“Putting History to Work: The Labor Archives of Washington as a Model for Forging Stronger Connections between Labor and the Academy”

Recently published article by Labor Archivist Conor Casey from the Labor and Working Class History Association’s journal, Labor: “Putting History to Work: The Labor Archives of Washington as a Model for Forging Stronger Connections between Labor and the Academy”

Putting History to Work:

The Labor Archives of Washington as a Model for Forging Stronger Connections between Labor and the Academy

In 2008, labor history in the Pacific Northwest was facing a crisis. Collections were being thrown away or were decaying in basements, attics, sheds, and boiler rooms. Records creators needed a place to save their treasures from age, mildew, and insects. Even collections that were retained and stored in good conditions were inaccessible to scholars, remaining unstudied. Reduced in staff due to the recession, the University of Washington’s Special Collections library division was unable to accept new collections or process existing ones. Two thousand cubic feet of labor-related holdings existed in various states of preservation and description; many collections lacked online finding aids, and those with them often lacked detailed inventories. No online topical listing of labor collections existed, so remote or inexperienced researchers had to either visit in person or rely on remote reference queries to understand UW’s labor holdings. The labor community had no place to donate their records even if those materials survived moves, mergers, or leadership changes. Researchers had very limited ability to understand the significance, scope, or intellectual contents of collections.

That year, a group affiliated with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) approached the chair of the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the UW (James Gregory) about this crisis. Together, they formulated a bold solution: found a labor archives. The Bridges Center group approached UW’s libraries about partnering to found the Labor Archives of Washington (LAW). The resulting fundraising campaign was a surprising success. The ILWU’s Longshore Division provided critical and sustained funding; the Washington State Labor Council provided the go-ahead, fundraising help, and a convention resolution of support. Dozens of other unions and organizations and hundreds of individuals have donated close to $700,000 since 2008. [End Page 9]

In 2010, the organizers had sufficient funds to hire a labor archivist. In that position, I have focused on curating collections, managing the processing of new and legacy collections, and increasing online access via enhanced description and digitization projects. All labor collections now have online finding aids, all legacy finding aids have been scanned and attached to online versions, and these are in the process of being improved so that they will be keyword-searchable and indexed by search engines. An online listing points researchers to labor collections, and a digital portal allows them to see highlights and, in some cases, entire digital collections. I have curated exhibits and created events highlighting LAW collections and taught workshops on the importance and methods of preserving labor records to the labor community. I also teach orientations for students and faculty of local colleges and universities on how to conduct research in our collections, and I promote the archives at conferences of professional and stakeholder organizations.

In 2015, the Washington State Labor Council lobbied for state funding for LAW. Surprisingly, we got funding, which covers the salary of the labor archivist, a part-time student curatorial assistant, and processing supplies. State funding enabled hiring a full-time assistant archivist to work directly with the labor community, helping with a regional labor-records survey and day-to-day archival processing operations.

The creation of LAW proved to be an organizing tool for closer connections between the academy and the labor and social justice communities. As such, it offers a model for similar projects to preserve labor history and bring together various stakeholder communities. As James N. Gregory detailed in his Labor article,

Nothing has done more to build the scholar-union relationship than the Bridges Center’s decision . . . to create a labor archives at the University of Washington. . . . [The] Organizing Committee, which includes most prominent union leaders in Washington State, has strengthened ties and trust while it raises money. Our experience in building [LAW] affirms the old axiom that the best way to organize people is to ask them to work on a project. Every state deserves a labor archives, and the project of building one is a great way to advance campus-labor-community partnerships.1

The Labor Archives began as a temporary three-year project but now seems well positioned to operate at increased capacity in the future. The lessons of the past six years present a repeatable organizing model that may help labor scholars and the labor movement to collaborate on projects that advance their agendas and to find areas of overlap and collaboration.


LAW will play a role at LAWCHA’s Seattle conference at the UW in June of 2017. Please join us at our annual event, “Past Forward: The Legacy of the ILWU and Progressive Unionism on the West Coast” on the evening of Saturday, June 24, 2017. [End Page 10]

Conor M. CaseyCONOR CASEY is the founding labor archivist of the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. From 2001 to 2008, Casey worked at the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University, becoming archivist and visual collections curator. A member of the Academy of Certified Archivists, Casey holds a master’s degree in US History from San Francisco State University and a master’s of library and information science from San José State University. He is co-chair of the Society of American Archivists’ Labor Archives Roundtable and a trustee of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association. Casey first became interested in labor history through researching his grandfather’s experience as a striking longshoreman during the 1934 Pacific Coast Maritime Strike.


