Collection Highlight: Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO records

A recent addition to the UMD Labor Collections is now available for the public: the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO records, containing material dating from 1896 to 2016.  The Metro Washington Council (MWC) is a local labor council representing a federation of 175 diverse local unions in Washington, DC and the surrounding area.  Presented to the archives in September 2018, the Metro Washington Council records examine

legislative campaigns conducted by the organization for labor causes, document annual events like the “Evening with Labor” dinner and select rallies, and include administrative organization in the form of meeting minutes and internal correspondence, among other assorted activities undertaken by the MWC.  Though mostly containing textual records, this accession also boasts hundreds of photographs, dozens of small volumes (including programs to the “Evening with Labor” dinner), and a selection of audiovisual materials.  These records of a localized labor council are a welcome addition to the already-extensive holdings of the general AFL-CIO union organization, of which UMD is the official repository.

For a quick taste of what lies within the bountiful material of the Metro Washington Council records, take a look at these interesting examples:

Solidarity Day 1991 records

Ten years after the first Solidarity Day March to protest the Reagan administration’s treatment of workers’ rights, the AFL-CIO again organized a massive Solidarity Day demonstration.  The Metro Washington Council was a key member of this second Solidarity Day due to their representation of the Washington DC area. 

Solidarity Day poster, 0515-LBR, Box 19, Folder 3

The goals of the second March had evolved; in the words of MWC President Joslyn Williams, “this demonstration/march will have three major goals: enactment of legislation prohibiting the permanent replacement of striking workers, enactment of national health care reform, and full freedom of association at home and abroad.”  These goals are emphasized throughout the records, most notably in posters and templates used at Solidarity Day, promotional newsletters sent to local unions and the general workforce, and sheets of unused stickers to be worn at the rally.  The Solidarity Day records also have extensive behind-the-scenes materials regarding logistical flow for the event (including Metro rail maps, schedule of events, invitations, and traffic patterns) as well as administrative proceedings that organized the event and recorded lists of participating organizations. 

Testimonies and Speeches by Joslyn Williams

Joslyn Williams served as the President of the Metro Washington Council from 1982 to 2016, and as such, the Metro Washington Council collection contains a breadth of material related to him. 

Some of the most valuable historical material can be found in the folders containing his testimonies and speeches, drafted and presented from 1982 to 2003. 

Williams’ testimony regarding policy in Northern Ireland, 0515-LBR, Box 11, Folder 10-14

Rough, edited, and fine copies are mixed in the folders, useful for evaluating the evolution of the raw thought process into the final product that President Williams presented.  His testimonies are mostly in the form of addresses to Congressional committees concerning legislative efforts, while the speeches were written for a variety of engagements (such as dinners, rallies, or conferences) and presented to diverse groups, ranging from local unions to the general populace.  Williams espouses the MWC policy and efforts on a wide range of labor issues, including healthcare, housing, discrimination, and collective bargaining.  These testimonies and speeches are a unique example of labor and MWC policy, as these words are those carefully selected to be spoken and endorsed by the President of the organization to the public.  A notable example within the records is Williams’s testimony before a congressional committee supporting a bill that sought to eradicate discrimination of Catholic workers of American companies with interests and holdings in Northern Ireland.  Williams not only pointed out the injustices of this particular example of labor discrimination, but also tied it into international struggles in areas like South Africa, demonstrating the international perspective that the MWC carried for matters of labor rights.

South African Free Elections

An excellent representation of photographic material within the Metro Washington Council records is the South African Free Elections photographs. 

0515-LBR, Box 23, Folder 28

The Metro Washington Council was a vocal opponent of South African apartheid, both as a matter of discriminatory policy and as a political barrier to the fulfillment of full labor rights.  As a show of support in the closing days of apartheid and entering the era of free elections in South Africa, Joslyn Williams went abroad as the official MWC observer, to recognize and legitimize labor and equality struggles abroad.  The MWC photographs serve as an interesting microcosm of a hectic time in South African history.  Joslyn Williams can be seen at political events, talking with leaders, politicians, and organizers away from the main struggle around Nelson Mandela; rather, these select images show activity closer to grassroots campaigning, the local spirit, and coordination of white and black South Africans who sought to forge a new nation.  Additionally, there are images that captured the popular propaganda of the time, including Nelson Mandela promotional material and posters that were circulating around the country.

These and other Metro Washington Council records contribute to the holistic representation of the labor collection at UMD, and offer a more focused view of a local union council tackling labor issues in Washington D.C., the heart of legislation and national reform efforts in the United States.

Click here to view the collection finding aid for the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO Records.

To find out more about UMD Labor Collections, email

Tyler Black is a second-year graduate student at the UMD iSchool, studying Archives and Digital Curation.  Tyler works in Labor Collections and cataloging at UMD Special Collections and University Archives.

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