2020 Fishman Awardees Announced

(26192) Old Main, historical marker, Detroit, Michigan

The Walter P. Reuther Library is proud to announce the recipients of the 2020 Sam Fishman Award.

These annual grants provide up to $1,000 to support travel to the Reuther Library to access archival records related to the American labor movement. The award is named in honor of Sam Fishman, a former UAW and Michigan AFL-CIO leader.

As part of their research visits, awardees are invited to speak about their work at an informal event at the Reuther Library and/or discuss their research on Tales From the Reuther Library. Watch for updates about recipient visits later in the year.

Bryant Etheridge, Bridgewater State University
Crafting a New Labor Policy: The American Federation of Labor, Skilled Craftsmen and the Struggle over Control of the National Labor Relations Board, 1939-1950

During the 1940s, a conservative element within the American labor movement reshaped federal labor policy. Comprised of skilled workers fed up with belonging to unions affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, this disgruntled faction sought federal protection for the ostensible right of craftsmen to leave industrial bargaining units. Craft severance, as this separation process was known, allowed craftsmen to join the organizations they believed would better serve their interests, the craft unions of the American Federation of Labor. Standing between them and that objective was the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Despite the CIO’s constant protests, craftsmen and their political allies succeeded in transforming NLRB policy regarding industrial bargaining units. In the process, they undermined one of the cornerstones of New Deal labor policy. Scholars have largely ignored the craft severance movement. ...When the craft severance movement is given the weight and importance it is due in mid-century labor history, industrial unionism as practiced by CIO unions emerges as both extraordinarily ambitious and extraordinarily fragile. Integrating the nation’s workers into industrial unions was a difficult task and during the 1940s, the CIO’s ability to accomplish it was increasingly predicated on favorable NLRB bargaining unit policy.

Charlie Fanning, University of Maryland
Building an Everglades Food System: Sunbelt Development, Farm Labor, and Corporate Consolidation in South Florida’s Agricultural Sector

I seek to unravel the intertwined local and global processes that transformed the Everglades ecosystem of South Florida from a scarcely-inhabited “river of grass” into a hemispheric hub for commodity production and migration. My research interrogates how agribusiness strategies for labor and environmental control in South Florida, rural community dynamics, and agricultural labor relations interfaced with global systems of food production over the course of the 20th century.

By integrating local and global history and labor, agribusiness, and environmental concerns, I trace how the consolidation and contestation of growers’ power in South Florida reshaped the Everglades ecosystem, trade and immigration patterns, and the contours of commodity production in the Americas. By the late 1960s, Florida led the nation with the highest concentration of corporate farms.This work will explore how growers’ enclosure and manipulation of the landscape facilitated a spatial organization of class relations that disempowered farmworkers through physical isolation and overlapping domestic and international labor recruitment systems.

Zeb Larson, Ohio State University
The Transnational and Local Dimensions of the U.S. Anti-Apartheid Movement

In 1948, white Afrikaners created a legal system of segregation that was aimed at achieving separation of white and black South Africans while allowing whites to continue exploiting the labor of blacks. As a result, a substantial protest movement grew up around the world to try and support liberation groups in South Africa. In Great Britain, there were strong pre-existing ties between the U.K. and South Africa, and the British moment was very organized and centralized. By contrast, activists in the United States faced the difficult task of acquainting Americans with a part of the world that they were largely unfamiliar with. This research is to include more fully the perspectives and roles organized labor played in the U.S. anti-apartheid movement. Unions such as AFSCME were vital in the fight for divestment, while the UAW and other unions played a critical role in financing cash-strapped activist groups and turning people out to support protests.

Melanie Sheehan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
International Labor Federations and the Politics of Global Economic Transformation, 1944-1995

This project focuses on labor federations’ role in the establishment of international monetary systems, trade agreements, and development programs that underpinned trade and investment flows. By studying the strategies, successes, and failures of international labor to influence these institutional structures, the project deepens historical understanding of the shifting position of organized labor within ever-shifting patterns of trade and investment, as these structures guided the interrelated processes of reconstruction, development, and deindustrialization. The project provides a necessary counterpoint to the works of business, economic, and political historians as well as “historians of capitalism” that emphasize the importance of business advocacy, economic policy, free-market ideology, and technological change in the process of politico-economic change.

Arden Stern, ArtCenter College of Design
A New Kind of Printing: American Labor and Graphic Design, 1880-1922

Borrowing its title from type designer William Addison Dwiggins’ oft-cited 1922 article, for which he is credited with coining the term graphic designer, this project investigates the role that organized labor played in shaping the emergent profession of graphic design at the turn of the 20th century. The Fishman grant enables me to consult the Reuther Library’s extensive collections of documents related to organized labor in the North American printing and commercial art trades that cannot be found elsewhere.

As printing industrialized throughout the 19th century, many of the professional practices currently associated with graphic design—the design of typography, typographic composition, the operation of printing presses, and page layout—were delimited and overseen by trade unions, despite the fact that the majority of printers were not union members. By the 1920s, the aesthetics of print communication had transitioned from the purview of skilled manual laborers to a new class of creative workers known as graphic designers. However, despite the significant role of labor struggles in the industrialization of print media production, design historians have largely neglected to consider labor in their accounts of graphic design’s emergence between the 1880s and 1920s. The broader goal of my research is to build relevant historical frameworks for analyzing the collective struggles of visual communication workers confronted with dramatic technological and social change.

Joseph Van der Naald, City University of New York
Organizing Outside of the Law: Government Workers' Movements in Michigan and Ohio, 1965 -1984

This research will examine the development of public workers unions, their organizing strategies, the militancy of their membership, their relationships to state and local politicians, and to the Civil Rights Movement, across different legal environments in two otherwise similar midwestern states. In Ohio, Republican intransigence prevented the passage of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers until 1983 despite a robust municipal public sector labor movement existing for decades prior. Neighboring Michigan was an early adopter of public sector collective bargaining in 1965 and similarly hosted an active public sector labor movement, particularly in Detroit. Both states featured strong private sector labor movements and, despite laws forbidding them, witnessed numerous contentious work stoppages by municipal employees throughout the 1970s. My research examines the strategies and political machinations by which public sector unions expanded despite divergent legal regimes.

David Witwer, Penn State Harrisburg
Searching for Jimmy Hoffa: The Disappearance of America’s Most Notorious Union Leader and Why It Still Matters Today

On July 30, 1975, Jimmy Hoffa, the former president of the Teamsters Union, disappeared. ... This project explores the history of Hoffa’s disappearance: why it mattered then, and why it continues to matter. His case also provided a grim confirmation of the mob’s influence over the nation’s most powerful union, undercutting the reputation of organized labor in ways that exacerbated the movement’s decline. The frequent fictional and true crime accounts of his disappearance connect his story to a set of potent themes in American culture.

Recent labor history scholarship has focused on the 1970s as a turning point for working-class Americans who were beset by deindustrialization and politically courted by backlash conservatives. This book will shift that focus by emphasizing the erosion of public trust in a labor movement tainted by allegations of widespread racketeering and how that distrust helped set the stage for the dramatic union decline that occurred in the 1980s.

Note: abstract excepts have been provided by applicants