Originating in a long-standing tradition of service to the education and training of future labor leaders, the Pennsylvania State University and the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) have enjoyed a strong and unique partnership. Since the 1940s, the Steelworkers' presence on campus has been evident in the yearly Summer Labor Institutes and Union Leadership Academies attended by rank-and-file members and prospective union leaders in training. In 1967, the Penn State University Libraries' Historical Collections and Labor Archives (HCLA) became the official repository for the historical records of the USWA. A dedicated Steelworkers' Room was established to feature selections from the union's trove of historical photographic images and memorabilia. From modest beginnings the USWA Archive has become a pre-eminent institutional labor collection for research, attracting national and international scholars from a variety of academic disciplines. The USWA Archive has served as a foundation for HCLA's acquisition of other significant labor holdings to support the academic program of the University's Labor Studies and Industrial Relations Department, among other constituencies.
Dating from the establishment of its predecessor—the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in 1936—the USWA Archive comprises nearly 3,000 cubic feet of records, 554 reels of microfilm, over 150 oral history interviews, and 7,500 items including photographs, film and videos, sound recordings, publications, original graphic art, and a variety of union memorabilia. The most important USWA record groups are the International Executive Board Proceedings and the papers of USWA presidents David J. McDonald, I. W. Abel, and Lloyd McBride. Records of the district and local offices contain valuable documents on organizing, contract negotiations, grievances, and political action at the regional and local levels. The roles played by the USWA professional staff emerge fully from the files of key departments: Arbitration, Civil Rights, Contracts, Education, Housing, International Affairs, Legal, Legislative, Communications, Research, and Health and Safety. The archive also includes a variety of the personal papers of significant figures in steel organizing and the industrial union movement.
The USWA Oral History Collection, which captures the rich collective historical perspectives of former union officers, staff members, and rank-and-file activists, complements the Steelworkers' official records. Researchers have mined the USWA Photograph Archive to illustrate books and other publications, and to incorporate images in exhibitions and documentary projects. The USWA's voluminous film and video collection has also been drawn upon for numerous documentary film productions. The Steelworkers have accessed a variety of media in producing educational and training materials for its own membership.
The USWA Archive has been an invaluable resource for documenting the history of the industrial union movement and the complex issues facing steelworkers and their communities following the decline of steel manufacturing. Researchers have used the collection to study how important social issues such as civil rights, gender equity, and health care continue to shape the workplace. Another prominent theme is union political action activity and its impact upon American politics.
Collection Profile and Overview: James P. Quigel Jr.
Illustrations: Hughes Photographics
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