Category Archives: Labor History

A U.S. Woman Industrial Relations Pioneer and “Mother of Arbitration”: The Life and Times of Jean T. McKelvey

Source: Dr. Victor G. Devinatz, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 70 Issue No. 1, Spring 2019
(subscription required)

Due to the explosive growth in union membership in the United States from 1935 to 1945, industrial relations as a field of academic study emerged in the late 1940s with universities, such as Cornell University, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin and University of Illinois, establishing industrial relations institutes and centers which provided both academic degrees and extension programs in the discipline. The union membership spurt from 1935 to 1945 was due to various factors. These elements included the passage of the pro-labor 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the December 1935 organization of the Committee for Industrial Organization, later renamed the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1938, combined with the growth and stabilization of the industrial unions during World War II. These things set the stage for the inauguration of the academic study of U.S. industrial relations. Virtually all interest and labor arbitrators, some of whom became professors in these industrial relations institutes and centers, were men who had been active as third-party neutrals during the golden age of U.S. labor circa 1945 to 1980. These individuals obtained their initial training and experience while serving in government organizations, such as the National War Labor Board (WLB) and other government-related agencies, during the Second World War. While a number of these male industrial relations pioneers, such as Benjamin Aaron, Ted Kheel and Charles Killingsworth, for example, are well known as industrial relations academics and arbitrators, less is known about Jean Trepp McKelvey, a woman industrial relations pioneer and arbitrator who was a contemporary of Aaron, Kheel and Killingsworth.

Thus, the purpose of this article is to critically analyze the background and career of McKelvey as an industrial relations academic and arbitrator who has been referred to as the “mother of arbitration.” I will argue in this article that McKelvey’s pioneering and innovative work in developing and utilizing fieldwork methodologies in teaching economics and industrial relations classes at Sarah Lawrence College and then in her early years as a Cornell University faculty member is consistent with her use of fieldwork in her early scholarship as well as becoming active in arbitration and third party dispute resolution. Engaging in such activities as a mediator, fact finder and arbitrator can be viewed as constituting “fieldwork experiences for professors” and informed her teaching as an industrial relations professor. McKelvey believed that industrial relations professors should be active in teaching, research and extension work and decried Cornell University’s downgrading of extension work for industrial relations professors by the early 1990s. One of McKelvey’s major research projects, which involved the use of fieldwork, was the practice of union-management cooperation within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in the 1920s, the subject matter of her undergraduate honors thesis as well as her doctoral dissertation. Nevertheless, throughout her life, McKelvey remained skeptical that the utilization of union-management cooperation, when it became popular once more in the 1980s, could be used as a successful strategy to revitalize unions and help them grow while leading unions to have more collective bargaining power…..

Rare Recordings of Civil Rights Activists Available Now

Source: Elizabeth Riordan, University of Iowa Libraries, News, February 12, 2019

Exciting news from University Archivist, David McCartney, about the incredible recordings found in the Eric Morton Civil Rights Papers.

In 1963 and 1964, attorney Bob Zellner recorded a series of interviews with civil rights activists in Mississippi and Alabama. Zellner conducted the interviews on behalf of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in an effort to document the activists’ experiences, which were often under challenging and violent circumstances.

The interviewees participated in the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964, later to be known as Freedom Summer, a drive to register African Americans in the Magnolia State to vote. For decades, attempts by blacks to register at county court houses across the state were met with intimidation, harassment, and even violence. Freedom Summer was an organized response to this situation, with activists from across the U.S. participating, including over 800 college and university students. Among them were about a dozen students from the University of Iowa.

Why the Seattle General Strike of 1919 should inspire a new generation of labor activists

Source: Steven C. Beda, The Conversation, February 6, 2019

It shut down a major U.S. city, inspired a rock opera, led to decades of labor unrest and provoked fears Russian Bolsheviks were trying to overthrow American capitalism. It was the Seattle General Strike of 1919, which began on Feb. 6 and lasted just five days.

By many measures, the strike was a failure. It didn’t achieve the higher wages that the 35,000 shipyard workers who first walked off their jobs sought – even after 25,000 other union members joined the strike in solidarity. Altogether, striking workers represented about half of the workforce and almost a fifth of Seattle’s 315,000 residents.

Usually, as a historian of the American labor movement, I have the unfortunate job of telling difficult stories about the decline of unions. However, in my view, the story of this particular strike is surprisingly hopeful for the future of labor.

And I believe it holds lessons for today’s labor activists – whether they’re striking teachers in West Virginia or Arizona, mental health workers in California or Google activists in offices across the world….

How Black Activists Shaped the Labor Movement

Source: Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue, No Class, February 7, 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his final full day on earth advocating for the rights of workers in what’s now known as his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. It was April 3, 1968, and King stood up at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, and spoke in support of the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers, who were then on strike fighting for better safety standards, union recognition, and a decent wage — a work stoppage that was inspired partly by the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who had been crushed to death by a garbage truck.

“We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end,” he told the assemblage. “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”,,,

Seattle General Strike: Labor’s Most Spectacular Revolt

Source: Cal Winslow, Labor Notes, February 6, 2019

On February 6, 1919, Seattle’s workers struck—all of them. In doing so they took control of the city.

