There are many films that allow you to actually see and hear events from history at University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. For the Labor History Archives exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America,” the labor history archives team wanted you to have the ability to experience these historical events. We are showcasing eight video clips that visitors can enjoy within the gallery space and are easily accessible on an iPad. The films that we chose touch on a variety of topics that correlate to the displays. Many of the films that we are showcasing probably have not been seen since they originally aired. Since we were able to digitize these original copies, they will be preserved and easily accessible to everyone online.
For the past year I have helped co-curate the Labor History Collections exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America.” It has been an exciting and rewarding experience that has taught me so much about the vast history of the labor movement. One of the displays that I designed and installed was “Labor, Recreation, and Rest: The Movement for the Eight-Hour Day”. While looking through the vast Labor History Collections here at University of Maryland, Special Collections and University Archives, I came upon a very odd and fragile document. At first I did not know the significance, only that it was House Resolution 8357 and was approved by President Harrison on August 1, 1892.
Asking an archivist to pick their favorite item in their exhibit may be the most challenging question you could ever ask them. After spending the past year assisting in all aspects of the exhibit For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America, I noticed that one of the most popular items I selected for the exhibit was the United Farm Workers flag. The flag, signed by famous figures Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, commemorates the historic Delano grape strike. The five-year strike started on September 8, 1965 and changed the face of the American labor movement and its attitude towards immigrant workers.
Starting in Delano Valley, California, immigrant workers of Filipino and Mexican descent waged a massive strike that transformed working conditions for farm workers. Using nonviolent tactics, the five-year struggle spread from the grape fields of California to boycotts of non-union farm produce in major American urban centers such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington, DC. Under the leadership of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, the strikers appealed to students, religious leaders, and urban union members and generated national support for farm workers. The Delano grape strike also opened the national labor movement’s eyes to the power of immigrant labor in the United States because of the magnitude and power of the nonviolent strikes the UFW was able to organize.
I chose this commemorative flag not only because of its bold red coloring and distinctive signatures, but also because I particularly enjoyed telling this story of this crucial moment for immigrant workers in the United States.
One of the most recognizable signatures on the upper-left corner of the flag is that of Cesar Chavez. As leader of the National Farm Workers Association and later the UFW, Chavez was a leading figure in the Delano grape strike. Filipino members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee started the strike by walking out of vineyards in Delano valley, and Cesar Chavez led the Mexican members of the National Farm Workers Association (a precursor of the UFW) in joining the strike. Chavez had spent years persuading Mexicans to join his union, and now he asked them to join a larger movement demanding fair wages and improved working conditions. Following in Chavez’s lead, farm laborers sacrificed their livelihoods for the greater union cause. During the five-year strike, Chavez rose from near anonymity to national prominence and led a nationwide crusade for recognizing the value of migrant labor.
Another signature on the left side of the flag is that of civil rights icon and influential labor activist Dolores Huerta. Often overshadowed by her National Farm Workers Association co-founder Cesar Chavez, she was a leading organizer of the Delano grape strike and served as the UFW’s first vice president. During the Delano grape strike, she confronted violence from grape growers and overcame sexism within her own organization. Huerta was the lead negotiator in the successful contract negotiations that followed the Delano grape strike, which won safer working conditions, unemployment benefits, and better healthcare benefits for agricultural workers.
The AFL-CIO collection holds a number of items documenting the historic Delano grape strike beyond the commemorative flag. For example, a 1969 editorial and cartoon in the AFL-CIO News demonstrates how the Delano grape strike transformed unions’ attitudes towards immigrant labor. “Viva La Causa!” (“Long Live the Cause!”), refers to the cause adopted by thousands of people across the United States to end exploitation of farm workers.
To learn more about the Delano grape strike, visit the exhibit For Liberty: Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America in person at Hornbake Library or online, and be sure to explore the section on Immigrants’ Rights! For general information about the Labor History Archives, check out our labor history subject guide! This post is one of a series of Curator’s Choices, so be on the lookout for posts by other members of the Labor History Archives team at Special Collections and University Archives.
 “Dolores Huerta.” National Women’s History Museum. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/dolores-huerta (accessed 25 October 2017).
Jen Wachtel is a graduate student at the University of Maryland pursuing an M.A. in History (Modern Europe), a Master of Library and Information Science (Archives and Digital Curation), and a graduate certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture. She is a Coordinator for Labor History Collections and Mass Media and Culture Processing Archivist at Special Collections and University Archives. Jen expects to graduate in December 2018 to pursue a career in museum archives.
We are celebrating American Business Women’s Day! In the spirit of this holiday, we will be highlighting an item from the Labor History Collections’ exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America.”
Starting in the 1930s and 1940s, women entered the workforce en masse due to war time economic demands. Once the war was over and the men returned home, many women wanted to stay in the workforce because it gave them a newfound independence. With more women working, the labor movement had to make sure that their rights as workers were protected, as well as the already established rights centered on male workers.
The photos above are examples of the various jobs that women were employed in during the time war efforts. Still Images, Photographic Prints.
Today is Labor Day, and political, religious, and community leaders will give speeches to commemorate the day. For labor leaders, it’s an opportunity to appeal to the working class. Every working person is affected in some way by state and federal labor laws, and bargaining agreements that set wages and benefits at their place of employment. Striving to establish workers’ rights and to improve them has been a common cause of the labor movement since the late 19th century, marked by the formation of the American Federation of Labor in 1886 and by federal approval of Labor Day as a national holiday in 1894. Continue reading
Today we are celebrating National Women’s Equality Day! Gender equality in the workplace is a social justice issue that the labor movement has always been involved in. In the spirit of this holiday, we will be highlighting some of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) items that will be featured in the Labor History Collections’ exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America”!
For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America
Opening in September, we are pleased to present Hornbake Library’s first major exhibit about labor history. The exhibit will feature materials from the AFL-CIO Archive that were transferred to University of Maryland’s Special Collections four years ago in 2013.
The exhibit explores the labor movement’s involvement with issues of economic equality, including the struggle for the eight-hour day and a living wage; reveals its deep roots with the civil rights’ and women’s movements; and documents lesser-known connections with the movements for LGBTQ equality, immigrant rights, religious freedom, environmental justice and international workers’ solidarity.
We hope you will join us as we explore how the labor movement has evolved from discriminatory positions to progressive ones, fighting for equality for all people. Hundreds of unique documents, images, videos, and artifacts will be on display from the Labor History Collections within the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland Libraries.
The exhibition will run from September 2017 – July 2018 in the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery, located in Hornbake Library at the University of Maryland, College Park.