Western Massachusetts was an early and important center of both industrialization and the development of organized labor, and in recent years, it has experienced many of traumatic effects of de-industrialization and economic transformation. The Department of Special Collections and University Archives seeks to document the history of organized labor, the experience of work, and business and industry in New England.
At the heart of the SCUA holdings is a suite of collections documenting the organized labor movement in New England. The official records of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, a large and important collection, is joined by records for trades ranging from clothing and textile workers to carpenters, electrical workers, and granite cutters.
Of particular note is the John W. Bennett Labor History Collection, a large assemblage of labor-related realia and ephemera, including hundreds of badges, pins, watch fobs, lighters, and other artifacts distributed to union members at annual conventions and other union events. The collection is a unique resource for study of the iconography of organized labor and includes items from representative unions and locals ranging from the Knights of Labor in the 1870s to the present. While centered on New England, the Bennett Collection extends nationally.
View our brochure on documenting labor, work, and industry (pdf).
- Organized Labor
- From the records of the Massachusetts State AFL-CIO to the papers of union locals and labor leaders.
- See all Business and industry
- The industrial heritage of New England is represented in collections ranging from the records of the Clement Co., Lamson and Goodnow, and the Northampton Cutlery Company (manufacturers of cutlery), the American Writing Paper Company, the Rodney Hunt Co. (a manufacturer of textile machinery and waterwheels), and Smith and Wesson. The most recent collection is the papers of Sidney Topol, CEO of Scientific-Atlanta, a corporation at the forefront of the growth of cable television in the United States.
- Merchants and mercantile exchange
- Account books and other business records for a number of New England merchants dating back to the eighteenth century, ranging from small scale traders to keepers of rural general stores to shipping merchants trading in the Atlantic economy.
Cambridge Central Labor Union Minute book, 1926-1932.
Call no.: MS 482 bd
The Central Labor Union was active in the Boston and Cambridge area as early as the 1870s, and by the turn of the twentieth century, the Cambridge Central Labor Union was a thriving organization. Active in many of the significant labor campaigns of the day, including the struggle for an eight hour day, the regulation of child labor, and the fight for collective bargaining, the Cambridge Central Labor Union was said in the late 1930s to represent nearly 30,000 workers in the city.
The minutes of the Cambridge Central Labor Union document the day to day operations of a union representing a cross-section of trades in the city of Cambridge, its relations to other organized labor groups, and the impact of the Depression of 1929 on working people in Massachusetts.
- Cambridge (Mass.)--History--20th century
- Labor unions--Massachusetts--Cambridge
Types of material
- Minute books
Ebenezer Bailey Papers, 1852-1882.
Call no.: MS 448
Ebenezer Bailey was a wholesale shoe purchaser and distributor from Massachusetts. The collection comprises just over 100 items, the bulk of which are receipts for the purchase and sale of shoes and slippers, covering the period from 1852 to 1882.
- Business records--Massachusetts
- Dearborn, J. J
- Lynn (Mass.)--History
- Shoe industry--Massachusetts--Lynn
- Shoe industry--New England--History--19th century
- Bailey, Ebenezer
Types of material
- Receipts (Financial records)
Thomas Barton Papers, 1947-1977 (Bulk: 1960-1974).
Call no.: MS 539
In the early 1960s, Tom Barton (b. 1935) emerged as a leader in the Left-wing of the Young People’s Socialist League, the national youth affiliate of the Socialist Party. Deeply committed to the civil rights and antiwar struggles and to revolutionary organizing, Barton operated in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York and was a delegate and National Secretary at the 1964 convention in which tensions within YPSL led to its dissolution.
A small, but rich collection, the Barton Papers provide a glimpse into the career of a long-time Socialist and activist. From Barton’s entry into the Young People’s Socialist League in the latest 1950s through his work with the Wildcat group in the early 1970s, the collection contains outstanding content on the civil rights and antiwar movements and the strategies for radical organizing. The collection is particularly rich on two periods of Barton’s career — his time in the YPSL and Student Peace Union (1960-1964) and in the Wildcat group (1968-1971) — and particularly for the events surrounding the dissolution of YPSL in 1964, following a heated debate over whether to support Lyndon Johnson for president. The collection includes correspondence with other young radicals such as Martin Oppenheimer, Lyndon Henry, Juan McIver, and Joe Weiner.
