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.
In the first of a two-episode series, artist Robbin Légère Henderson discusses her exhibition of original scratchboard drawings featured in the illustrated and annotated autobiography of Henderson’s grandmother, Matilda Rabinowitz Robbins, a Socialist, IWW organizer, feminist, writer, mother, and social worker. Henderson shares stories from Robbins’ autobiography, Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman: A Memoir from the Early Twentieth Century, explaining how the optimism of a 13-year-old immigrant from the Ukraine was soon undone by the realities of working in garment sweatshops on the East Coast, leading to Matilda Robbins’ brief but influential role as labor organizer for the International Workers of the World from 1912 to 1917.
Dr. Victoria Grieve shares the lives of five pioneering female journalists of the Federated Press, a labor news service operating from the 1930s through the 1950s. In addition to their work for the Federated Press, Julia Ruuttila, Jessie Lloyd O’Connor, Virginia Gardner, and Miriam Kolkin also participated in leftist social and political movements, forming an important network that linked labor journalism with labor feminism and other political issues. Although not central to her current project, Grieve also discusses another famed journalist for the Federated Press, Betty Friedan. Grieve is an associate professor of history at Utah State University.
While the 1920s are often described as “lean years” of progressive action, Andreas Meyris explains how the Brookwood Labor College in Katonah, New York served as a conduit for transnational radicalism in the 1920s while also training labor journalists and up-and-coming labor leaders like Walter Reuther and Rose Pesotta, setting the stage for the explosion of industrial unionism during the 1930s.
Meyris is a PhD candidate at the George Washington University, specializing in American labor and political history. He received a Sam Fishman Travel Grant in 2018 to examine the Brookwood Labor College Records at the Reuther Library in support of his dissertation, “Democracy is Sweeping Over the World:” Transnational Radicalism During the “Jazz Age.” Meyris explores in his dissertation American networks of radicalism and reform during the “roaring twenties,” a period generally thought to be lean for labor and progressive action. However, Brookwood created active movements for economic reform, by keeping in close contact with labor colleges abroad, hosting foreign labor leaders, teaching courses in comparative labor and political studies, and specifically inviting speakers who warned of the dangers of fascism in Germany and Italy.
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewer: Meghan Courtney
Interviewee: Kristin M. Szylvian
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
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.