African-Americans in the Early Labor Movement

DYK that labor unions did not allow African-Americans to become members back in the day? Being a member of a union was important to be able to bargain for workers’ rights and fight against the discrimination that black workers faced. Many skilled black workers sought to join unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) between 1881 and 1915. But, white craft union members, who were primarily affiliated with the AFL, were afraid of the competition and didn’t allow African Americans to join. On the other hand, industrial unions were more accepting of black workers.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) union members pose with locomotive firemen, ca. 1940. AFL-CIO Photographic Print Collection (RG96-001)

Who were early allies?

The Knights of Labor, the AFL until 1915, the United Mine Workers of America, the International Longshoreman’s Union, and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Some black workers allowed to join:

The Teamsters, the Cigar Makers, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, the Carpenters, and the Printers.

Very few black workers allowed to join:

The Pressmen, the Lithographers, the Photo-Engravers, the Iron Steel and Tin Workers, the Molders, the Pattern Makers, the Glass Workers, the Boot and Shoe Workers, and the Wood Workers

For more information about the relationship of the civil rights movement and the labor movement, visit our exhibit “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” in person or online or email us at askhornbake@umd.edu.


Jen Eidson is a Special Collections Processing Archivist in the University of Maryland Libraries.

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The Labor Movement and Film, Part 2: “For the Union Makes Us Strong”

Let’s continue on the journey of exploring the Labor History Collections films that are featured in the “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” exhibit! In part 1 of this blog series, we looked at Leading the Way: Black Trade Unions in South Africa, Pay Equality, To Dream, and Solidarity Day. All four of these films explored various events from history that correlate to the social justice topics that are discussed in the displays. Though the topics may be different, the films help viewers understand how social justice issues and the labor movement are intertwined and how historical events resonate today.

The film Toxic Earth explores the alliance between the labor and environmental justice movements. Today, environmental topics are always in the news and are being discussed in political debates. The ability to watch this discussion transform within the context of the labor movement can help us see how we have gotten to the point of the conversation we are in today.

“Today’s environment is the one we will earn and choose by organizing and working on the issues of occupational and environmental health. By demanding “Right To Know” laws, controls on acid rain, strict regulations, and enforcement of standards. The alternative is leaving life and death decisions in the hands of polluting corporations, relaying on lax and inadequate government supervision. Our greatest strength is in working together.”

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The Labor Movement and Film, Part 1: “For the Union Makes Us Strong”

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.

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Erin Berry looking through all eight clips that are easy viewable on an iPad in the Hornbake Library gallery.

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Curator’s Choice: Favorite Item in the Labor History Exhibit

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.

H.R. 8357, 1892

House Resolution 8537, the first federal resolution for the eight-hour workday.

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Curator’s Choice: Favorite Item in the Labor History Exhibit

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.

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Jen Wachtel with the United Farm Workers flag commemorating the Delano grape strike.

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Are You Married or Going to be Married?: The Labor Movement & the Business Woman

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.

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The photos above are examples of the various jobs that women were employed in during the time war efforts. Still Images, Photographic Prints.

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A Look at Labor Day 1964

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