- Antiwar movements
- Civil rights movements
- Socialist Party of the United States of America
- Socialists--United States
- Student Peace Union
- Students for a Democratic Society (U.S.)
- Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements
- Young People's Socialist League
- Barton, Thomas
- Gilbert, Carl
- Henry, Lyndon
- MacFadyen, Gavin
- McIver, Juan
- Oppenheimer, Martin
- Shatkin, Joan
- Shatkin, Norm
- Verret, Joe
- Weiner, Joe
J. William Belanger Papers, 1932-1986.
Call no.: MS 117
A leader in organized labor, William Belanger began as an organizer for the AFL’s United Textile Workers in 1932, eventually becoming the New England Regional Director and International Vice President of the TWUA and in 1958, the first President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
The Belanger Papers provide insight into the long career in labor activism, and include correspondence, writings, subject files, and printed materials. Of particular interest is a series of four oversized scrapbooks that cover Belanger’s career from 1934 through his final position as Director of the Massachusetts Department of Employment Security. These are especially enlightening on labor’s political activities, the CIO’s success in thwarting anti-labor referenda in 1948, and the efforts to expel Communists from the labor movement.
- Elections--Massachusetts--History--20th century
- Labor leaders--New England--Biography
- Labor unions--Massachusetts
- Massachusetts--Politics and government--1865-1950
- New England--Economic conditions--20th century
- Textile Workers Organizing Committee
- Textile Workers Union of America
- Textile industry--Massachusetts
- Textile workers--Labor unions--New England
- Belanger, J. William, 1907-1986
Types of material
Nathan Holden Daybook, 1852-1887.
Call no.: MS 349 bd
Farmer from New Salem, Massachusetts, whose secondary occupation was that of a shoe repairman. Daybook documents a component of small-scale, handwork shoe production in a local economy prior to the arrival of centralized, mechanized manufacturing; lists Holden’s shoemending skills and the method and form in which he was paid by customers, including cash, customers’ labor, and services or wares such as butchering pigs or cows, chopping or gathering wood, traveling by buggy to a different town, using a neighbor’s oxen, and a variety of food and tools.
- Barter--Massachusetts--New Salem--History--19th century
- Farmers--Massachusetts--New Salem--Economic conditions--19th century
- New Salem (Mass.)--History
- Shoemakers--Massachusetts--New Salem--Economic conditions--19th century
- Shoes--Repairing--Massachusetts--New Salem--History--19th century
- Wages-in-kind--Massachusetts--New Salem--History--19th century
- Holden, Nathan, b. 1812
Types of material
- Account books
IUERMW Local 206 Records, 1936-1986.
Call no.: MS 132
Union that represented workers at the American Bosch plant in Springfield, Massachusetts, affiliated with the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers after 1949.
Records include by-laws, minutes of the Executive Board, General Council, and Membership meetings, correspondence, membership reports, grievance and arbitration records, contract negotiation proposals and counter-proposals, strike materials, and publications documenting the administration, activities, and membership of Local 206. Effects of changing national economy and international trade on workers and union affairs, through time, are evident.
- American Bosch--History
- Collective bargaining--Machinery industry--Massachusetts --Springfield
- Industrial relations--Massachusetts--Springfield
- International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers. Local 206 (Springfield, Mass.)
- Labor unions--Massachusetts--Springfield
- Machinists--Labor unions--Massachusetts--Springfield
- Metal-working machinery industry--Massachusetts --Springfield
- Plant shutdowns--Massachusetts--Springfield
- Springfield (Mass.)--Economic conditions
- Springfield (Mass.)--Industries
- Strikes and lockouts--Machinery industry--Massachusetts --Springfield
- United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. Local 206 (Springfield, Mass.)
