Congratulations to the Recipients of the 2023 Sam Fishman Award

The Walter P. Reuther Library is proud to announce the recipients of the 2023 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.

Shelley Calhoun-Scullion
Immigrant Noise and the Infrasonic Collage of Michigan

Shelley's research assembles a sonic and written reconstruction of automotive labor societies in Flint and Detroit Michigan from 1936 to 1989. Her project extrapolates James C. Scott's definition of infrapolitics as a form of infrasonic struggle waged by subordinate groups who function beyond the visual spectrum and expands the idea of an unseen continuum of successful strategies that created 20th century worker prosperity.

The infrasonic space of Michigan project uses the sound of collective protest songs, along with archival sources (including newsreels, documents, media clips, oral interviews and historic images) to theorise the fragmentation and invisibility of Michigan's unknown African-American workers and immigrant (German/Jewish) union activists. Their acts of solidarity are can be heard through this archival collaging of sound and images, creating an infra-visibility against worker exploitation, and is further analyzed through my dissertation, short film and collaborative sound works.

Mayra Garza
Tragedies in the UFW: Farmworker Deaths of 1974

Throughout the years, a lot has been written about the United Farm Workers (UFW).
However, the focus has not been on the migrant farm worker deaths that have tragically occurred in California. As we currently continue to experience more death all around us, there seems to be a silence that looms over the way we grieve or talk about death. Within this silence, some people can use their grief to disrupt injustices that have led to tragic deaths. We can trace this power that grief has throughout history. The UFW newspaper "El Malcriado" serves as a guide to explore how healing and collective grief was manifested within the union based on citizenship. Specifically, my focus will be on 1974, the year two tragic accidents happened in Southern California.

Interestingly there are no reported names of those involved in one of the accidents in "El
Malcriado." I plan to use UFW archive collections at Walter P. Reuther Library to find more
documented information about the tragically lost lives and dive deeper into how death impacted the union. My research will incorporate archival research to examine how the UFW documented and dealt with these tragic accidents while trying to fight for better labor rights. I will use a feminist lens to show how the private must once again become published to demand justice. The framework I want to use for my research would incorporate Gloria Anzaldua's theories. Using Anzaldua's concepts/writing can help explain how grieving people can transform their private pain into collective justice and healing. Looking at death and grief within labor history can be valuable as black and brown folks still face many deaths in our communities.

Margaret Lapinski
Staging the Labor Movement: The UAW Union Theatre and Social Activism in the 1940s

In 1946, the UAW established the UAW Union Theatre, which ran until 1949. The UAW
Union Theatre was attached to the UAW’s Department of Fair Practices and Anti-
Discrimination, established to help educate workers about social issues, such as racial
discrimination, and connect workers across locals and other unions. This project seeks to provide a history of the UAW Union Theatre, in addition to contextualizing its history, goals, and productions within the American labor movement and social activist theatre of the 1940s. By studying the UAW Union Theatre, I seek to illustrate the relationship between the labor movement, social activist theatre, and politics in the United States. Utilizing archival materials from the Walter P. Reuther Library, I will use the methods of theatre and performance studies to demonstrate how the Union Theatre organized across critical difference. Situating the UAW Union Theatre against the backdrop of social activist theatre and the American labor movement in the 1940s, I ask: how was the history and repertoire of the UAW Union Theatre impacted by antiracist organizing within the UAW? Further, how was antiracist organizing within the UAW and the federal government derailed by the turn towards Cold War politics, characterized by anticommunist sentiment, and the association between communism and antiracist organizing? Finally, by studying how Cold War politics affected antiracist organizing within the UAW, I aim to provide insights into how civil rights and anti-communist policy from the 1940s still impacts antiracist organizing in the American labor movement in present day.

Natalia Shevin
Fall of the Houses of Labor: Labor’s Housing Finance in Postwar United States

Beginning with the construction of cooperatives in the early twentieth century, organized labor believed in providing and ensuring a decent home for workers. In the postwar period, unions continued to build cooperatives, but also shifted toward housing corporations as a tool for both construction and investment. My dissertation looks at the projects created by organized labor between the 1950s and 1970s, including the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU)’s Amun Israeli Housing Corporation, its construction in Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Midwest, and elsewhere, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)’s Marina City in Chicago, the Amalgamated Bank’s mortgage investments, and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)’s Mortgage Investment Trust and Housing Investment Trust, in order to address the questions of labor’s shifting goals in the postwar period. My dissertation asks how these unions used housing to advance its mission, from housing its members in the first half of the twentieth century to investing in mortgages and construction to sustain member pensions by the century’s end.

This dissertation asks central questions of the twentieth century, including the strength and weakness of organized labor, the development and maintenance of quality housing, and the rise of financial instruments. By focusing on housing, this dissertation asks how organized labor–even amidst deindustrialization and decline in membership density–could be in possession of millions, sometimes trillions, of dollars in pension funds, and remain politically weak. This central question in the history of capitalism may be partially addressed in the buildings constructed in the urban and rural landscape both domestically and internationally by labor unions and federations.

Cornelia Weiss
The Influence of the Post-WWII Male-Majority Military Occupations on Imposing Gender Pay Gaps in Female-Majority Occupied Lands: Examining Internal US and Commonwealth Labor Contracts

I seek to determine whether, during the post-WWII military occupation years of 1945-1954,
labor contracts existed within the US and the Commonwealth paying women less than men for equal work. I have read and been told repeatedly that such contracts exist. But, to date, I have found the opposite -- explicit contractual language mandating equal pay. I am examining the influence of the (US) post-WWII military governments on the gender pay gap in the occupied female-majority lands. Finding, or not finding, such contracts in your archives will revolutionize my work.

In 1942, a US National Labor Relations Board Directive mandated: “Wage rates for women
shall be set in accordance with the principle of equal pay for comparable quantity and quality of work in comparable operations.”

The head lawyer for the US National Labor Relations Board then became the lead person
addressing wages in post-WWII Occupied Germany. Yet the British/US Occupiers adopted a Nazi wage law paying women 25% less than men for performing the exact same manual labor. The British/US Occupiers further prohibited labor unions from negotiating wages (to include women's wages). Remember, in general, if one failed to register to work (to be put to work by the Occupiers), no ration card (no food).

The UK/US military government of the Free Territory of Trieste (1947-1954) then imposed
minimum wage scales paying women around 10% less than men for equal non-managerial
work (with one exception: they paid female flight attendants more than male flight attendants). Imposing unequal wage scales continued even after the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provided, “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.” And in the year the ILO issued the Convention on Equal Remuneration (1951), the UK/US military government instituted pay discrimination against women in managerial ranks too.

Note: abstract excerpts have been provided by applicants