Gregory, James N. 2014. “Advancing the Ivory-Collar/Blue-Collar Partnership.” Labor 11, no. 3: 13–14. [End Page 11]


1. Gregory, “Advancing,” 14.



Latest Episode of Labor Archives of Washington’s TV Segment Airs on UW360, Now Streaming Online

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In Fall 2016, the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, launched a 10-episode segment on UW360, a University of Washington television program.  These stories, which highlight LAW’s collections and researchers, air on KOMO, UWTV, and are available on various online media channels thereafter.  Each segment in designed to highlight the collections and activities of the Labor Archives and of the UW Libraries Special Collections, as well as the students, researchers, and communities we serve.

List of Episodes
Labor Archives of Washington Overview

The UW library system is ranked in the top ten of all public research universities in the country with more than five million users every year. So when it comes to researching life in our region, there’s no better place to learn than a UW library.

This story takes us to one small area of UW Special Collections that’s dedicated to the rich history of the labor movement in the Pacific Northwest and is devoted to preserving the records of working people.

Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, Cannery Workers Scholarship [Segment Starts at 00:13:00]
The Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union has been a powerful voice for working people since 1933. And the fight for fair employment hasn’t always been peaceful. UW alumnus Silme Domingo found himself, along with fellow labor organizer Gene Viernes, at the center of a tragic event that shook Seattle in 1981. Now a scholarship from the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies is carrying forward their legacy and turning a tragic loss into a potential future for a UW Student.

The Everett Massacre Centennial [Segment Starts at 00:13:37]
Washington state has a rich history of progressive activism – and that history has just hit a significant milestone. Relive the one hundredth anniversary of the Everett Massacre and learn how that tragic event helped shape the labor history of Washington.

Future Episodes:
Pablo O’Higgins and the Ship Scalers’ Mural in Kane Hall
The SeaTac Seattle Minimum Wage History Project

For a full list of Labor Archives of Washington press coverage, publicity, and events, please click here.

Save the Date: “Past Forward: The Legacy of Left Coast Militant Unionism and Lessons For Today’s Struggles” Reception and Labor Archives of Washington Annual Event

Labor Archives Event 2017 poster draft (002)


“Past Forward: The Legacy of Left Coast Militant Unionism and Lessons For Today’s Struggles”

Reception and Labor Archives of Washington Annual Event

Free Event

5:30-7:30 PM, June 24, 2017

Mary Gates Hall, University of Washington Seattle Campus

An evening devoted to the dramatic and powerful labor history of the West Coast waterfront, the importance of preserving that history, and the inspiration it can provide us in our present political moment. This three-part program features segments with labor archivists, ILWU activists, and political scientists putting the history and present into perspective.

Part 1: Labor Archives History Panel

“Under the Hook, in the Hall, on the March, and upon the Shelves: ILWU-Related Collections at Pacific Coast Labor Archives”


  •          Robin Walker, Librarian and Archivist,    ILWU Library and Archives
  •          Catherine Powell, Director, Labor Archives and Research Center, SFSU
  •          Conor Casey, Labor Archivist/Director, Labor Archives of Washington, UW

In this panel, labor archivists will talk about the ILWU’s rich and often colorful history preserved in archives in California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.

Featuring the directors of three labor archives — the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University, the Labor Archives of Washington at the University of Washington, Seattle; and the Anne Rand Library at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in San Francisco — this panel will discuss the ways in which unions, universities, scholars, and activists have worked together to preserve and promote the legacy of the left coast maritime labor movement.  The presentations will highlight collections from this history, which relate directly to today’s struggles for workers’ rights, immigrant rights, social justice, civil rights, and other causes. Topics will include the Harry Bridges Deportation trials, the deportation and defense of progressive Filipino American cannery union officers and members, and other episodes in the union’s long history of activism.

Part 2: ILWU Activists Panel

“How History Informs Current Struggles”


  •          Rich Austin, Jr., President of ILWU, Local 19
  •          Dean McGrath, President of ILWU , Local 23
  •          Terri Mast, National Secretary Treasurer Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific
  •          George Lovell, Harry Bridges Center Chair (Moderator)

ILWU officers consider how the militant history and guiding principles of the union relate directly to today’s struggles and how those lessons can help suggest a path for current and future efforts.

