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.
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.”
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
This is the first of a two-part interview with Dr. Jeremy Milloy about his forthcoming book, “Hooked On The Line: Addiction and the North American Workplace, 1965-95,” which explores the evolution of alcohol and drug addiction interventions in the workplace in the latter half of the 20th century. In this episode, Milloy explores the early days of addiction intervention in the workplace through programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and then delves into an experimental, grant-funded UAW program in the 1970s called CHIP – Curb Heroin in Plants. An employee-led initiative, CHIP sought to treat heroin dependence in autoworkers through a combination of counseling and methadone maintenance.
Dr. Milloy is a postdoctoral fellow at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. His work explores work, violence, addiction, and capitalism in Canada and the United States.
Kelly Goodman speaks about the political history of funding education through local and state taxes. Having worked as a data analyst for the Detroit public schools, Goodman pursued graduate school to explore the structural issues surrounding questions she often found herself asking: why are some schools perceived to be bad? Why do some schools receive less funding than others? How does the economy work, and for whom?
To answer those questions, Goodman’s research for her dissertation, “Taxing Limits: The Political Economy of American School Finance,” reorients political history around enduring tensions between the control of decisions and the allocation of money in federalism by exploring the 1930s and 1970s public budget crises in Michigan and California. Both states were notable for their powerful labor unions and business associations, and for their pioneering role in applying the fiscal concept of tax limitation to constrain, not cut, government. Her extended research at the Reuther Library has led her deep into the archives of the American Federation of Teachers and AFT tax guru Arthur Elder, as well as records documenting the UAW’s political actions on school finance and teacher organizing. Goodman is Ph.D. candidate in History at Yale University.
In the second of a two-part series, Dr. Kristin M. Szylvian explains how racial segregation and the fear of declining property values ultimately scuttled Operation Breakthrough, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Program early in the Nixon administration to use union-made manufactured housing to create racially- and economically-integrated housing communities throughout the country. She argues that Walter Reuther and programs like Operation Breakthrough, despite its collapse, have shown that non-profit and cooperative housing can be used to create home security in disadvantaged communities, especially in the lingering wake of the home finance crisis of 2007.
In the first of a two-part series, Dr. Kristin Szylvian explains the role of the American labor movement, and UAW president Walter Reuther in particular, in lobbying for and shaping fair housing programs and legislation in Detroit and nationally after the Second World War. That influence paved the way for an unlikely alliance in the 1960s between Reuther and George Romney, the former Republican governor of Michigan, when they joined together in the late 1960s to launch Operation Breakthrough, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program to use union-made manufactured housing to alleviate the housing crisis in minority communities while also creating job opportunities and encouraging racial and income integration in the larger community.
Jessica Levy explains how American corporations and black entrepreneurs worked together to forge a new politics linking American business with black liberation at home and abroad, focusing particularly on Leon Howard Sullivan, a civil rights leader and board member of General Motors who used his position to influence American corporate anti-apartheid actions.
Levy is a PhD Candidate at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Meghan Courtney, Reuther Library archivist, discusses Nelson Mandela’s 1990 visit to the U.S. as well as his long-term relationship with the American Labor Movement during his time in prison and after his release.
Mandela’s 12 day, 8 city fundraising tour in June 1990 took place just months after his release from 27 years in a South African prison and included visits to the AFL-CIO, AFSCME’s convention, UAW Local 600 and Tiger Stadium. Courtney explores Mandela’s philosophical alignment with the labor movement, labor’s support for anti-apartheid efforts in the U.S., and archival collections at the Reuther Library where researchers might find evidence of Mandela’s friendships and partnerships. Continue reading American Labor’s Anti-Apartheid Movement and Nelson Mandela’s 1990 U.S. Tour→