A Guide to the Greater New Haven Labor History Association Collection, undated, 1860-2008

Greater New Haven Labor History Association Collection

Summary Information

Title
Greater New Haven Labor History Association Collection
Inclusive Dates
undated, 1860-2008
Extent
75 Linear Feet
Extent
Records of labor unions and labor activists in the greater New Haven, Connecticut, area. Also includes the records of the association.
Call Number
2016.0142
Language
English
Repository
University of Connecticut Library 405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205 Storrs, Connecticut 06269-1205 archives@uconn.edu URL:

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Controlled Access Headings

Subject(s)

  • Labor unions
  • Labor union members

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Biographical / Historical

The Greater New Haven Labor History Association was founded in 1988 by Frank Annunziato and Nicholas Aiello. Mr. Aiello was a long time business agent and organizer for the Amalagamated Clothing Workers of America, who grew up in the Fair Haven section of New Haven in an Italian American family of 14. All of his sisters were garment workers at one time or another. He graduated from Hillhouse High School in 1943, earning his degree while employed after school as a bundle boy at Maurice Ucittel as member of Local 125 Shirt and Clothing Workers Union, and, after serving in the U.S. Navy, became a spreader and cutter at the Elm City Shirt Company from 1946 to 1954. He was an active member of the Labor History Association from its founding through the rest of his life, serving as its president for many years. He died in 2015 at the age of 91.

Dr. Annunziato is also a New Haven native, a Fairfield University graduate who taught at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Connecticut, the City University of New York (CUNY) and the University of Rhode Island. He was instrumental in helping to build the New Haven Federation of Teachers Local 933 and was the first president of the Labor History Association. He went on to become the CUNY faculty and professional union representative and retire from a 16-year position as the Director of the University of Rhode Island chapter of the Ameican Association of University Professors.

Annunziato’s address at the Labor History Association’s 2016 annual conference and meeting told the story of the early years of the organization.

The Early Years of the Labor History Association (1988-1998) From the Address by Frank Annunziato, co-founder and first president, at the Labor History Association Annual Conference and Meeting, Sunday, June 5, 2016:

“This town (New Haven) has picked up the reputation lately of having more strikes than any other city of its size. Very likely it deserves it; in any event the labor problem is in everyone’s mouth.” NY Times, May 2, 1886.

I found this quote when researching a paper for graduate school in 1978. I decided to follow it up and I learned there were 21 strikes here in 1886 in a city then with a population of 80,000. The leading industry in New Haven in those days was the carriage industry, with shops all over the city. In the spring of 1886, the workers in the carriage industry conducted a general strike, shutting down stores all over the city. The strike lasted from March 17 until June 17. During 1886, women also struck at Strouse-Adler, as did blacksmiths in many shops, cigar makers, laborers, coal drivers, etc. Workers struck for higher wages, lower hours of work, against the hiring of non-union workers, reinstating fired workers, and in the cigar industry, supporting a progressive union over a company union. Which label would the cigars carry?

The Need to Document and Preserve New Haven’s Labor History:

It was clear that a great deal of New Haven history had been forgotten. During the 1980s, I talked with Frank Carrano and Nick Aiello. Frank was president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers and the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council. Nick was of course the long serving general manager of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, Local 125. By that time, the amalgamated had all but disappeared. There may have been a few tailors left in men’s stores, and perhaps the Yale Coop was still unionized.

Nick persuaded Alice Bethea, the manager of Local 151 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to get involved with us. There was one ILGWU shop left in New Haven, Lee Beachware, on James and State.

From the beginning, we, the founders of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association, wanted to build and maintain a strong relationship with the Central Labor Council. Soon, we attracted important academic and labor scholars, David Montgomery and Jeremy Brecher. David brought along several of his graduate students. I remember Debbie Elkin and Steve Lassonde. There were others, whose names I have forgotten. (Debbie Elkin from the audience reminded me of Kathy Oberdeck.)

Jeremy Brecher was the author of the very popular and important book, Strike, from which we learned the importance of “history from below.” Jeremy helped us to win a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council to prepare a travelling exhibit of the Garment Workers Industry in New Haven.

We also received a great deal of support from the postal workers’ unions and their presidents, John Dirzius from New Haven and Fred Kaltenstein from Danbury. Bill Cahn and his wife Rhoda were early supporters of the Labor History Association, as well.

The Garment Workers Reunion:

Our first project was to preserve what was left of the history of the garment workers in New Haven. To that end, we decided to hold a garment workers’ reunion. Both ACWA and ILGWU cooperated. The reunion was held at Bella Vista, where many retired garment workers lived. On that day, we collected oral histories on tape and videotape. Most of the oral histories were women, but there were some men, as well. I remember sitting down with Sal Barbara, who was a cutter in the shirt shops. (Later in retirement, Sal was hired by the shirt shops to help them program their computers.)

