    Her memorial service was held on Thursday, June 3rd and was attended by her family, co-workers, co-unionists and a host of family and friends of loved her dearly.

     Betty was a founding member and officer of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association. GNHLHA presented her with the Augusta Lewis Troup Preservation Award in 2002. Below is a biography written by Joan Cavanagh based on an interview with Betty. It was read by Deborah Elkin, then- President of GNHLHA, as she presented Betty with the award.

    Betty Murray's Biography for Augusta Lewis Troup Award 12/8/2002

    Elizabeth Murray was born in Philadelphia in 1920 the year, she proudly says, that “women got the vote and Ireland was freed!” She went to work at age 18 in the insurance department of the state capital in Harrisburg, PA, but returned home at the beginning of World War II to work in the Cramp Shipyard, which had been newly refitted for service in the defense industry. Here, she met Henry Murray, a shipfitter who had come from Kearney Shipyard in New Jersey to help organize the Cramp Yard for the Union of Marine Shipbuilders of America (UMSWA-CIO). The drive was successful. Betty married Henry, and thus began a long and loving partnership between two strong labor and community activists.

    As a rank and file member of UMSWA, Betty worked on a union newspaper and served on its Selective Service Committee, which visited local selective service offices in an attempt to get fathers who were war workers excused from military service. She also participated in a two or three day strike for the end of racial discrimination at the yard, which resulted in Black workers being offered skilled jobs where once they had been relegated to the position of yard or office cleaners.

    After the Cramp Yard closed at war’s end, Betty was offered a job running the office of Steelworkers’ Local 2898, which represented two bearing plants. She became a thorn in the side of the company, calling them “all the time” with questions about their seniority practices and other issues. Betty recalls that, although “they never knew my name, some one would answer the phone and stage whisper, ‘it’s the union lady.’” The local office, which was just down the street from the plant, became a strong presence in the old, poor factory neighborhood, and was involved in many facets of the lives of workers and their families.

    Betty left the Steelworkers job in 1950 when her son, Hank, was born. Her daughter, Betsy, was born in 1953. Her husband, Henry, took a job for the Political Action Committee of the C.I.O., which became the Committee on Political Education, AFL-CIO after the merger in 1955. His territory was New England. They moved to New Haven in 1956, but the family traveled all over New England with him in his work.

    Betty did not work again for pay until 1966, but she was appointed the Women’s Activities Director of the New Haven Central Labor Council by its then President, Vincent Sirabella. The goal was to reach out to labor wives to get them more involved in the activities of their husbands’ locals. At the time, Betty recalls, wives were feeling very left out of union affairs.

    Betty returned to work in 1966 as a secretary at the Yale Medical School Clinic for Adolescent Medicine, where she signed her union card at the behest of Bill Berndtson (another member of the GNHLHA Board and corresponding secretary of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association.) Between 1966 until her retirement in 1987, Betty was a mainstay in every union drive at Yale. She continued as an active member of Local 34. “Winning at Yale,” she recalls, “was a unique victory.” At her retirement dinner, the Chairman of the department, a doctor, thanked her for raising his consciousness and showing him his responsibility to his clerical and technical workers.

    In addition to her steadfast contributions to the labor movement in New Haven, Betty has been a tireless community activist. She found her work with the mostly Black adolescents at the clinic to be important and satisfying. During the 1960s, she spearheaded a drive to end the racist minstrel shows at St. Aedan’s Church here in New Haven. Pressure on the church to end the shows came from a Bishop as a result of a letter of Betty’s that was published in the Catholic Transcript newspaper.

    Betty  helped to revive the Catholic Interracial Council with Mary Johnson and others. The Council held parish meetings throughout New Haven, Hamden, and Branford and picketed churches after mass about issues such as scattered housing and in support of school busing. The Murrays and fourteen other families were part of a successful court case to integrate Edgewood School.

    Throughout the Vietnam War, Betty also participated both nationally and locally in anti-war demonstrations.

    Betty has been the treasurer of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association since 1990, an office she is resigning today. Our grateful thanks for her steadfast work as an officer.        

    Betty’s life is a glowing example of the work of an engaged citizen acting in community to improve the lives of  working people. We are very happy and proud today to present her with the Augusta Lewis Troup Pass It On Award in honor of her many achievements and in gratitude for the high standards she has set for all of us.

    The Greater New Haven Labor History Association gratefully acknowledges donations made in Betty’s memory at the family’s request by the following individuals and organizations:

    John Riener 

    Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn & Kelly, PC

    UNITE/HERE Local 34 Members

    Thomas J. and Kim M. Trella

    Mark Cullen

    The Flaherty Family 

    Thomas W. and A. Margarida Meiklejohn                                                                                                                           

    United Autoworkers Union Region 9A (Farmington)                                                                     

    Jim Condren                                                                                                                                

    Susan Karlins                                                                                 

    Yale Unions Retirees’ Organization


  • 22 Sep 2010 4:52 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    Connecticut Humanities Council Awards Grant to GNHLHA for First Phase of Winchester Workers' Exhibit

    Calling Former Winchester Workers (Read article from the New Haven Independent)

    The Connecticut Humanities Council has awarded a $6000 planning grant to the Greater New Haven Labor History Association to prepare images for the Association’s upcoming exhibit on workers at the old Olin-Winchester Plant in the Newhallville section of New Haven.

    The images, including photographs and newspaper articles, will be digitized and re-mastered to exhibit quality by internationally acclaimed new media artist Cynthia Beth Rubin.

