Congratulations to the Recipients of the 2024 Sam Fishman Travel Grant!

The Walter P. Reuther Library is proud to announce the recipients of the 2024 Sam Fishman Travel Grant.

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 discuss their research on Tales From the Reuther Library and/or another WSU outlet. Watch for updates about recipient visits later in the year.

Constantin J. Berlin
Embracing the Black Struggle: The Socialist Workers Party and its Support for Black Power
Goethe University Frankfurt

The radical movements for socialism and Black liberation in the United States are typically viewed as exclusive struggles. This project proposes reassessing the relationship between these movements, which has received limited consideration in the literature. Specifically, the study aims to construct an intellectual history of the Trotskyist left in relation to the emerging Black nationalist movement in the 1960s and what role it played in the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) political trajectory and organizing. My dissertation intends to chart the SWP's assessment of Black liberation throughout the first half of the 20th century and its position vis-á-vis the Black nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, positioning the party as an early supporter of the Black Power movement and connector between the labor and Black Power movements, specifically through its organizing efforts in Detroit

John M. Branch
Shelter from the Storm: The Rise and Rise of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector, 1969-2000
Northwestern University

From the middle of the twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first, the nonprofit sector’s prominence in the United States’ economy grew continuously. Nonprofit activity’s proportion of national GDP tripled from 1950 to 2000, while the percentage of workers employed at nonprofits grew nearly tenfold over a similar period. My dissertation is a social and intellectual history of this structural change in the American economy. It braids a story about a set of philanthropists, policymakers, executives, and academic theorists who sought to build institutions to support a cohesive “third sector” together with a story about how workers experienced the unique challenges of on-the-ground realities of labor at nonprofit organizations in a time of tumultuous change. A visit to the Reuther Library will allow me to complete crucial research related to one of the core themes of my dissertation: organized labor at nonprofit organizations. One chapter focuses on the development of an oft-forgotten National Labor Relations Board policy legally exempting nonprofit employers from union recognition and successful movements culminating in its reversal in the 1970s. Another focuses on labor and management at nonprofits during the 1980s and 1990s.

Bobby Cervantes
Las Colonias: An American History
Harvard University

My current book project, Las Colonias: An American History, is a century-long narrative of the rural, primarily unincorporated communities (las colonias) in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. While California, Arizona, and New Mexico also have colonias, Texas has cultivated the most and largest since the 1940s, totaling more than 2,800. Nearly one million Mexican Americans, a working poor and intergenerational society, live in subsistence-built communities that lack basic services on plots purchased via exploitative contracts. Still, their communities represent a degree of societal sovereignty and property ownership that has eluded generations of poor Americans, especially those belonging to racialized and immigrant populations. This research is the first comprehensive history of las colonias’ origins and development, surveying their varied politics, cultures, and economies across the immense Texas-Mexico borderlands. My research intervenes in enduring studies of Latin American migrants’ lives and labor in the United States, notably their hemispheric networks and domestic communities. Attention to the interrelationship between their rural and urban societies—rather than the prevailing and mutually exclusive urban-or-rural analysis—reveals the hybridity of Latino workers’ contemporary transnational landscapes. With more capacious assessments of built environments in modern America, this approach opens fresh avenues for studying inequality, borders, and migration today.

Yoav Fromer
The “Other” Israel Lobby: The United Auto Workers and Israel, 1948-1988
Tel Aviv University

At a time when the American Left is growing alienated from Israel, this research project highlights the profound – albeit mostly forgotten – contribution of the American labor movement, especially the UAW, to forging the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. This transnational study weaves together the history of U.S.-Israel relations with that of organized labor and neoliberalism in America to demonstrate how they mutually reinforced each other. The project makes two central arguments. First, that the dogged political and public advocacy by organized labor on behalf of Israel and Histadrut proved instrumental to consolidating U.S.-Israel relations. It helped cement Israel as a core left-liberal cause and shaped popular opinion by instilling millions of American workers with favorable images – real and imagined – of Israel. Second, that Labor’s embrace of Israel was not merely rooted in Cold War exigencies but served domestic purposes that offered union leaders an inspirational model for social-democracy abroad at a time of anti-labor backlash at home. The research spans the Cold War and reviews how the UAW under Reuther helped consolidate organized labor’s support for Israel during the Eisenhower years; its role in co-founding the Afro-Asian Institute in Tel-Aviv in the 1960s; the staunch lobbying to arm Israel after the 1967 and 1973 wars; and the shift to an impartial stance toward Israel/Palestine in the 1980s, when for organizational, domestic-political and international reasons, the UAW adopted a more disillusioned and critical position on Israel.

