Congratulations to the Recipients of the 2022 Sam Fishman Award

The Walter P. Reuther Library is proud to announce the recipients of the 2022 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.

Cedric de Leon
A Constant Sorrow: the Black Freedom Struggle and Organized Labor in the U.S.

Given the longstanding hostility of White organized labor toward Black labor, why have moments of significant interracial solidarity nevertheless taken hold? At present, the relevant scholarship remains somewhat ill-equipped to answer this question. Much of the scholarly debate is motivated by an either/or question: has White labor excluded or protected Black labor? These terms of debate are problematic for at least two reasons. First, with few exceptions, the research implies that the protagonists of U.S. labor history were White people. By contrast, Black people are viewed as being the passive beneficiaries or victims of White trade unionists. Second, the “either/or” logic of the debate obscures the fact that labor history is punctuated by both exclusion and solidarity, often at the same time. Drawing on the private correspondence of White and Black trade unionists as well as the archival proceedings, minutes, and newspapers of White and Black labor organizations, my book, A Constant Sorrow, offers an alternative approach that centers the Black Freedom Struggle. Specifically, I argue that interracial solidarity took hold whenever independent Black labor organizations of sufficient scope and militancy were able to push their White counterparts toward inclusion, as in the 1910s, 1930s, and 1960s. Conversely, I show that interracial solidarity has stalled whenever Black labor was suppressed or became disorganized, as it was in the 1870s and immediately after the two world wars. By addressing the research question in this way, the book transcends the current debate and advances a novel big-picture claim, namely: that we cannot understand the historical development of the U.S. labor movement without understanding its encounters with the cause of Black liberation over time.

Ian Gavigan
Socialist Stronghold: The Socialist Party, Labor, and the Making of U.S. Politics from the Gilded Age to the New Deal

My dissertation argues that the Socialist Party (SP) was a driving force in twentieth-century history whose significance can only be properly captured by moving beyond a strictly electoral lens. By returning to sites thought of primarily for their municipal socialism and reassessing the relationship between locally-specific organizing and broader currents in labor and politics, the dissertation traces precisely how the SP developed into the most influential left political formation of the early-twentieth century. “Socialist Stronghold” uncovers the decades-long process by which socialism functioned as a movement, illustrating how it took root in communities and propelled progressive currents in labor and political organizing. It grounds the study of the SP in the perspective of workers, organizers, and municipal and state-level institutions in Pennsylvania, the center of industrial capitalism in the early-twentieth century. There, socialists were at the heart of battles over key questions from the turn-of-the-century through the New Deal over the boundaries of the state’s repressive powers, the meanings of democracy, the shape of public welfare, the power of women, and the boundaries of social and economic citizenship.

Celeste Gonzalez de Bustamante
Complexities, Contestations, and Collective Actions: Farm Labor Movements in Twentieth Century California

This academic book project seeks to advance a more inclusive understanding and interpretation of farm labor organizing in California’s San Joaquin Valley and one of the most important labor actions in California during the twentieth century, the 1965 Delano Grape Strike.

Dawn Buholano Mabalon (Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California, 2013) and Matthew Garcia (From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement, 2014) move beyond a “great man” historical approach to California’s labor movements yet, because Mabalon concentrates on Stockton, California, (“Little Manila”) and Garcia focuses on Cesar Chavez, the complex conditions and events involving farm workers and labor organizing are neither fully developed nor explained.

Numerous collections in the Walter P. Reuther Library (RL) point to the multiethnic/multiracial and international dimensions of activities that led to the establishment of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), whose predominantly Filipina/x/o members voted to strike on September 8, 1965, and who were joined eight days later by members of the predominantly Mexican organization, the National Farm Workers (NFW). The two organizations merged to form the UFW in 1967. The RL also contains documents (see application below) that provide evidence of women from multiple ethnic/racial backgrounds, beyond Dolores Huerta, who were critical to organizing. Building power among diverse groups was challenging. The AWOC and NFW operated differently, and this sparked tensions among members, eventually resulting in the resignation of Larry Itliong from the UFW in 1971. A deep analysis of documents in the RL will help to explain how organizing can be messy and complicated and how wins and losses prior to 1965 and long after were critical to creating and sustaining solidarity across ethnicity, race, class, and gender.