    “The plant closed in 2006, but the stories of its workers throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries have yet to be told,” said Labor History Association Director and Archivist Joan Cavanagh. “An entire culture developed within the plant among workers. Everyone in the community knew or was related to someone who worked there.”

    Labor History Association Board members Lula White, Dorothy Johnson, James Hoffecker and Mary Johnson have been conducting oral histories with retired Winchester workers since the early spring of this year. Information from those interviews will help create the text of the exhibit, which will be produced by the end of 2010.

    The core of the exhibit will be based on photographs and documents from the International Association of Machinists Local 609 collection held in the Labor History Association’s archives. Local 609 represented workers at the plant from 1956 until its closure. Images from earlier years as well as images of the workers’ lives in the community will be culled from personal memorabilia. GNHLHA encourages anyone with relevant photographs, documents or newspaper articles to be in contact by calling 203-777-2756, ext. 2 or sending an email to Please be in touch right away as we are in the process now of digitizing the images to be used and writing the text for the exhibit.

  • 14 Sep 2010 4:07 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    By Mary Johnson

    The Greater New Haven Labor History Association (GNHLHA) hopes that you will share your memories.

    In the 1960s, the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) launched a grape boycott that inspired New Haven area residents (as well as people throughout the world) to join and help win good contracts in most of California’s vineyards. In the mid to late 1970s, a UFW Boycott staff person came to New Haven to organize boycott committees in Connecticut.

    Almost immediately, the New Haven committee began picketing and leafleting at supermarkets urging customers to boycott fruits and vegetables grown by producers who refused to negotiate contracts with the UFW. All of these were successful.

    Most memorable was the Gallo Boycott. The efforts of the New Haven Committee not only attracted a great deal of community support but received a very negative response, including physical violence, unfortunately initiated by some members of a rival union.

    The California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which became law in 1975, guaranteed farm-workers the right to bargain collectively. Gallo Wineries decided that it preferred its known adversary, the Teamsters, to the more militant, independent United Farm Workers’ Union. Gallo collaborated with the Teamsters to suppress the UFW.

    The UFW called for a nationwide boycott of Gallo Wines. The New Haven UFW Boycott Committee, after months of picketing liquor stores on Orange Street, convinced three owners to remove Gallo Wines from their shelves.

    When the picket lines moved to a liquor store on Whitney Avenue, Gallo salesmen as well as groups of men wearing  jackets identifying themselves as supporters of  a Teamsters Local, began observing us for several weeks. This culminated in the brutal beating of a 16 year UFW advocate. That incident and a tremendous show of community support for the boycott resulted in nationwide news coverage.

    If you remember any of these and later activities, please call Mary at (203) 387-7858, or send your stories to GNHLHA would like to share them on its website. New Haven’s UFW boycott activities were part of a powerful and inspirational social change movement and we cannot afford to lose that history.

  • 01 Jul 2010 2:00 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

    Ruth Calvin Emerson: March 8, 1921-April 25, 2010

    To My Friends

    Find joy in the struggle against tyranny.

    Stand against racism.

    Fight injustice and oppression.

    Play seriously.

    Teach the children.

    Defend the women and the men fighting to be free.

    Support your comrades in struggle.

    Dance against war.

    Sing for peace.

    Help the unions make us strong.

    Love one another.

    Put your life on the line.


    This was Ruth Emerson’s message as told to her friend Sherman Malone to pass on.

    Read a tribute to Ruth by GNHLHA Member Joelle Fishman here.

    Long time GNHLHA member Ruth Emerson passed away on April 25th at the age of 89. A celebration her life was held at the New Haven Peoples Center on June 26th. It was attended by many of her friends and colleagues.  The brief snapshot of her life printed for that event is taken from the “Biography in Progress” currently being written by her stepson, Robert Emerson:

    Ruth Calvin Emerson, a teacher, attorney, loyal friend and passionate advocate for civil rights passed away on April 25, 20910 at Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Connecticut.

    Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1921, Ruth loved music and played flute and trombone in her school years. She was an enthusiastic Girl Scout, one of five Scouts who represented the United States in an international meeting of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides in Switzerland in 1938.

    Ruth attended Oberlin College, graduating in 1943. During World War II, she served in the Women’s Army Corps, Signal Corps, from 1944-1956 and was stationed in Fort Myers in Virginia and Fort Dix in New Jersey.

    Following the completion of her military service, Ruth entered Yale Law School, graduating in 1950. She was one of only six women in her class of 160.

    After her graduation from Yale Law School, Ruth worked in Washington, D.C. as an enforcement attorney for the National Labor Relations Board. She returned to Connecticut in 1953 and entered private practice in New Canaan but soon left to become a teacher and psychological tutor in New York City.

    Ruth married Yale Law School Professor Thomas Emerson ’31 in 1960 and remained married to him for 31 years until his death at age 83.

    Ruth was one of the early practitioners of Words in Color, an innovative method of teaching developed by the educator Dr. Caleb Gattegno. Like Gattegno, Ruth believed in the subordination of teaching to learning and the active involvement and awareness of the student. Beginning in 1970, she taught Words in Color at High School in the Community, and several years later to teachers in New Haven and students referred to her by other educators.

    Throughout her adult life, Ruth was a committed progressive and political activist. She was involved with organizations such as the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation (now Defending Dissent) and numerous other civil rights and human rights organizations.

    She was a frequent writer of brief and powerful letters to the editor about law and politics. In 2006, she co-founded the Connecticut non-profit, Haiti Marycare, Inc, to support two pre-schools and a rural health clinic in Haiti.

    Written by Joan Cavanagh, GNHLHA Director

Greater New Haven Labor History Association  •  267 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06513 • •

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