Category Archives: Labor History

Midnight in Vehicle City: Modern Lessons From the Flint Sit-Down Strike



Edward McClelland recounts the gripping details of the Flint sit-down strike, and considers what we can learn today from the strikers’ successful fight for shared prosperity in 1936-1937. McClelland is a journalist, historian, and author of Midnight in Vehicle City: General Motors, Flint, and the Strike That Built the Middle Class.

Related Collections:
Flint Labor Records
Genora and Sol Dollinger Papers
Henry Kraus Papers
Hy Fish Papers
Joe Walton Papers
Roy Reuther Oral History
Victor G. Reuther Papers
Wyndham Mortimer Papers

Related Resources:
Midnight in Vehicle City: General Motors, Flint, and the Strike That Built the Middle Class

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Edward McClelland
Music: Bart Bealmear


Blaming Teachers: How America Simultaneously Professionalized and Patronized Education



Dr. Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz explains how the push to professionalize and standardize educators beginning in the mid-1800s, without granting them decision-making power, has made them the public face of foundering school policies developed and implemented by local school administrators and state and national policymakers. Widespread policy narratives that schools and teachers acting as mother figures can solve communities’ problems have inherently placed the public’s blame on teachers when those problems don’t disappear, as seen most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. D’Amico Pawlewicz is an assistant professor in the Educational Foundations and Research Program at the University of North Dakota, where she focuses on the history of education and social policy. She received the 2021 Society of Professors of Education Outstanding Book Award for her recent publication, Blaming Teachers: Professionalization Policies and the Failure of Reform in American History.

Related Collections:
Albert Shanker Papers
AFT Educational Issues Department Records
AFT Inventory Part I Records
AFT Inventory Part II Records
AFT Office of the President Records
American Federation of Teachers Publications

Related Resources:
Blaming Teachers: Professionalization Policies and the Failure of Reform in American History

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz
Music: Bart Bealmear


From Bargaining Table to Diplomatic Table: Leonard Woodcock in China (Part 2)



After Leonard Woodcock stepped down as president of the UAW in 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter sent him to Beijing as a diplomatic envoy and ultimately as the nation’s first ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. In the second of a two-part interview, his wife Sharon Woodcock talks about Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the United States; Leonard Woodcock’s work after leaving the State Department, including his work on the Board of Governors of Wayne State University; and his support of the Reuther Library. UAW archivist Gavin Strassel discusses Leonard Woodcock’s archival collections at the Reuther Library and the unique, first-hand view they provide into the formation of modern China and U.S / China relations.

Related Collections:
Leonard Woodcock Papers
Sharon Woodcock Oral History
UAW President’s Office: Leonard Woodcock Records
UAW Vice President’s Office: Leonard Woodcock Records

Related Resources:
Collection Spotlight: Leonard Woodcock Papers

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Gavin Strassel
Interviewee: Sharon Woodcock
Music: Bart Bealmear


From Bargaining Table to Diplomatic Table: Leonard Woodcock in China (Part 1)



After Leonard Woodcock stepped down as president of the UAW in 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter sent him to Beijing as a diplomatic envoy and ultimately as the nation’s first ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. In the first of a two-part interview, his wife Sharon Woodcock talks about Leonard’s labor ideals and shares tales about their time in the ambassador’s residence, including his unusually close relationship with Deng Xiaoping, the leader and architect of modern China.

Related Collections:
Leonard Woodcock Papers
Sharon Woodcock Oral History
UAW President’s Office: Leonard Woodcock Records
UAW Vice President’s Office: Leonard Woodcock Records

Related Resources:
Collection Spotlight: Leonard Woodcock Papers

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Gavin Strassel
Interviewee: Sharon Woodcock
Music: Bart Bealmear


Cover Art, Sheet Music, "The Rebel Girl"

Jane Street and the Rebel Maids of Denver



Historian Jane Little Botkin explains how Jane Street, a single mother, firebrand, and little-known IWW organizer, orchestrated a 1916 housemaids’ rebellion in Denver. To fight for better pay and working conditions in the elite Capitol Hill neighborhood, Street worked with—and later, despite—the IWW to blacklist and shame the area’s worst domestic employers, thereby disrupting the comfort and reputations of some of Denver’s most influential and powerful families.

Author of The Girl Who Dared to Defy: Jane Street and the Rebel Maids of Denver and Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family, Botkin has received two Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America, the Caroline Bancroft History Prize from the Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy Department, and the Best Historical Nonfiction Award from the Texas Association of Authors.

Related Collections:
Industrial Workers of the World Records

Related Resources:
Botkin, J.L. (2021). The Girl Who Dared to Defy: Jane Street and the Rebel Maids of Denver. University of Oklahoma Press.