Aaron Jesch
The Performance of Protest: The Industrial Workers of the World and Shifting Norms of Behavior, Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Class

The Industrial Workers of the World, an international labor union formed in Chicago in June of 1905,aimed to transform the structure of global capitalism. The IWW, or Wobblies as they were known, were unique in that they incorporated all wageworkers regardless of their race, gender, or immigration status. They became famous for their strikes, free-speech movements, and anti-war protests (as well as their songs, literature, and working-class art). These performances were famous for their cynicism and mockery of capitalism, politicians, law enforcement, and the justice system. This allowed members of traditionally disadvantaged groups to challenge the established norms of the day by performing outside of prescribed boundaries of race, gender, sexuality, and class. These performative acts also challenged traditional norms of bodily behavior (like clothing and tattoos) and resisted forms of conformativity during this period. To advance this research, I would like to explore the labor collections at Wayne State University and the Walter P. Reuther Library concerning the IWW and these intersections of performance. I would like to see a number of collections that explore the role of IWW performativity including the Ben Legere Papers; the Charles and Jennie Velsek Papers; the Charles Ashleigh Papers; the Covington Hall Papers; the E.W. Latchem Papers; the Floyd Hoke-Miller Papers; the John Panzner Papers; the Matilda Robbins Papers; the Nicolaas Steelink Papers; the People's Song Library Records; the Tatsuro Nomura Papers; the Industrial Workers of the World Records: Series VII: Songs, Poems, Cartoons, and Stickers; the Utah Philips Papers: Subseries A: Folk Music, 1940-2008, bulk: 1964-2008; and the Fredrick W. Thompson Papers: Subseries B: IWW in Art, Fiction, and Drama, 1978-1981.

Thomas R. MacMillan
Outside the House of Labor: The Cold War, Democracy, and Internationalism in North America’s Independent Labor Movement

My dissertation examines rank-and-file independent labour unions during the Cold War in the United States and Canada. An understudied segment of North American working class history, independent unions have long played a catalyzing role in the labour movement. During the first half of the twentieth century, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and numerous other militant independently organized working-class formations operated outside the reach of recognized labour bureaucracies. In the present day, independent unions appear poised once again to potentially play a major role in a resurgence of organized labour as demonstrated by the April 2022 win by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU). The ALU is an independent, worker-led union representing thousands at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York which won a stunning victory in an April 2022 NLRB-sponsored election and is poised to win others at nearby Amazon warehouses. While a plethora of studies have examined high profile independent unions and federations prior to World War II, little has been written on those workers and the unions who have chosen to operate independently during and after the Cold War. While known had the relative impact on the labour movement as the early IWW or CIO, independents did play a significant role for left unionists and the broader working class. As such, one of the major goals of my research is to provide historical analysis of past struggles for independence to workers like those in the ALU and elsewhere who are choosing not only whether to unionize but importantly, how to conceive of the form and function of their organization within the organized labour landscape.

Louise I. Milone
A Miasma of Metals: The History of Smog in a Pennsylvania Steel Town and the Making of Global Warming

Since building the first fire to get warm, humans have poured carbon into the air. Yet, few industries can compete with steel as a worldwide generator of air pollution. In 2020 alone, steel accounted for about nine percent of the carbon humans spewed into the air. My
dissertation examines the environmental, economic, and social consequences of steelmaking through its impact on the Monongahela Valley town of Donora in southwest Pennsylvania from 1900 to 2000. Built on what was a lush farming community by four Gilded Age oligarchs, Donora became notorious in 1948 for an air pollution disaster that killed more than twenty-two people and injured thousands more. However, it was polluted long before then. Though the mills are long gone, the area’s soil is still poisoned by arsenic, cadmium, and lead, all carcinogens, which were once in its air. All Donorans were aware of the smog the mills generated–it was obvious and everywhere. I’m interested in what US Steel and its workers thought about it, how they experienced it, and what they tried–or failed–to do about it. I am researching early twentieth-century lawsuits against US Steel trying to hold them accountable for damage to farms, what US Steel knew about the 1930 smog disaster in Belgium, what–if anything–it might have done to prevent such a disaster here, and the Steelworkers of America’s early environmental efforts. With this grant, I will be able to complete my dissertation chapter on union environmental activities and the chapter looking at the pivotal periods of the Great Depression and the New Deal. This dissertation will be the first to examine a labor and industrial history through the changes and impacts of the area’s air pollution.

