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Documenting Labor Inside and Out
Who Uses Labor Records?

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Cover, Journal of American History, September 1996
Cover, Journal of American History 83 (September 1996).
The records of labor organizations have uses for a wide-range of researchers. Historians interested in studying the labor movement in a particular area or trade are only one group of potential users. Union records can also be used by historians studying other subjects, including the history of race relations, political parties and philosophies, social conditions of the working classes, immigration, and women's issues. For example, Gerald Zahavi, Associate Professor of History, University at Albany, State University of New York, used labor records in his article on "Passionate Commitments: Race, Sex, and Communism at Schenectady General Electric, 1932-1954" which appeared in the September 1996 issue of the Journal of American History.

65 Years of Pride, ca. 1988
65 Years of Pride, ca. 1988 (Records of UAW Local 930).

But the list of potential users does not stop with historians. Others interested in labor records can include genealogists tracing family history, teachers seeking materials to incorporate into classroom lessons, journalists needing historical background for news reports and feature articles, film makers seeking materials for documentaries, members of the general public interested in the history of a particular union or about the region or factory in which the union operated, and those looking to create exhibits, public relations materials, and other visually interesting displays.

Introduction, Year-Book, Albany Typographical Union No. 4, 1905
The Historical Souvenir and First Year-Book of Albany Typographical Union No. 4, Half Century Number, edited and compiled by Charles H. Whittemore (Albany, N.Y.: J. B. Lyon Co., Printers, 1905), n.p. (Records of the Albany Typographical Union No. 4).

Last, but certainly not least, the historical records of a labor organization can be extremely useful to the union itself, whether it be to document past policy decisions or to mark a significant anniversary or event in the union's history. To mark the closing of Ford Motor Company's Green Island Plant in 1988, 65 Years of Pride was printed and is part of UAW Local 930's archival records. It is a compilation of photographs, documents, and memories tracing the history of the plant, a keepsake for those who worked there to remember their co-workers and a significant part of their working lives.

Commemorative publications are created for more positive occasions as well. For example, the Albany Typographical Union No. 4 celebrated some of its significant anniversaries by issuing souvenir yearbooks, with historical summaries of the union, photographs of past officers, and other historical materials. However, contrary to the assertion of the editor in his introduction to the first of these yearbooks (issued in 1905) that "even official records will become lost, scattered and destroyed in advancing years," with proper storage and handling, and donation to an archival repository, the official records of any labor organization can be preserved for posterity.

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Digital Exhibit created by Cynthia K. Sauer, Consultant, and Brian Keough, Head, 2002
Copyright 2002 M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives
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