The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) records are a major archival labor collection in the University of Maryland’s Special Collections & University Archives. Our archives staff spent some time the last few years reviewing this collection to make it more accessible for both staff and the public. In about 1982 the first records from the union were processed. Over the course of the next three decades, another 40 accessions of records were given to the archives, but they remained unprocessed. The result of our recent review is an additional 490 linear feet of inventoried material dating from 1886 to 2016 that was previously difficult to navigate, search, and serve in the Maryland Room. This material is now minimally processed and boxes are available to request and view in the Maryland Room.
The BCTGM first organized in 1886 as the Journeyman Bakers National Union. It is an international labor union active in the United States and Canada, comprised of members from the bakers, confectioners, tobacco growers, and grain millers industries.
The forms and subjects of the BCTGM records in the archive are incredibly diverse and interesting. The newly-inventoried records document BCTGM conventions (including plentiful photographs), examine both sides of the B&C / ABC controversial split and later re-merger, provide a sample of marketing and advertising materials (including unique photographs and cartoons), and contain multiple runs of BCTGM newspaper publications, among other topics. The administrative structure of the union is discernible by consulting internal papers and correspondence. Though mostly containing paper documents, the records also contain charcoal cartoons, photographs, paintings, bound serials volumes, pins, and buttons. These records represent the international organization and several local chapters, as well as the notable individuals within each. They supplement and enhance the 160 linear feet of BCTGM material that was already processed in the archive.
ABC Separation and Allegations against James Cross
The middle of the 1950s saw severe allegations put on the shoulders of Jimmy Cross, the longtime President and influential figure in (what was then) the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union. Spearheaded by Treasurer Curtis Sims, it was revealed that there was strong evidence of misappropriation of funds, which directly benefited Jimmy Cross and several of his close friends and top brass of the union. One pamphlet produced by Curtis Sims provides financial statements and ledgers showing that union money was used by President Cross to purchase a high-end Cadillac automobile, among other luxury goods and services. Cross fought back, and denounced these whistleblowers as shams.
The fallout of this scandal resulted in two products. First, the AFL-CIO, who were convinced by the evidence brought forth by Sims and his fellow investigators, disaffiliated the B&C from their organization. Second, as a result of the corruption and disaffiliation, a new Bakers’ union was born, the American Bakery and Confectionery Workers (ABC), with Sims as a leading member.
Records concerning this major event in union history are present in multiple accessions recently made more accessible. The previously mentioned pamphlet, correspondence from ABC officials such as Sims and Amos Miller, marketing products from both sides of the argument, and testimony records, all together constitute a holistic examination of what the ABC and B&C were doing and saying during the fiasco.
The Golden Jubilee of 1936
1936 marked the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the first baker union in the United States. It was the earliest ancestor of the BCTGM, called in 1886 the Journeyman Bakers National Union of the United States. During those first 50 years, the union was based in the mid-Atlantic and midwest regions of the United States. It expanded to be a nationwide force of locals, as well as expanding into Canada to make the union international. It had also joined forces with the confectioners to make the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union. The union gathered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from September 21-29, 1936 for their 21st national convention, where they celebrated their 50th Anniversary, or as they called it, their “Golden Jubilee.” This was a convention of remembrance, for the first bakers that joined together to fight for better working conditions and a hospitable working environment. Locals all took part in bringing together heritage artifacts and stories, to see how far the profession had come since the trade union era began for bakers.
The most prominent artifact of this celebration is the Golden Jubilee group photograph, taken on September 27, with all leading members of the union gathered together which is displayed next to the first Baker convention photograph. The commemorative placard refers to the first Bakers as the “original pioneers,” with the Golden Jubilee representatives being the “modern pioneers”. The proceedings and souvenir booklet of the Golden Jubilee convention are present in the records as well. And lastly, two large scrapbooks were created to document the Golden Jubilee, displaying historical pamphlets and photographs of the Baker Union from all the locals. Though cumbersome and delicate, these scrapbooks are perhaps the collection artifact most dense with historical value in the entire collection, based on the amount of photographs and remembrance pieces contained within.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the baker unions ramped up their marketing efforts. It was a confluence of events: postwar trade unionism started a boom of membership in the baker union, and the split of the ABC from the B&C started a highly competitive war for reputation and membership. The BCTGM records contain numerous marketing materials from this era such as: pamphlets, booklets, broadsides, political endorsements, and notably, charcoal cartoons. The cartoons have a very vintage appeal, from a bygone era of marketing with Seussian aesthetics. These are original drawings by the artist, which could then be further reproduced in newsprint or other media outlets.
A great cartoon example is titled “Recipe for ABC Cake”, a typical caricature from the era. This caricature cartoon was a part of the ABC vs. B&C wars, and the exaggerations are apparent. Pieces like this were used consistently in the ABC News and the B&C News newspapers, appealing to the readers that their union was superior to the other union. These charcoal cartoons, among other marketing materials during the competitive split, are plentiful in the BCTGM records.
There are many more unique and interesting materials in the collection, and we’re pleased to be able to provide better access to them for the public and labor historians alike.
To find out more about UMD Labor Collections, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tyler Black is a graduate of the UMD iSchool, where he studied Archives and Digital Curation. Tyler worked in Labor Collections and cataloging at UMD Special Collections and University Archives.