By Margot Willis, Labor Collections Volunteer
In 2013, the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) donated the entire holdings of the George Meany Memorial Archives to the Special Collections and University Archives Department of University of Maryland Libraries. This collection contains the most important documentation of the history of America’s largest federation of labor unions, founded in 1955. Comprising over 20,000 linear shelf feet of a wide variety material, including documents, photographs, audiovisual materials and artifacts, it represents the single largest donation of archival material to the University to date.
Until this summer, the artifacts portion of the AFL-CIO collection had gone almost entirely untouched by university archival staff due to other higher priorities. Packed away in the same bubble wrap and cardboard boxes in which they were transferred to the University three years ago, the AFL-CIO artifacts sat in out-of-the-way corners of Hornbake Library.
Back in April, when I first spoke with University of Maryland Labor Archivists Jen Eidson and Ben Blake about a possible volunteer project over the summer, I mentioned that I have an interest in museum studies, and would like to learn more about the care and organization of artifacts in an archive. Because they needed immediate help in verifying identifications and locations of AFL-CIO artifacts in anticipation of an upcoming exhibit and due to the fact I was willing to work for free, they granted my wish and set me to work.
I worked wherever there were boxes, which happened to be in the very bottom and the very top floors of Hornbake library. Oftentimes, the spaces I worked in were very small, and the boxes very large.
Originally, the plan was for me to go through the boxes, locate each object in the original Meany Archives inventory of over 2500 records and enter the object’s new location in Hornbake. However, after about five minutes on the job, it became clear that the project would be a bit more complicated than that. There were items in the boxes that were not on the spreadsheet. There were items whose accession numbers appeared on the spreadsheet but whose descriptions did not match the items. There were boxes of dozens of items inside other boxes that had not been recorded as being there. The original inventory indicated that some boxes contained certain items, which, upon further examination, were not there at all. In other cases, boxes should have had only one object, but ended up containing six.
If you follow this blog you might remember a post about this time last year about a little exhibit we created with materials from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
In the past year we have been hard at work processing the Carpenters collection, and we are happy to announce that the collection is now fully “processed.” This means that the entire collection is now represented online via a finding aid (or guide) to the folders in the collection.
This June, city streets in America will bloom with colorful celebrations. Pride, this year, marks the 47th anniversary of Stonewall, and the first year since Obergefell v. Hodges. While most of those celebrating are no stranger to the struggle for equality, it can be easy to forget the struggle of the past and the struggles still needed today. Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO LGBT constituency group, and its members have been fighting for LGBT equality since before the organization was founded in 1994. Today, Pride at Work, along with the labor movement, continues the fight for LGBT rights and equality for all workers.
Pride at work is also celebrating its 22nd anniversary this month. On June 24th, 1994, LGBT union activists gathered in New York City to remember the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In New York, this network of activists held “The Founding Conference of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender People in the Labor Movement” creating the organization known today as Pride at Work. Three years later, in 1997, it became one of the seven official constituency groups of the AFL-CIO.
Join a community interested in promoting labor history by editing the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Part celebration and part workshop, Edit-a-Thons are organized around a single topic as a means to build awareness and community. We’ll draw content from labor-related collections at the University of Maryland, including the AFL-CIO Archives. No editing experience necessary, however participants should have basic computer skills. All participants will receive complimentary issues of Labor’s Heritage journal.
On April 14, 2016, University Libraries’ Special Collections in Labor History & Workplace Studies will co-sponsor a symposium exploring workers and organizing in the twenty-first century. This event is open and free to the public. All are welcome to attend!
Attacks on the freedom to organize in the last several decades have created new challenges for working people. New creative approaches have consequently emerged in sectors across the economy such as in domestic care, fast food, big box merchandising, etc. This symposium seeks to examine all those areas while also placing them within the context of a rapidly globalizing environment.
Elizabeth Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, will present the keynote address. Panelists include Eileen Boris, Teresa Casertano, Lane Windham, Elly Kugler, Nelson Lichtenstein, and Fekkak Mamdouh.
Afterwards, all are invited to join a reception in Hornbake Library, where attendees can enjoy light hors d’oeuvres and view items from UMD’s labor history collections as well as from the Gordon W. Prange Collection of Occupation-era Japanese print publications.
See a full schedule and more information, and join us on April 14th!
of the AFL-CIO’s 60th Anniversary
Before 1955, the AFL (American Federation of Labor) and the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) were separate, competing organizations.
The two organizations chose to merge in 1955 to strengthen the labor movement and help eliminate competition between unions and workers.
This is a “behind the scenes” look at the logistics involved in working out the details of the merger among members of the AFL-CIO Unity Subcommittee and the earliest attempts at unity with the No-Raiding Agreement. See Meany’s notes on the constitution draft, handwritten minutes from the Unity Subcommittee about early plans for merging departmental staff, and correspondence between Meany and Reuther about the progress of the merger.
The AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of trade unions, represents over 12.5 million workers. Before 1955, the AFL (American Federation of Labor) and the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) were separate, competing organizations. The two organizations chose to merge in 1955 in order to strengthen the labor movement and eliminate competition between different unions and workers. This mini-exhibit, on display in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library, tells the story from the formation of the joint Unity Committee to the December 5, 1955 merger in commemoration of AFL-CIO’s 60th anniversary.