Juan I. Mora
Latino Encounters: Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Puerto Ricans in the Making of the Midwest

Titled Latino Encounters: Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Puerto Ricans in the Making of the Midwest, my book examines three groups of Latinxs as they used postwar migration, temporary guest-worker programs, and agricultural labor to forge national and transnational networks throughout the Midwest. The core question guiding Latino Encounters is: how did agricultural workers in the Midwest redefine migrant power, justice, and rights throughout the course of the twentieth century? In this project, I argue that migrant workers coveted more power and autonomy over their lives, but this desire came into direct conflict with the objectives of state officials, Midwestern agribusiness, and even other Latinx migrants. This pursuit of migrant rights tells a larger story about the history of the twentieth-century. My book shows that Latinx migrants melded distinct claims to U.S. citizenship, ethnic identity, and labor rights through
conflicts over access to intermediary influence, shifting processes of racialization, and the politics of foodways. This project positions Michigan as vital to regional, national, and continental developments. In doing so, I trace the relationship of the Midwest to the Texas Mexico borderlands, to Mexico’s interior, and to the archipelago of Puerto Rico. While this is a story of the Midwest, it is a vast one that spans multiple borderlands. This project spans from the end of World War I to the beginning of the 1990s, with the heart of it focusing on the two major labor migration programs that the U.S. engaged in during the middle of the twentieth-century: Mexico’s Bracero Program and Puerto Rico’s Farm Labor Program. These are, respectively, the two largest contract labor programs in U.S. history.

Saku A.M. Pinta
T-Bone Slim and the Finnish-language membership of the Industrial Workers of the World, 1910-1942

In January 2022 a two-year international research project, funded by the Finland-based Kone Foundation, was launched to explore the transnational poetics and networks of the migrant left in North America through the unique character of T-Bone Slim. Born to Finnish immigrant parents in Ashtabula, Ohio, T-Bone Slim (the alias of Matti Valentininpoika Huhta, 1882-1942) was a labor activist, songwriter, poet, humorist, and columnist. He has been called the “greatest man of letters” of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union. Slim's life and work, which has inspired countless workers as well as figures in the American Civil Rights and surrealist movements, will be examined from a variety of scholarly and artistic approaches contributing to a documentary film, at least one full-length album of T-Bone Slim's songs, an online wiki and database, as well as a final symposium and peer-reviewed journal theme issue.

The proposed research to be carried out at the Walter P. Reuther Library by T-Bone Slim Project Researcher Saku Pinta is focused on the largely unexplored relationship between Slim and the Finnish-language membership of the IWW. This research will help to determine the circumstances that lead to T-Bone Slim joining the IWW and the role that radical immigrant communities played in this process. Pinta will apply a transnational perspective to an examination of the IWW and its various institutions as self-organized labor networks central to T-Bone Slim's life as a writer and itinerant worker in the agricultural, logging, and shipping industries. Special attention will be devoted to Duluth, Minnesota as the main centre of Finnish IWW support in the early twentieth century – and as an important location for T-Bone Slim's early radicalization and labor education at the Work People's College – as well as the New York marine transport workers' union local in which Slim was active.

