THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

4 posts categorized "Government publications"

11 February 2017

The Flint Sit-down Strike, 1936-37

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Eighty years ago today – following a 44-day sit-down strike at their plant in Flint, Michigan – General Motors (GM) formally recognised the United Automobile Workers (UAW) as the sole bargaining authority for the striking workers.

Flint Wikimedia
Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration. LC-USF34-040028-D.

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the impact this recognition had upon both the unionisation of the American automobile industry and the labour movement across the United States.

In the early years of the Great Depression, increased workloads and cuts in pay were commonplace across the auto industry. In 1935, the average auto worker’s income was barely half that deemed by the government to be a minimum for a family of four. The following summer, hundreds of workers died in Michigan auto plants due to the heat wave and on-going poor working conditions. Theoretically, such conditions made these plants ripe for union organisation. However, strikes in 1930 and 1934 had been viciously broken up by the Flint police, aided by company informers; indeed, GM paid $839,000 for detective work in 1934 alone (1).

In 1935, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act – which legalised strikes – invigorated the Congress of Industrial Organizations' efforts to unionize industrial plants across the US. The following summer, UAW officials unaffiliated with existing (GM-infiltrated) locals began organising in Flint – an audacious plan, given it was essentially a company town; yet, they recognised the pay-off could be enormous. To avoid detection, they met with workers in their own homes and encouraged them to join; many did so. General Motors’ reaction was swift. On 29 December union leaders learned that over the New Year’s holiday the company planned to remove the huge and vital ‘dies’ used to make car bodies. If this happened, cars could be made elsewhere, thereby weakening the union’s strategic position. Recognising what was at stake, the workers refused to leave the plant.

The next 44 days were unprecedented in the history of American labour. Inside the plant, the workers organised themselves into committees for cleaning, defence, entertainment and exercise, while supporters outside brought them food and supplies.

  Flint wikimedia meal

Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration (LC-USF34-040031-D).

Finally, on 11 February 1937, GM signed an agreement recognising the UAW, and agreeing not to discriminate against those workers who had struck. The following year, nearly one-hundred sit-down strikes took place in auto plants across the country; UAW membership rose from 50,000 to 300,000; and auto worker wages rose by as much as 300%. This historic sit-down strike presaged a decade of intense union activity across American industry, and an extraordinary improvement in the lives of ordinary workers.

The British Library holds a wide variety of materials documenting the labour movement within the United States, including: reports, newspapers and recruiting pamphlets by individual unions, the CIO and the American Federation of Labor (AFL); Congressional hearings, reports, and federal legislation; publications by political parties, including the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of America; and reports by civil rights organisations. Additionally, the rise and activity of the unions may also be documented through our extensive collection of American newspapers, secondary sources, and electronic databases.

 Witch hunt CIO

George E. Novack, Witch-hunt in Minnesota: the federal prosecution of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544, CIO. New York: Civil Defense Committee, [1941?]. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.6863; The CIO: what it is and how it came to be. Washington, DC: Committee for Industrial Organization, 1937. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1501

AFL Communist party

Communist Party of the United States. For a Powerful, United A.F. of L. New York: Workers Library, 1936. Shelfmark: YD.2007.a.1654; Communist Party of the United States. Greetings to the American Working People on the Occasion of the First Anniversary of the Great Labor Merger, AFL-CIO! New York: Labor Committee, Communist Party, USA, [195?]. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1322

  UAW local

John G. Kruchko, The Birth of a Union Local: the history of UAW Local 674, Norwood, Ohio, 1933 to 1940. Ithaca, NY: New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, 1972. Shelfmark: q72/20497

1. "The 1936 - 37 Flint, Michigan Sit-Down Strike," BBC, Retrieved May 18, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/A672310 

Jean Petrovic

16 November 2016

American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa

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Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.

Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.

50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.

Aerial shot of Boston Spa site

The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)

The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).

Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.

We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!

07 October 2016

Goodbye, and stay tuned for the Cold War symposium!

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The last three months of my PhD placement at the Eccles Centre here at the British Library have flown by. There is much I will miss about being here on a daily basis – and not just the very good, helpfully subsidised, staff canteen! Hopefully this blog post will shed some light on what I have been doing and prompt others to apply for the placement scheme in the future.

In all honesty, probably the greatest benefit of the placement has been working so closely with the Americas collections. Before coming to the British Library, I had what I thought was a good understanding of the collections. Having used them daily for three months, I now realise that I was only aware of a fraction of what exists. In particular, whilst I knew that there would be some useful American foreign policy documents available, it was only when I explored the Social Sciences Reading Room that I began to realise just how vast an archival collection was available. From Presidential papers through to specific primary collections on everything from Civil Rights to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there is a treasure trove of material for researchers and it’s all available without those costly flights to the United States!