Part 3: “The Legacy of ILWU Activism in the Current Political Context”


  • Michael McCann, Harry Bridges Center Director

Professor of Political Science and Harry Bridges Center Director Michael McCann will consider the history of the ILWU and social justice unionism on the Pacific Coast with issues such as immigration, civil rights, and social justice history and current struggles within the current political context. What lessons from the ILWU’s history inform current can and future actions?  
Facebook Event Link

Help document May 1 marches, strikes, and actions by donating photos, video, signs


The UW Libraries Special Collections and its Labor Archives of Washington are documenting and collecting items from the upcoming May 1, 2017, marches in the Puget Sound region.

We are interested in your:

Photographs and video of signs and crowd scenes. High-resolution files from DSLR cameras are preferred, but they will accept camera phone images. Please review your images and edit out blurry or repetitive images. To make submissions, Email Conor Casey, Labor Archivist, and in the email:

  • In the email title or text, note that submissions are for a labor or labor-related organization and name the organization/banner you marched behind
  • That they are destined for the Labor Archives of Washington’s digital collections.

Labor-related physical signs and flyers used in the march. Email Conor Casey, UW Libraries Labor Archivist Conor Casey, to arrange for delivery pickup of your items.

You will be required to sign a donor form for any materials given to the UW Libraries. This form allows future researchers to use your images or materials in books, documentaries, etc. If you have questions about the donor form or copyright, email Conor Casey.

For general questions, Email Conor Casey, .

New episode of Labor Archives of Washington’s radio show on history of the 1934 Pacific Coast Maritime Strike now streaming online

The latest episode of the Labor Archives of Washington’s regular segment on the KSVR radio show We Do the Work is now streaming online via KSVR and Public Radio International’s Exchange.

This ‘Learn Yourself’ will be about the pivotal 1934 Pacific Coast Maritime Strike, which shut down ports along the West Coast for months, spurred a four-day general strike that shut down San Francisco,  and resulted in the emergence of regional leadership that would form the present day International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The strike also inspired workers for generations and reinvigorated other maritime unions, including the Sailors Union of the Pacific.

The regular segment, called “Learn Yourself”, features Labor Archivist Conor Casey (Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections) being interviewed about a history topic by host Mike Dumovich with an emphasis on archival collections and secondary sources related to the topic in the hopes that it will inspire people to learn more about labor history on their own.

Links to Other Episodes in the Series:

  1. Labor Archives of Washington Overview
  2. Everett Massacre, also called Bloody Sunday, where a confrontation caused 7 to 12 people to be murdered on November 5, 1916.
  3. SeaTac Seattle Minimum Wage Campaign and History Project
  4. Filipino American Cannery Workers’ Unionism and the Murder of Domingo and Viernes
  5. Farmworkers’ History: The Chateau St. Michelle Grape Boycott and the Labor Archives of Washington’s second annual event Preserving Solidarity Forever: Washington State Farmworkers’ Struggles.
  6. Images of Labor and Social Justice: The Life and Art of Richard V. Correll
  7. Author, Poet, Worker: Carlos Bulosan’s Collections at the Labor Archives of Washington and Eva Urcia’s Quest to Uncover and Preserve Bulosan Family History
  8. The Everett Massacre Centennial Commemoration
  9. The 1934 Pacific Coast Maritime Strike

Labor Archives of Washington’s New Television Segment Airs This Weekend on KOMO TV (Seattle), Streams online Thereafter

banner-testThe Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections,  is pleased to announce the first episode of our new segment on the news magazine show UW360. The multi-episode segment will highlight the UW Libraries, Special Collections, and the Labor Archives’ collections, researchers, and community supporters. The segment will air on KOMO TV on Sunday, October 2 at 5:30 PM and stream on various media platforms including YouTube, Roku and Amazon Fire TV, thereafter. The rest of the episodes of the series are in production and will air over the next year.
Here’s the direct link to the Labor Archives segment: http://uwtv.org/series/uw360/watch/kfs6VK-HpS4/
Here’s the link to the entire episode:

National History Day Students Win 2016 Regional Video Contest Employing Labor Archives of Washington Collections and Staff Interviews

Every year,  Special Collections and the Labor Archives of Washington works with National History Day students on their projects. This year, students Ashley Luty, Ananya Jain, and Eileen Zhang placed 1st in Washington State for the Junior Group Documentary category for their film “A Wave of Change: The 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike.” The documentary employed the Labor Archives’ collections and included interviews with LAW Labor Archivist Conor Casey.

This wasn’t the first award-winning National History Day film to win: in 2013, student Heni Barnes won the National Competition with her film “Striking A Turning Point: The 1917 Pacific Northwest Lumber Strike”, which included Labor Archives collections and interviews with LAW staff as well.