Rachel B. Shteir
Magnificent Disruptor

For my biography of Betty Friedan, Magnificent Disrupter (forthcoming Yale University Press) I am interested in taking a closer look at the Dorothy Haener Collection. Dorothy, a union official, was one of the original founders of the National Organization for Women (1966) and she was also part of the International Women's Year in 1975. In both instances, she may have been a witness to moments that are generally told as potted history. For example, the founding of NOW, which began, in part, in Betty's hotel room, is basically told the same way over and over again: Betty threw a temper tantrum after one of the women there objected to the idea of a new external women's group. I.e. external to government. After that, Betty led a new organization. Haener was in the room. In fact Betty singled her out as sensible. But it would be interesting to learn what, if anything Haener thought of these incidents.

Haener was also at the 1968 NOW meeting where Betty alienated many members by making abortion part of the platform.

Haener also attended IWY, really the first international women's conference. One of the major primary sources is Betty's dramatic never published piece about Mexico City which claims that she was being tracked by the Mexican secret police. Some scholars have disputed this, however people I have interviewed support Betty's account. Dorothy Haener was there. I So I would like to know how she tells the story. IWY was important for many reasons not least of all that it was the first time Betty realized there was anti-Semitism in the women's movement. But it was also part of the beginning of globalization of the women's movement.

Maria Tarasova Chomard
“The Work Is Not Done for the Glory”: Russian-Jewish Anarchist Humanitarian Aid In North America, 1900–1950

The proposed research stems from my Ph.D. dissertation project which aims to provide critical insights into the history of North American Jewish left. The dissertation in progress focuses on the latter’s anarchist component, inaugurated in the early twentieth century by about a hundred radicalized immigrants from the Russian Empire. Despite its traditionally radical image, the anarchist labor movement consistently engaged in mutual aid for the profit of anarchist political prisoners and exiles worldwide, creating to this end a distinct, transcontinental network with three degrees of involvement. While the network’s core, situated on the U.S. East Coast (New York and
Chicago), consisted of independent anarchist groups, its second-tier components (Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal) derived from and worked in close proximity with the Jewish social and cultural organization Arbeter-ring (Workmen’s Circle, or W.C.). Finally, the latter’s anarchist branches, still fully included in the Jewish framework, constituted the third level of the mutual aid structure. While most third-level groups (e.g. St. Louis and Cleveland) were relatively passive and only sporadically participated in the core’s fundraising initiatives, the anarchist Freie Arbeiter Stimme group of Detroit, W.C. branch No. 181, presented an exception to this trend, being actively involved in relief organizing and even joining a tripartite Freie Plitim Fond network during World War II, alongside NYC and LA. Surprisingly absent from the existing scholarship, the Detroit group has occupied a unique position in the anarchist humanitarian network, successfully balancing its leading activist status with a strong Jewish linguistic and cultural identity. My research ambitions to use the Walter P. Reuther Library archives to establish the reasons and dynamics of this dual allegiance, examining the local group’s activity with regard to its two distinct frameworks and comparing it to other local cases across North America.

Meave M. Warnock Sheehan
Auto Worker Stories During the Iacocca Era of the 1980s

Using the oral histories from the University of Delaware Chrysler Plant Collection and, hopefully, the Reuther Library, I plan to put together a 15 minute audio piece using clips from these interviews, as well as my own commentary on the following auto industry topics:
manager-employee relations; employee quality of life and benefits; the influence of Japanese carmakers on the auto industry; the production of the K-car, which was a watershed moment of success for Chrysler; Lee Iacocca, who was the ”big boss” and the quintessential American salesman of the 20th century, and his influence on the average worker; the concept of lean manufacturing; the current state of the auto industry. In particular, The Auto Worker Oral Histories Collection would be useful to me as I put together my thesis. I’m also interested in any of the collections, such as the UAW collections, that cover the period of the 1980s, since I want to explore this period as a time of innovation and change in the industry. I’m also interested in the Black Workers collection.

I will make references to Lee Iacocca’s autobiography. In addition, I will use clips from an interview with an expert, either at the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) or the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA). Since this is a creative project, I will also have an accompanying essay, where I explain my choices and the process of making the audio piece.

Note: abstract excerpts have been provided by applicants