Federal Surveillance of Afro-Americans

 [General Reference Collection OPL 973.0076]    

Index to the GW Papers

                  [General Reference Collection OPL 973.03]

Aside from archival collections, there wasn’t one secondary text which I searched for that I couldn’t gain access to in under 48 hours. Finally, the digital collections which the Library has access to are unparalleled compared to any of the university libraries’ I have used. In particular, the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) and Readex Congressional Records are invaluable resources and well worth a trip to the Library to access.

The vastness of the collections led to the first project I undertook during the placement. Realising that, like me, most researchers only knew of a few of the Americas collections available, I compiled two guides to make the collections more accessible for future researchers. The first guide is on the political archival collections the Library holds, such as Presidential papers, whilst the second is a guide dedicated to the Congressional documents available. As well as telling readers how to access the collections, the guides provide examples of what materials can be found in each collection to illustrate the utility of said collection. Hopefully these guides will help fellow researchers take as much from the collections as I have.

A second project I have undertaken involved the organisation of an academic symposium. One of the Eccles Centre’s key roles is to promote the Americas collections to the academic community; often this is done through the hosting of specific events, which are sometimes linked to the Library’s public exhibitions. The British Library’s next major exhibition, which opens on 4 November, is titled ‘Maps of the Twentieth Century: Drawing the Line.’ As the American-Soviet Cold War dominated the geography of the twentieth century, this offers an excellent opportunity to host an event focusing on the geography of the Cold War. The ‘Cold War Geographies’ symposium in January 2017 will bring together international academics to explore and assess how the Cold War changed boundaries, restructured terrain and redefined concepts of space and place.

Map

The placement at the British Library also exposed me to the practicalities of working in a large cultural institution. In particular, this occurred with a planned digital exhibition I was hoping to curate. The Library is going through some significant changes to improve its website and digital exhibitions. This meant that the three short months I was at the Library was not enough time to implement the project. The matter was also complicated by my desire to focus on twentieth century materials which brought in a whole raft of issues relating to copyright! Whilst the project did not materialise in the way I envisioned, I was able to gain access to excellent research material and develop a more practical understanding of the processes involved in curating an online exhibition within a large cultural institution

That said, I feel that the three month placement at the British Library has been an unqualified success. I have developed a far greater understanding of the collections, both for my own research and produced materials to assist others with their future research. Unexpected benefits also emerged in the form of using these blog pages to further disseminate my work, as well as taking part in Eccles Centre events which have greatly enhanced my academic networks. These new connections look likely to lead to positive future collaborations. Fortunately, the end of this placement is not the end of my affiliation with the Library. The symposium in January means that I will remain in contact for the foreseeable future, providing longer-term benefits of undertaking the placement.

From both a research and experience perspective, the PhD placement has been a highly rewarding and beneficial one. I hope that the outputs produced during this placement will be as beneficial to my fellow researchers.

Mark Eastwood

02 September 2016

Stranger Things at the British Library

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If Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things has taught us one thing this summer, it’s that even in 2016 we have serious nostalgia for all things 1980s. From Toto’s Africa to Dungeons & Dragons the show celebrates all that was great about the 80s. But there’s one reference most cultural commentators have missed – microfilm.

In Episode 3 Police Chief Jim Hawkins visits his local Library and makes full use of the Library’s microfilm collection to research the LSD mind-control experiments of the creepy Dr. Brenner. It’s a triumphant moment and one which celebrates a technology most modern researchers overlook.

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Figure 1:© Netflix

The British Library has an extensive microform collection relating to the American government and so if you fancy yourself as a bit of a modern day Chief Hopper then the Social Sciences Reading Room is the place to start. And don’t worry if you haven’t used microform before, our reading room staff are on hand to guide you through the simple process and that eighties technology is much more robust than today’s!

So what collections do we have available?

Well, we can’t promise you’ll find things on LSD mind-control but the British Library has an extensive collection of U.S. government documents and archive materials available on microform. As a federal government depository library, the Library holds a vast set of U.S. Government Printing Office documents, including Congressional reports, committee hearings and bills. These can be accessed via the CIS Indexes on the shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room.

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Figure 2: Example of some of the CIS Indexes in the Social Sciences Reading Room

The Library also holds a significant number of NARA documents, including Presidential Papers. The full collection is listed by subject in the Social Sciences Reading Room card catalogue and most collections have indexes available on the reading room shelves. Some of the collections we hold include, Nixon’s Presidential Papers relating to China-Vietnam negotiations and the Department of Justice’s Classified Subject Files on Civil Rights.

 

 

3a  3b

Figure 3: Examples of some of the microform collection subject guides available

If Stranger Things has prompted you to revisit your favourite books, films and songs from the 1980’s, why not hop on your BMX? and come down to the British Library and get hands on with the microform collections to boost your research project?

 

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Figure 4: © Netflix.

A detailed description of the collections is available in our ‘Guide to United States Official Publications in the British Library’ (PDF format). - See more at: http://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/united-states-federal-government-publications#sthash.uMGqFc21.dpuf

 

Mark Eastwood