I am just returning from the Labor and Working Class History Association’s Annual Conference in New York City hosted at the CUNY School of Worker Education. It was an amazing opportunity to not only promote the collection, but gain insight on what labor history means today, what are the current academic debates, themes, and interests of historians and other researchers in the field.
And better yet see, listen and talk to activists and hear what their concerns are in the now. What issues are they facing now? What are they fighting for now? And as one session was cleverly titled, “Does history matter to workers when workers matter to history?”
There might not be Labor Studies and Labor History undergraduate or graduate programs in Arizona, however we know by the way scholars do research, archives are essential and saving that history, which in Arizona is a history not only about labor and workers, but civil rights, human rights, feminism, economic justice and more, is essential in understanding the past and preparing how to proceed in the future.
The turnout was huge. There were lots of people, and like I said, not just historians. There was also a plethora of sessions and impossible to go to every one despite wanting to. I was able to attend sessions that dealt with what I felt were related themes to our our collections and areas of potential research that could be done with our collections, such as:
Contingent Labor, Past and Future Struggles
Worker Education Programs
Strike History (given)
Worker Struggles Beyond Borders in the Americas
Farm Workers Movement
Working Class Identity (Through Newspapers)
One of the great things I kept hearing when at the sessions and receptions as people socialized and talked about their projects, was that laborers are documenting their history. As almost as a way necessary way to promote their cause, all these people were deeply informed and educated in order to promote their cause and in doing so documenting their all their achievements. (Now whether they are documenting their work in the way archivists do in collecting collections, organizing and preserving them is left to investigate, but nevertheless.)
The most notable case shared with everyone at the opening reception and for all to see through the conference space, was speaker Ed Murphy’s project, who with the NYS AFL-CIO and the Workforce Development Institute organized “Sandy Stories” an exhibit of photographs taken by workers during and after Hurricane Sandy.
As the last big hurrah before the CLIR grant ends in June, this conference was the perfect place to end. We have a lot of work to show and really hope everyone sees the importance of these collections to Arizona history, labor history and civil rights history for Mexican-Americans and Chicanos.