Hotel Workers Making History

Vivian Rothstein digs through a storage room at UNITE HERE Local 11.

Vivian Rothstein digs through a storage room at UNITE HERE Local 11.

Over the past year, our project team worked with the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 11 to gather up the union’s historical records and donate them to the UCLA Library’s Department of Special Collections. With a lot of hard work from community historian, and retired organizer, Vivian Rothstein and our intrepid staff member Danielle Wilson, we have finally reached the point that the bulk of the collection is in the hands of the Library!

The collection grew and grew as the year wore on. We began with the papers of Local 11, the home local of Maria Elena Durazo who began her career in the 1980s as a champion of rank-and-file immigrant union members against an unresponsive leadership. The local’s papers document a number of high profile campaigns like the decades-long fight for representation at the New Otani hotel, and the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride. Through recent reorganizations, Local 11 has merged with Local 814 from Santa Monica and Local 681 from Orange County. The result is a collection that touches on a huge swath of the hospitality industry in southern California. Most of the materials document the years after 1980, although we do have a number of historic photographs reaching back to the 1920s. In addition, the project team has collected dozens of oral history interviews, some short and some long, with key activists. These are being transcribed and will be added to the collection at a later date.

We hope the collection will be fully organized and available for research in early 2017. Along with the LAANE and Justice for Janitors collections, we have a great core for research on social movement unions, immigrant workers, the tourism industry, and the history of strategic campaigns.

Improving Wikipedia, one student-editor at a time

Students in History 191D listen to UCLA librarian Margarita Nafpaktitis explain editing rules for Wikipedia.

Students in History 191D listen to UCLA librarian Margarita Nafpaktitis explain editing rules for Wikipedia.

Students in History 191D (Winter 2016), The Immigration Debate in Historical Perspective, spent part of their quarter editing immigration-related articles on Wikipedia. The site is among the most-visited, and a frequent stop for students writing term papers even if professors disapprove. The Wikimedia Foundation has a long-running campaign to diversify the editor base of Wikipedia, and over the past few years I have incorporated Wikipedia editing into my labor history classes.

With the presidential election prominently featuring immigration issues, I shifted the focus. Some students wrote new articles on topics ranging from Central American refugees to the David Siqueros fresco America Tropical to Filipino labor leader Chris Mensalves. Others took on the task of correcting articles like those on the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, or supplementing articles with immigration-related content.

We got a lot of help along the way from UCLA librarian Margarita Nafpaktitis, and the WikiEdu Foundation, which now runs a super-helpful dashboard for educators.

Students in the Archive

During the winter quarter, my students are doing work in UCLA Special Collections. Here’s the course description:

Candace Hansen takes a "selfie" while researching in the Justice for Janitors collections.

Candace Hansen takes a “selfie” while researching in the Justice for Janitors collections.

“In the last decades of the 20th century, working people and their allies transformed the political culture of southern California. Once a stronghold of antiunion employers, and a crucible for the politics of resentment against immigrants and poor people, Los Angeles is now considered one of the most progressive and immigrant-friendly cities in the country. Driving this change forward was a network of service-sector unions, working-class community organizations, and activist researchers and artists. Sometimes separately and sometimes in dialog, they pioneered new forms of social movement unionism, political engagement, policy research, and political iconography. Students in this research seminar will explore the stories behind this rise of L.A. Labor using the recently donated records of the Justice for Janitors campaign, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and other archival collections at UCLA.”

Five Ideas for Digital Labor History

Over the last two decades, digital technologies have transformed practically every aspect of historians’ professional lives. When I entered graduate school in the 1990s, there were still professors who wrote articles out by hand, and then turned over stacks of legal pads to the departmental secretaries to key into computers. In the archives we took notes with paper and pencil and made as many photocopies as we could afford. Today, laptops have displaced the office staff, most archives allow personal digital cameras, and we leave the archives with hundreds of JPEG files instead of note cards.

You can read the rest of my article at LaborOnline, the website of the Labor and Working Class History Association and the journal Labor.

Building Skills Partnership Visits the Archives

DSC_0020Last week we welcomed about 25 off-duty janitors and their children to the UCLA Special Collections Department to look at the Justice for Janitors archive.

Union members got to look at newsletters, organizing flyers, photographs and letters of support from janitors around the country–all laid out in the hushed and rarefied atmosphere of the Special Collections Dept.   It was a fitting, if low-key, culmination of more than a year of collaboration between the United Service Workers West, the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, History Department, and the UCLA Library.  All the UCLA partners are committed to making the union’s records accessible to members and the community.

As participants in the Parent University of the Building Skills Partnership, the janitors were on campus to learn about the public higher education admissions process, and to generate enthusiasm for college with their children.  Surveys of union members by UCLA researchers revealed that over 70% expected their children to attend college.  The Parent University program was developed to help members with children in the Los Angeles Unified School District become more effective advocates for the children, and navigate the complexities of college admissions.

The collection is now open to the public for research at the Special Collections Department of the Charles E. Young Research Library on the UCLA campus.  The first place to start is with the very detailed finding aid, available online.  It provides a folder-by-folder description of the collection and is fully searchable.  If you want to see the collection in person, you need to put in a request at least a day in advance.  In the meantime, you can view more than 100 items from the collection online.  If you find something interesting, let us know!

Welcome to the Social Justice History Project

Welcome to the Los Angeles Social Justice History Project, a collaborative effort to document and preserve the history of labor and social justice organizing in Los Angeles.  The project is an initiative of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor & Employment (IRLE) working with the Center for Labor Research & Education, the Center for Oral History Research, and the History Department.

Our current focus is the history of the  Justice for Janitors campaign.  You can read more about the project in the L.A. Times  and the UCLA Daily Bruin.