Labor Archives Collection Highlights: The Joseph Clancy papers

An archival collection does not have to consist of countless boxes to be rich in historical information. Sometimes the smallest collections are the most interesting! The Joseph Clancy papers is a perfect example of this, consisting of 1.96 cubic feet of material maintained by Clancy during his time as Secretary of Seattle Local 104 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, and Helpers of America. The materials span the years 1921-1972 and are records commonly kept by a union officer, including union constitutions and bylaws, correspondence, meeting minutes, reports, news clippings, publications, ephemera, and photographs.

When rehousing the collection in new acid free folders, a fascinating story began to emerge from the small assortment of materials, highlighting the tensions that can arise between international union and local union leadership. [1]  In 1946, International President of the boilermakers union, Charles J. MacGowan, demanded Local 104 turn over control of their records, newspaper, and funding to a governing board created by MacGowan. Unsurprisingly, the president was met with great resistance by Joseph Clancy and other members of Local 104 who did not like the idea of an external board controlling the activities of the local. Secretary Clancy and fellow officer Bill Miller refused MacGowan’s requests, resulting in the suspension of Clancy and Miller from the union


Telegram sent by President MacGowan suspending Clancy from the union on February 24, 1947. (Joseph Clancy papers, 2218-001)

MacGowan’s actions were initially upheld after the matter was taken to court by members of Local 104 in the late 1940s; however, the case was eventually brought to the Washington State Supreme Court in the early 1950s, ultimately reversing the decision. This enabled the local to take back control from the international and hold elections for local officers, resulting in the re-election of Clancy as secretary. He then served as Secretary of Local 104 until 1972, just a year before his passing. Local 104 was not the only regional chapter of the boilermakers union to experience interference from international leadership. Several news clippings talk about the efforts of Local 72 in Portland, Oregon, to maintain control of their own local activities.

The Joseph Clancy papers also highlight other issues relevant to union organizing during this time. For instance, one folder of public elections campaign and legislative initiatives material includes ephemera from the 1958 November election campaign urging voters to vote no to Right-to-Work Initiative 202 which would undermine the strength of union organizing in the state. The labor movement was able to effectively organize and counter this initiative, which is part of a long series of attempts to break the power of labor organizations by anti-union advocates.

1958 November election campaign ephemera. (Joseph Clancy papers, 2218-001)

To learn more about the Joseph Clancy papers, click here for the updated finding aid in Archives West. And of course, this collection, along with many others in the UW Libraries Special Collections, can be viewed in person during our open reading room hours! Come discover the “people’s history” at the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. Who knows what stories you might uncover?

[1] An International union is the parent labor organization of a union of workers in a particular trade or industry. Local unions are geographically distinct units of the parent organization, which sometimes represent groups of workers in different bargaining units within the same geographical area. “International” denotes that the umbrella organization represents workers in multiple countries—usually the United States and Canada in North America. Umbrella organizations that have a national scope are often called “American Association” or “National Association” or simply “Association” rather than containing the term “international” in their title.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s