Labor and Working-Class History

“Them and Us” Unionism in the Deep South

February 1, 2022

In the 1930s, as rank-and-file workers in the electrical manufacturing industry were establishing UE in workplaces like the giant General Electric plant in Erie, PA (Local 506) and Sargent Lock in New Haven, CT (Local 243), a union with a similar “Them and Us” philosophy of unionism was building militant, interracial unions in iron ore mines in an area known as “Red Mountain” near Birmingham, Alabama.

75 Years Ago, NC Tobacco Workers Challenged Jim Crow with “Civil Rights Unionism”

September 3, 2021

September 5 marks the 75th anniversary of a National Labor Relations Board election that took place at the China American Tobacco Company in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. It was the first NLRB victory in eastern North Carolina for the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers of America (FTA-CIO), part of a campaign that would bring nearly 10,000 tobacco “leaf house” workers, most of them African-American women, into unions.

Working-Class Pride in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union

June 18, 2021

Decades before the modern LGBTQ+ movement, a small but militant union of maritime workers on the West Coast with openly gay members and leaders coined a slogan linking discrimination against gay men, racial discrimination, and red-baiting. For the better part of two decades, the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union fought discrimination on the ships where its members worked and in society, until it was crushed by the same corporate and government forces that tried to destroy UE during the Cold War.

UE Fought for Child Care as “Infrastructure” as Far Back as WWII

May 9, 2021

In their attacks on President Biden’s much-needed proposals to invest in physical and human infrastructure, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, many Republican politicians have derided applying the term “infrastructure” to programs that support working families. They dismiss child care, elder care and paid family leave as “liberal social programs” as opposed to the “real infrastructure” of buildings, roads, and bridges.

The experience of UE members during World War II, when millions of women took jobs in manufacturing, tells a different story.

“Working-Class Heroes” Finds Striking Relevance in Songs of Past Struggles

July 26, 2019

Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song, by Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore is a collection of pre-WWII labor songs. The lively, contemporary arrangements are a reminder that these songs were written to bring the union message to other workers in the popular styles of the day. They were part of the organizing process — many of the songwriters featured on this album, like textile worker Ella May Wiggins and tenant farmer John Handcox, were active leaders in their union, and numerous choruses simply urge the listener to join the union or a picket line.

Two New Books Examine How Working People Have Changed (and Can Still Change) the World

December 14, 2018

In Can the Working Class Change the World? economist and labor educator Michael Yates makes the case that the working class — and only the working class — can indeed overcome economic inequality, eliminate racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination, and meet the challenge of environmental degradation and climate change. Historian Erik Loomis’s A History of America in Ten Strikes is an original and engaging way to re-learn U.S. history through the lens of working-class struggle.

Easter Rising 1916: Labor and the Irish Independence Struggle

March 16, 2016

An unexpected commotion disrupted routine in a busy city center on an April morning one hundred years ago.  Armed men commandeered the main post office in a major city in the world’s most powerful empire. One of their leaders interrupted the musings and conversations of those going about their business by reading out a proclamation declaring an Irish Republic.

The Easter Rising of 1916 was underway.

Black History Month: Ernest Thompson, UE Pioneer in Fighting Racism

February 13, 2015

During his years as a local union officer and as a UE organizer, union members nicknamed Ernest Thompson “The Train” because of his ability “to deliver” in negotiations. In 1943 Thompson came out of his shop, American Radiator in New Jersey, to become the first African American organizer on the UE staff. In March of 1947 he took a leave from the national staff to become business agent for UE Local 427, and he was elected vice president and later executive secretary of the Hudson County CIO Industrial Union Council.

The Working-Class Origins and Legacy of International Women’s Day

February 28, 2014

March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), an annual tradition that began over a hundred years ago. While celebrations continue worldwide, few people remember that the holiday was first initiated by American Socialists. As legend would have it, they were inspired to hold a demonstration in order to mark the anniversary of an 1857 female garment workers’ strike in New York.

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