From all the oral histories, we put together a script for our garment workers’ exhibit and hired a designer to plan out the exhibit. I wrote an article about our work that was published in Labor History, the journal of the George Meany Labor Center. The famous picture of Nick’s sister Natalie as a pocket presser appeared on the front cover.

The Augusta Lewis Troup Award:

We rediscovered the work of Augusta Lewis Troup. As you all know, she was a pioneer woman in the printing industry. She and her husband Alexander operated a union newspaper in town. Alexander was a state representative for New Haven, and helped the legislature pass many important pro-labor laws, including the establishment of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We created the Pass It On Award, also known as the Troup Award, given annually to those individuals who had devoted their lives to labor and labor history. Our first recipients were Jenny Alfano from the Amalgamated and Amelia Spose from the ILGWU. You can grasp the politics of those choices. Jenny was Nick’s older sister and a key organizer of the battle to organize the shirt shops in 1933. I remember her singing to us, “We’ll hang Harry Lesnow from a sour apple tree.” Harry Lesnow was one of the brothers who owned Lesnow’s Shirts, the largest shirt factory at that time. Soon after Lesnow was organized, the company moved to Northampton, Massachusetts and the Amalgamated went after them up there.

The Labor Almanac:

Since we knew about the 1899 Illustrated history of the trades’ council, and then discovered the 1939 Labor Digest, published by the then Central Labor Council, AFL, we decided to replicate and update those two efforts.

In 1995 we published the Labor Almanac, which was a massive effort. I was the editor, Bill Carey was the Managing Editor because he was from the printing industry, and as usual Nick Aiello helped to raise the funds.

We dedicated the Labor Almanac to Vincent Sirabella, the long serving president of the Central Labor Council and the Business Manager of Local 35, the Yale service and maintenance union. John Wilhelm, later the President of UNITE-HERE, wrote an essay on Vinny’s life.

Professor David Montgomery wrote a brilliant essay that analyzed the totality of New Haven labor history, “One Hundred Sixty Years of Labor’s Struggles for a Better New Haven.” I urge you all to read it. David concluded his piece with the following:

“Even though a ruthless pursuit of private profit has pushed the city into economic decline, only the sense of community that the labor movement has cultivated in New Haven’s work places and neighborhoods can provide the hope and vision for a better future.” We sent the Labor Almanac to public libraries in the greater New Haven area and to schools, colleges and universities. Our hope was that future history would not forget or ignore what working people accomplished in the second half of the twentieth century.

The Labor History Association 1999-2016:

(written by Joan Cavanagh, Project Archivist, then Archivist/ Director, 2001-2016)

Between 1996 and 1999, the Association went into a brief hiatus, but was revitalized by a new board in the late ‘90s, spearheaded by Debbie Elkin, who became its president. Led by Dr. Elkin, the Board organized two award winning labor history bus tours of the city of New Haven, stopping at selected sites such as Sargent and Company, Winchester Repeating Arms and Yale University, with commentary at each by union leaders and by David Montgomery, professor emeritus at Yale University. The second tour, held in 2001 as part of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, won a Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO) Award of Merit.

LHA also held other special events, including Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28, 2001) at the Whitney Grove Cemetery in Hamden, and continued holding annual meetings to present the Augusta Lewis Troup Award, hear presentations by key note speakers, provide a social event for members and friends and conduct elections of officers and other business.

The organization also began producing a newsletter for its members, called Labor Legacy, up until about 2002/3. In 2005, another newsletter was begun, simply with the Greater New Haven Labor History Association logo as its title, which published three to four times a year until 2016.

In the fall of 2001, funding was obtained from a private, New Haven based foundation to hire a project archivist for a short term (six month) project of inventorying the records of union locals in the greater New Haven area to help them identify their records of long term historical significance and suggest strategies to preserve them and make them available in the future.

The project and the duties of the archivist gradually expanded into the position of Archivist/ Director, whose salary was paid over the years by the renewal of the original grant, member donations, other small grants and, from 2009 until 2011, by a federal earmark administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The combined work of the Archivist/ Director, the expertise of two paid contractors and a short-term Outreach Coordinator, and the efforts of the Executive Board and a host of member volunteers made the years 2002 to 2015 active and productive for the organization, with the following highlights:

2004 Publication of retired New Haven Register reporter, Neil Hogan’s book, Moments in New Haven’s Labor History, with special events/ book signings in several venues.