The strike was in support of 35,000 shipyard workers, then in conflict with the city’s shipyard owners and the federal government’s U.S. Shipping Board, which was still enforcing wartime wage agreements.

The strike rendered the authorities virtually powerless. There was indeed no power that could challenge the workers. There were soldiers in the city, and many more at nearby Camp Lewis, not to mention thousands of newly enlisted, armed deputies—but to unleash these on a peaceful city? The regular police were reduced to onlookers; the generals hesitated.

Seattle’s Central Labor Council, representing 110 unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), called the strike. The CLC’s Union Record reported 65,000 union members on strike—a general strike, the first and only of its kind in the U.S. Perhaps as many as 100,000 people participated…..

Everything You Need to Know About General Strikes

Source: Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue, No Class, January 24, 2019

The word strike seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Workers across the world have been striking to protest poor working conditions, to speak out against sexual harassment, and to jumpstart stalled union negotiations. And as we just saw with the Los Angeles teachers’ successful large-scale strike, which spanned six school days, strikers have been winning. Despite the shot of energy that organized strikes have injected into the labor movement, many people aren’t content with run-of-the-mill work stoppages, or even with more militant wildcat strikes…..

….. So what does it all mean? How is a general strike different from a planned, industry-specific work stoppage; why are people interested in the idea now; and what would one look like in 2019? …..

An American Approach to Social Democracy: The Forgotten Promise of the Fair Labor Standards Act

Source: Kate Andrias, Yale Law Journal, Vol. 128 no. 3, January 2019

There is a growing consensus among scholars and public policy experts that fundamental labor law reform is necessary in order to reduce the nation’s growing wealth gap. According to conventional wisdom, however, a social democratic approach to labor relations is uniquely un-American—in deep conflict with our traditions and our governing legal regime. This Article calls into question that conventional account. It details a largely forgotten moment in American history: when the early Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) established industry committees of unions, business associations, and the public to set wages on an industry-by-industry basis. Alongside the National Labor Relations Act, the system successfully raised wages for hundreds of thousands of Americans, while helping facilitate unionization and a more egalitarian form of administration. And it succeeded within the basic framework of contemporary constitutional doctrine and statutory law.

By telling the story of FLSA’s industry committees, this Article shows that collective labor law and individual employment law were not, and need not be, understood as discrete regimes—one a labor-driven vision of collective rights and the other built around individual rights subject to litigation and waiver. It also demonstrates that, for longer than is typically recognized, the nation experimented with a form of administration that linked the substantive ends of empowering particular social and economic groups to procedural means that solicited and enabled those same groups’ participation in governance (to the exclusion of other groups). Ultimately, recovering this history provides inspiration for imagining alternatives to the current approach to worker participation in the American political economy and to administrative governance more broadly.

Labor History Booklist

Source: Rosemary Feurer, Labor History Links, 2019

This page is organized with an emphasis on the most recent work in the field, as well as the most important work of scholars from the past. some sections are more developed than others.

Categories include:
Chronological
• Colonial thru Early Nineteenth Century
• Slavery
• Late 19th through early 20th
• Working Class Formation/Working Class Community Studies 1850-1950
• Twentieth Century Approaches and overviews
• Labor and Radicalism late 19th early 20th
• IWW early 20th
• World War I
• Interwar Years/1930s
• World War II
• Cold War & Labor-Anticommunism/Red Scare
• Postwar-present
• Capital Disinvestment in recent years

Topical
• Books that are highly readable
• Books for Children
• Overviews and Surveys of Labor History
• Documents Collections
• Essay Collections
• Biographies and Oral Histories
• U.S. Labor History in Global/Transnational Perspective
• Interpretations of Class in the USA
• Managerial Strategies /Bourgeois Class Formation
• Professionals and Class Issues
• Working Class Cultures/Cultures of the Workplace
• Exceptionalism (why no Labor Party/Socialism)
• Labor and the State/Labor and the Law
• Unemployment/Hours/Leisure
• African-American Labor History/Race and Labor
• Latinos/Latinas in US Labor History
• Labor Rights & Civil Rights
• Immigration Ethnicity and Labor History
• Women/Gender/Labor and Feminism
• War and the Working Class/War and Labor
• Labor and the Environment
• Specific trades/industries
• Geographical treatments
• Unions and Corruption

Martin Luther King Jr., union man

Source: Peter Cole, The Conversation, January 18, 2019

If Martin Luther King Jr. still lived, he’d probably tell people to join unions.

King understood racial equality was inextricably linked to economics. He asked, “What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?”

Those disadvantages have persisted. Today, for instance, the wealth of the average white family is more than 20 times that of a black one.

King’s solution was unionism…..

Related:
Economic justice was always part of MLK Jr.’s message
Source: Peter Kelley, Futurity, January 20, 2019

Labor rights and economic justice were always part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s progressive message, historian Michael Honey reminds us in a new book.

The book, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice, (W.W. Norton, 2018) came out April 3—the day before the 50-year anniversary of King’s assassination. ….

When King Was Dangerous
Source: Alex Gourevitch, Jacobin, January 21, 2019

Martin Luther King Jr is remembered as a person of conscience who only carefully broke unjust laws. But his militant challenges to state authority place him in a much different tradition: radical labor activism.