Types of material
- Letters (Correspondence)
MassEquality Records, ca.1993-2008.
Call no.: MS 674
In the late 1990s, MassEquality was formed as a coalition of advocacy groups that sought to build legislative support for same-sex marriage and gay rights in Massachusetts. Formally incorporated as a 501(c)4 advocacy organization in late 2001, the coalition hired its first employee, Campaign Coordinator Marty Rouse, in late 1993, and achieved a landmark success that November when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the state may not “deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.” On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to allow equal marital rights to same-sex couples. Since that time, MassEquality has continued to champion marriage equality nationally.
The MassEquality Records document the origins, operations, and activism of one of the leading organizations in New England advocating for marriage rights and civic equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation. The collection includes some material generated by the Freedom to Marry Coalition, a partner in the coalition, and a series of large banners and posters, some of which were displayed during the event celebrating the arrival of marriage equality in Massachusetts.
- Gay rights--New England
- Gays--Legal status, laws, etc.--New England
- Same-sex marriage--Law and legislation--New England
- Freed to Marry Coalition
Types of material
Stephen Siteman Papers, 1942-1998.
Call no.: MS 503
A member of the Post War World Council, an ardent pacifist, and anti-imperialist, Stephen Siteman was a long-time member of the Socialist Party of America, serving for seventeen years as secretary to the party’s leader Norman Thomas. In his late teens, Siteman was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during World War II. Although he was later pardoned, his time as a prisoner led him into active involvement in prison reform and the peace movement.
During his long involvement in the Socialist Party, Siteman collected a large quantity of material relating to important socialist issues, including Socialist Reform, the peace movement, conscientious objection, and prison reform. The collection also includes a small selection of Siteman’s personal correspondence with Frank Zeidler, former Socialist mayor of Milwaukee, and the novelist Mark Harris.
- Conscientious objectors
- Democratic Socialists of America
- Pacifists--United States
- Peace movements--United States
- Prison reformers
- Prisons--United States
- Socialists--United States
- Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968
- War Resisters League of America
- World War, 1939-1945
- Harris, Mark, 1922-2007
- Siteman, Stephen
- Zeidler, Frank P
Jose A. Soler Papers, 1972-2014.
Call no.: MS 864
A scholar of labor studies and activist, José Soler was born in New York City to a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father and has been an activist in the cause of Puerto Rican independence and human rights since the 1970s. While a student at the University of New Mexico (BA 1972), Soler emerged as a leader in the Chicano rights organization, the Brown Berets, and while living in Puerto Rico in the late 1970s, he joined the Puerto Rican Socialist Party. Soler has subsequently worked in the labor movement as a shop steward, union organizer with UAW District 65, and labor journalist. As a committed Marxist and prolific writer and editor, he has taken part in causes ranging from anti-imperialist work in the Caribbean and Central America to the anti-apartheid struggle, and he has served on the Executive Board of the US Peace Council. From 1993 until his retirement in 2015, Soler worked as Director of the Arnold M. Dubin Labor Education Center at UMass Dartmouth where he has continued to work on behalf of public education and human rights and national self-determination.
The Soler Papers chronicle over forty years of a life-long activist’s interests and participation in left-wing political, labor, and social justice movements. There is a particular focus on topics relating to socialism and the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico, anti-imperialist movements in South and Central America and Africa, and issues affecting Puerto Rican and Hispanic workers in the United States, New England, and the New York City area. Published and promotional materials such as periodicals, magazines, newsletters, and pamphlets make up the bulk of the collection, with extensive coverage of the concerns of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Puertorriqueño, PSP), the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), as well as New Jersey chapters of the unions Communications Workers of America (CWA) and District 65, which eventually joined the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).
- Communications Workers of America
- Labor unions--New York (State)--New York
- Partido Socialista Puertorriqueño
- United Automobile, Aircraft, and Vehicle Workers of America. District 65
Types of material