Sean Raming
Mostly Valleys: Organized Labor in Modern U.S. Defense Production
Notre Dame University

In President Biden’s October 19th, 2023, address he conjured the image of “Patriotic American workers,” building the arsenal of democracy anew, like "Patriot missiles for air defense batteries, made in Arizona.” This address came on the heels of hot labor summer, yet nobody thought about IAMAW Local 933 that has organized those Tucson workers who make patriot missiles since 1952. The Cold War simultaneously saw a permanent wartime economy and labor's steady decline in the United States. Roughly 700,000 Americans worked at this juncture, for unionized defense companies, the vast majority of them in aerospace. This dissertation offers a history of these workers. Scholars have documented the contradictions of national security policy and the labor movement's perennial struggle, but the two were codependent. As a way to avert the worst of deindustrialization or a bulwark against anti-unionism, association with the military offered aerospace workers a lifeline. But this relationship ultimately bound them to the sporadic and undemocratic processes of defense contracts. Earlier generations of the labor movement would have never imagined their rank-and-file descendants so beholden to aerospace weapons manufacturing. That tradition was obscured, but never lost. Aerospace workers were uniquely positioned to bolster and challenge the country’s militarism. This dissertation honors those who toiled for the nation’s post-war air supremacy, and it sheds vital light on the social, economic, cultural, and political impacts of aeronautics. In the 1970s when the UAW campaigned for a "Civilian NASA," they were banking on their capital as aerospace workers.

Kyle Stanton
Civil Rights and Workers Rights: an exhibition of Hapeville’s Atlanta Assembly Plant
Hapeville Depot Museum

The exhibition will delve into not just the fundamental history of the Atlanta Assembly Plant but also the oft unmentioned topics and events such as: discrimination, workers’ rights, environmental issues, union organizing, globalization and de-industrialization. The history of the plant has some incredible working-class African American heroes as well including Leon Bradford and Clarence Williams. Bradford made a pivotal, impassioned speech on the factory floor regarding discrimination. Williams was a leader of the Better Community Builders, a watchdog group for discrimination in the plant, and the first African American Vice President of the Local 882 Union. The Hapeville Depot was integral to the operations of the Atlanta Assembly Plant, but some in the community misunderstand the importance of the plant as a site of civil rights struggle and integration as well as the circumstances which led to the Ford moving production out of the area. At its height, this plant stood as one of North America's most productive plants, characterized not only by its unparalleled output but also by its diversity. Our exhibit aims to tell the uniquely heartbreaking yet uplifting story of this plant. The museum will showcase the resilience of its workers and the power of social change.. in an immersive public history exhibition, ensuring that the lessons of the past continue to inspire and inform our present and future generations.

Gregory Wood
Anti-Union Workers and the UAW in Detroit after the Flint Sit-Down Strikes
Frostburg State University

Historians view the UAW’s 1937 organizing victories as some of the labor movement's greatest successes during the twentieth century. The sit-down strike campaigns paved the way for organizing workers throughout the American automobile industry. As a result of the union's gains, autoworker clout on the job increased, furthering democracy at work; and unionized workers’ standards of living began to climb toward those of the middle class. The militancy of workers during the sit-down era, historians argue, brought the labor movement into the social and economic mainstream of American life, and pushed US politics away from the conservative orthodoxies of laissez-faire and small government. However, less well-known is how the sit-downs stoked a conservative backlash: many observers recoiled from the disruptive actions of “outside” unions and supposed crimes against private property. During the Great Depression – a period that is frequently remembered for progressive changes in public policy and labor relations (albeit limited and uneven) -- the labor upheavals of 1937 generated new traction for conservative takes on labor and the economy. Much of the public, many employers, and even many workers in Michigan ultimately condemned the sit-downs. My proposed research is to examine anti-union workers’ politics in Detroit during the aftermath of the Flint sit-downs.