Labor and Working-Class History

“Solidarity” Mural Teaches Labor History Through Art

May 15, 2024

When you walked into UE Hall in Chicago you were greeted by an image of hands clasped together in solidarity with the UE logo in the background. Painted on the underside of the main staircase, the multi-racial hands reflect UE’s long history of uniting all workers regardless of race, nationality, or sex. The “Solidarity” mural that graced the walls of UE Hall on Ashland Avenue in Chicago was dedicated by its lead artists, John Pitman Weber and Jose Guerrero, “To the Builders of the Future, the Men and Women who Work in the Mines, Mills, and Factories.” Above this dedication were the 1857 words of Frederick Douglass reminding visitors that “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”

“They didn’t like anyone telling them what to do”

May 11, 2024

A new radio documentary produced by New England Public Media tells the story of how a UE local in a “deeply conservative rural county” in Massachusetts not only survived but grew during the red-baiting attacks on UE in the early 1950s. The 50-minute documentary “At Sword’s Point” first aired on May 4 and 5, but can be streamed from the NEPM website. Produced and narrated by public historian Tom Goldscheider, the documentary includes interviews with retired UE District Two President Judy Atkins and International Representative David Cohen.

Two New Podcasts Explore History of the CIO

March 9, 2024

The past two months have seen the release of two new limited-run podcasts about the history of the CIO, the federation of industrial unions that arose from and led the worker upsurge of the 1930s and 1940s. Organize the Unorganized tells the story of the CIO in a crisp, newsroom style, through the voices of prominent labor historians and of the participants themselves. Fragile Juggernaut, produced by a group of journalists, organizers and historians and sponsored by Haymarket Books, is taking a longer and deeper historical view.

UE: A Remarkable Example

January 29, 2024

We are republishing this article written by retired UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend about our union’s history, principles and importance to the broader labor movement.

In late March of 1936, a stalwart group of unionists in the electrical and radio manufacturing industries gathered in snowy Buffalo, New York, to found what quickly became the third largest union in the CIO upsurge. The various streams of unionism that converged in Buffalo represented the grizzled union diehards in the manufacturing shops of some of the biggest corporations in the country; General Electric, General Motors, Westinghouse, and RCA among them. It also included new faces, young militants, workers energized by the overall left-wing growth in response to the catastrophe of the Great Depression.

“Building Strike Power” Convention Held in City of Steel ... and Strikes

October 7, 2023

UE’s 78th Convention was held in Pittsburgh, a city that is not only home to the union’s national office but also to a rich history of worker organizing and strikes. From the 1840s to today, the women and men whose labor built this city struggled — and often struck — to reclaim a share of the wealth their labor produced.

Seventy Five Years Later, Toll of Taft-Hartley Weighs Heavily on Labor

June 23, 2022

Seventy-five years ago, the labor movement suffered its greatest setback of the 20th Century: the Taft-Hartley Act.

Despite a valiant effort by millions of rank-and-file workers to prevent its passage, Taft-Hartley became law on June 23, 1947 when the Senate overrode President Truman’s veto. Taft-Hartley halted what had been a remarkable decade of progress for working people, tamed union militancy, and set the stage for the long decline of the U.S. labor movement. We are still feeling its effects today.

“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.