Labor Resources: Oral Histories

In an example of some of the labor history resources starting to come online,  Archive.org has been posting oral histories of bay area labor activists that were done during the 1970’s by Lucille Kendall of the California State Historical Society.  Nearly all of these recordings were done with women involved in the labor movement here in the bay area.  A few listed below were not done by Kendall, but represent the current list of labor related oral histories online.  Kendall was active in the SF local Hotel union.

Kendall’s style of questioning is embarrassing for men, when it comes to the personal details and women in labor.  For example,  Lucille goes into excruciating details of Sonia Baltrun’s private life, to the point of taking her to tears on many occasions.  Yet these details also speak about what it meant to be a leftist during much of the 20th century and in Sonia’s case, her involvement in the garment industry on the east coast and the east bay.  Many of these stories, like Sonia’s are about workers once considered “trash” by Samuel Gompers, an example of why so much labor organizing was done outside of the confines of the AFofL.

The recordings bring out the simple, but good nature of these organizers that were radicalized during an era when attacks against unions were at a peak across the country as barely scratched upon by the Lafollette Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee Investigating Violations of Free Speech and the Rights of Labor between 1936-1941 that exposed the massive scale of industrial spying taking place by corporations on unions.  For example, the Pinkertons alone had over 1,228 operatives working within literally every union in the country, with thousands of more spies being hired by other companies as well.

These oral histories, are better than a good book.  With a bit of work a copies could be put on a thumb drive and listened to while sitting in one of those horrible traffic snafus…

Rene Battaglini oral history

Rene’s 7 hour conversation (6 parts) covers the labor movement between 1930-40 focusing on organizing the city’s Hotels.

Phyllis Foley oral history

Phyllis was secretary-treasurer of local 283 and 2 of the Hotel & Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union in San Francisco during the 1970s.  – 6 parts – 3 hours

Mildred Edmondson oral history

Women in bay area war industry and the trade movement between 1935-45 – 10 parts – 4 hours

Louise Todd Lambert oral history

These document Lambert’s early years as an official for the Communist Party in California, including her participation in major labor actions and strikes of the 1930s; her involvement in local and statewide elections as a Communist Party candidate and campaign manager; her arrest and imprisonment in the Tehachapi correctional institute for women (1935-1938); her experiences “underground” as a member of the national Communist Party’s reserve leadership (1950-1955); and, finally, her resignation from the Party in 1958. The final portion of the interview is devoted to Lambert’s memories of fellow activist Anita Whitney.   1934-1955   – 39 parts – 18 hours

Sonia Baltrun Kaross oral history

These recordings documents Kaross’ activities as a Communist activist and United Textile Workers (UTW) organizer and representative in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and California, from the 1910s to the 1970s. Sonia was originally born in Lithuania but moved shortly after birth to upstate New York, moving to Oakland in the 1930’s.  8 Parts – 14 hours

Clemmie Shuck Barry oral history

Barry’s activities as an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) in the 1930s, her involvement in the Communist Party in San Francisco in the late 1930s and 1940s, and her efforts to integrate housing in Marin County, Calif., in the 1950s. 10 parts – 14 hours

Violet Orr oral history

Interviews with Violet Orr, including a brief interview with Violet’s husband Paul Orr. The interviews document Violet Orr’s childhood and marriage; her trip with Paul Orr to the Soviet Union in the 1920s; her activities as a Communist Party organizer in the 1930s and ’40s in California, including her involvement in the San Francisco laundry workers’ union and work for the radical newspaper, the People’s World; and the Orrs’ experiences during the post-war Red Scare. 24 parts – 12 hours

Caroline Decker Gladstein oral history

Caroline Decker Gladstein documenting her experiences as a Communist Party activist and labor organizer in the 1920s and 1930s across the United States. Topics include: the 1931 Harlan County, Kentucky, coal miners’ strike; Communist organizing campaigns in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and California; the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union; and farm workers’ strikes in California. 14 Parts 7 hours

Helene Powell oral history

African American labor activist Helene Powell covering her involvement with the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), Local 6, in San Francisco as a steward and member of the Legislative Committee and Executive Board. The interview also covers Powell’s appointment as the ILWU’s International Representative to Los Angeles in 1943. 17 Parts – 9 hours

Elaine Black Yoneda oral history

The interview documents Yoneda’s activism with the International Labor Defense, International Longshoremen’s Association’s Defense Committee, Communist party, and various other labor and civil rights movements in California. 25 Parts 24 hours

Louis Goldblatt oral history

labor organizer Louis Goldblatt documenting his involvement in the labor movement of the 1930s and 1940s in San Francisco, Calif., and throughout the Pacific Coast, as well as the history of the San Francisco hotel strikes of 1937 and 1941-1942  1 Part 1.2 hours

Upton Sinclair oral history

Recording of Joe Toyoshima’s 1966 interview with Upton Sinclair in his Monrovia home documenting Sinclair’s literary and political career, mostly in Southern California. Notable topics include: Sinclair’s role in the Liberty Hill strike in San Pedro and the formation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California; the End Poverty in California (EPIC) plan and Sinclair’s 1934 campaign for governor; the cooperative movement in California; the motion picture industry and Sinclair’s relationships with studios, filmmakers, and actors, including Sergei Eisenstein and Charlie Chaplin; and the Los Angeles newspaper and literary worlds. 3 parts 2 hours 15 minutes


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