2004-2005 Research and production of the River Street Walking Tour, joined by about 100 people, which highlighted the many industries and workers’ struggles in that one area of New Haven, with readings and commentary at each site, followed by a gathering and discussion at the Fair Haven Woodworks, led by the late Professor David Montgomery. 2004-2006 Research and production of the exhibit about New Haven’s garment workers’ unions long deferred since the 1990s, “New Haven’s Garment Workers: An Elm City Story” which opened at the Ethnic Heritage Center in spring 2007 and then traveled to 23 more venues in Connecticut, as well as one in Massachusetts and one in New Jersey until 2012.

2006-2008 Acquisition and detailed inventory of the records of the International Association of Machinists Local 609, the “Victory Lodge” at the Olin-Winchester Plant, which closed in March of 2006. 2007-2008 Board members Mary Johnson and Bill Berndtson worked with the committee involved in the renovation of the Troup Middle School to produce a New Haven labor history mural which now graces the foyer of the school; intern William Geddish, Board member Bill Berndtson and Archivist/ Director Joan Cavanagh produced a booklet, “Augusta Lewis Troup: Worker, Activist, Advocate” based on the work begun by the late William Cahn but cut short by his death in 1977. LHA joined in the re-opening ceremonies with an address by its then-treasurer and soon to be president, Bill Berndtson.

2009-2011 With funds from the federal earmark, an Outreach Coordinator, Christine Saari, was hired and, as part of her efforts to increase the visibility of the organization and local labor and working class history, began a pilot project in two New Haven Schools where students interviewed significant others about their work experiences, wrote essays and helped to produce a performance piece for International Workers Day on the Green, 2010. In the fall of 2011, after Ms. Saari left the position, the work was taken up by Paula Panzarella who traveled to 15 classrooms with Labor History Association Board members Lula White and Dorothy Johnson to model how students could conduct oral history interviews with mentors in the work force about their experiences.

2009 The Labor History Association hosted the CT AFL CIO Executive Board meeting at the Troup School in December, with a special assembly and presentation by John Olsen, then-president of the CT AFL-CIO, and a tour of the new mural led by Bill Berndtson.

2008-2016 Creation, production and dissemination of the “Our Community at Winchester: An Elm City Story” exhibit, which traveled to ten venues in greater New Haven and beyond and continued to circulate into 2017, when it opened at Fairfield University. The exhibit was written and curated by Joan Cavanagh, designed by Jeanne Criscola and placed on line by volunteer David Cirella. It includes excerpts from some of the 15 oral histories with retired Winchester workers conducted from 2006 until 2012, primarily by Dorothy Johnson and Lula White, videotaped by volunteer Jim Hoffecker with assistance from Bill Berndtson. 2010-2015 LHA Vice President Steve Kass, a retired teacher, and LHA members spearheaded the effort to get legislation passed in Connecticut that would encourage the teaching of labor history as part of the state’s public school curriculum. The legislation finally passed in 2015 and was signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy in July of that year. Kass, who became the organization president in 2016, and labor historian Troy Rondinone, its Recording Secretary, are working with a committee to produce a curriculum to be made available to teachers. In 2015, it became clear that the private foundation which had provided core funds for the salary of the Archivist/ Director could no longer afford to do so. The decision was made to downsize and to focus as an organization on labor history education. LHA would no longer serve as an archival repository and its current archival holdings, including its own historical records, were turned over to Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut, Storrs, under the umbrella of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association Collection.

One group of records, however, those of the International Association of Machinists Local 609, were turned over in the spring of 2016 to the Southern Labor Archives at Georgia State University, the official repository of Machinists’ Union local and international archives.

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Collection Inventory

Series I: Records of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Local 125/International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 151 1901-1990   12 Linear Feet

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Series II: Records of the Typographical Union of New Haven (ITU No. 47) undated, 1860-1992   18 Linear feet

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Series III: Records of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Local 1939 undated, 1967-2002 

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Series IV: Records of the New Haven Council for Unemployed Workers 1983-1986 

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Series V: David Montgomery Papers 1977-2005 

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Series VI: Joseph M. Rourke Memorabilia undated, 1935-1997 

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Series VII: Nicholas Aiello Memorabilia undated, 1954-1956 

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Series VIII: Records of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Local 299 (Dorothy Johnson Records) 

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Series IX: Records of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association 1988-2016 

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Series X: Records of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 153 

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Series XI: Papers of Frank Panzarella as President and Chief Steward of IAMAW Local Lodge 1990 1988-1992 

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Series XII: United Way Papers of Irm Wessel 1997-2000 

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Series XIII: Records of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, Local 933 1947-2008 

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