October 2nd is National Custodial Workers Appreciation Day, and it’s a good time to look back at the profession that served as the foundation for the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest partners of the Walter P. Reuther Library. Originally named the Building Service Employees International Union, the union first received its charter as the union for flat janitors in America. Though SEIU has dramatically evolved over the past century, custodial workers continue to serve as one of the largest units within the union. Below are photos from Foundation of the Union: Janitors and Custodians in SEIU, a curated collection of images from the SEIU photograph collections. read more »
It’s hard to explain to people just how extensive (over 2,500 collections) and varied the archival holdings of the Reuther Library are. When someone asks, we first respond with the “Big Ones, ” such as the UAW, the American Federation of Teachers, the Wayne State University Archives. There are important medium-sized collections too, among them Focus Hope, the United Farm Workers and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). Then there are the very small collections that are sometimes overlooked, hidden like small pebbles in a jar filled with big stones. These often contain fascinating materials that complement the Reuther’s more prominent collections.
Social movements that disrupt the status quo and go on to change the lives of participants most often coalesce around a powerful leader. In 1962, Cesar Chavez, a former migrant worker and community activist, began the long struggle for farm workers’ rights by organizing the National Farm Workers Association in Delano, California—the forerunner of the UFW. By 1965, after signing up about 1200 members, Chavez was asked to join a grape strike in Delano led by the predominant Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC).
The Walter P. Reuther Library commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike by recounting its near fifty-year relationship with the United Farm Workers to document and preserve its legacy. read more »