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Jane Little Botkin
Music: Bart Bealmear


Bootlegged Aliens: How Undocumented Immigrants from Canada in the 1920s Shaped American Immigration Policy



Dr. Ashley Johnson Bavery explains how undocumented European immigrants coming over the Canadian border to work in the Detroit auto industry in the 1920s and 1930s spurred nativist discourse, influenced government policies toward illegal immigration, and shaped how business and labor unions used and positioned migrant labor. Dr. Bavery is Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Michigan University and author of Bootlegged Aliens: Immigration Politics on America’s Northern Border.

Related Collections:
AFL-CIO Metropolitan Detroit Records
Joe Brown Papers
Civil Rights Congress of Michigan Records
Richard Frankensteen Papers
International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit Records
Henry Kraus Papers
James Lindahl Papers
Maurice Sugar Papers
United Community Services Central Files

Related Resources:
Bavery, A.J. (2020). Bootlegged Aliens: Immigration Politics on America’s Northern Border. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Ashley Johnson Bavery
Music: Bart Bealmear


The Long Deep Grudge: How the Haymarket “Riot” of 1886 Evolved into a Bitter Battle Between the Farm Equipment Workers Union and International Harvester in the Mid-Twentieth Century



Labor historian Dr. Toni Gilpin explores how the McCormick family’s greed and union-busting in the late 19th century set the stage for a bitter battle between the International Harvester corporation and the radical Farm Equipment Workers union in the 1930s and 1940s. Although the union was absorbed by the United Auto Workers in 1955, Gilpin describes how the militancy bred into generations of International Harvester workers influenced UAW tactics into the 1970s.

Dr. Gilpin’s book, The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland, received a Taft Labor History Award honorable mention award in 2020.

Related Collections:
UAW archival collections

Related Resources:
Gilpin, T. (2020). The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland. Haymarket Books.

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewer: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Toni Gilpin
Music: Bart Bealmear


SEIU: A Successful Union in an Era of Labor Decline



Dr. Timothy Minchin explores how the SEIU nearly doubled its membership from 1980-1995, during a time of significantly declining numbers in most other American labor unions. Through an exploration of SEIU’s membership drives at nursing homes, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and its long-running Justice for Janitors campaign, Minchin credits the union’s growth to a combination of organizing, affiliation with independent unions, legislative advances for public employee unions, and the prevalence of low-wage jobs in the growing service sector. Dr. Minchin is a Professor of History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

Related Collections:
SEIU Executive Office: John Sweeney Records
SEIU Publications
SEIU Organizing Department Records

Related Resources:
Timothy Minchin – “A successful union in an era of decline: interrogating the growth of the Service Employees International Union, 1980-1995,” Labor History

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Interviewers: Dan Golodner, Sarah Lebovitz
Interviewee: Timothy J. Minchin
Music: Bart Bealmear


Portrait of Cesar Chavez taken at his 8th grade graduation, 1942. This was his final year of formal schooling before he went to work in the fields full time.

Reading the Room: How César Chávez’s Early Life Prepared Him to Lead



Dr. Clay Walker explains how César Chávez’s lifeworld discourse – the language, culture, and experiences that shaped who he was and how he encountered and navigated the world – uniquely prepared him to lead the United Farm Workers and effectively communicate his message to a diverse audience. Dr. Walker is a senior lecturer in English and literacy studies at Wayne State University.

Related Collections:
UFW Office of the President: Cesar Chavez Records
Sydney D. Smith Papers

Related Resources:
Clay Walker – “Lifeworld Discourse, Translingualism, and Agency in a Discourse Genealogy of César Chávez’s Literacies”

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Clay Walker
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace


This Union Cause: The Queer History of the United Automobile Workers



Wayne State history PhD candidate James McQuaid discusses his research on the gradual cognizance and acceptance of queer autoworkers in the twentieth century, leading toward the UAW’s rapid embrace of LGBTQ-friendly policies and initiatives in the 1990s. He shares compelling stories of several queer auto workers, including: Billie Hill discovering a lesbian enclave in a Highland Park plant in the 1940s; Gary Kapanowski winning a 1973 union election despite being aggressively outed by a rival the day before; Joni Christian, a transgender woman whose union leadership at the GM Lordstown saved her job after returning to work following sexual reassignment surgery in the 1970s; and Ron Woods and Martha Grevatt, who in speaking out about the harassment they faced successfully led the UAW and Chrysler to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. McQuaid received the 2020 Wayne State History Department’s Joe L. Norris Endowed Award for his essay, “The First Ladies of Labor: How Women Challenged Restrictive Gender Conventions and Established Lesbian Identities on the UAW Shop Floor During World War II.” His dissertation is tentatively titled “This Union Cause: The Queer History of the United Automobile Workers.”

Related Resources:
The Kapanowski Challenge: How Rank and File UAW Members Rallied Around Gay Activists to Fight Runaway Shops in 1972 Detroit

Related Collections:
Ed Liska Papers
Olga Madar Papers
UAW Region 1B Records

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: James McQuaid
Sound: Troy Eller English
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace