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FAITH, LABOR, AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE — The Michigan Labor History Society’s Annual Meeting Wednesday, May 14

The Michigan Labor History Society will focus on the ties between labor and religion on Wednesday, May 14, by honoring three local clergy who have spoken out on behalf of economic justice for many years.

Retired Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Central United Methodist Church Pastor Edwin Rowe, and Sacred Heart Catholic Church Pastor Norman Thomas are the honorees whose activism will be celebrated at the MLHS annual meeting at UAW Local 22, 4300 Michigan Ave., Detroit at 6 p.m. The event is open to the public and refreshments will be provided. There is free, lighted and gated parking (turn north from Michigan on 28th St., then right into the alley and parking-lot entrance), or take the DOT #37 Michigan Ave. bus.

Angela D. Dillard, director of the Residential College at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, will address the meeting on the topic of “Faith, Labor, and Economic Justice.” Professor Dillard is the author of Faith in the City: Preaching Radical Social Change in Detroit, a book focusing on the interconnections of religion and political radicalism from the 1930s to the 1980s.

The connection between labor and religion goes back many years. When UAW was trying to organize workers at the Ford Motor Co. in the 1930s, the Rev. Charles A. Hill opened his church, Hartford Avenue Baptist, to union meetings when it was difficult for union organizers to find a place to meet.

During that same period, the Rev. Lewis Bradford sought to organize workers on the shop floor at Ford’s River Rouge plant; he later opened a shelter for the homeless in downtown Detroit and assisted at Central United Methodist Church.

In the 1940s, the Rev. Claude Williams opened the People’s Institute for Applied Religion, which worked with union members to bring the message of social and economic justice into factories.

And in 1963, union leaders walked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a mass march of 100,000 people on Woodward Ave. in Detroit.

Today, the ties continue as unions work with many churches, synagogues, and mosques to press for such programs as raising the minimum wage, providing adequate funding for education, and other social and economic justice issues. Those kinds of continuing efforts will be discussed at the May 14 meeting.

‘Emma’ Comes to Detroit

“Emma,” a one-woman stage production based on the life of Emma Goldman, the fiery activist of the early 20th Century whose messages on workers’ rights, freedom, war, and feminism electrified America, will be presented May 16-18 in Detroit.

Goldman was born in Russia, and in 1885 emigrated to Rochester, New York, where she found a job as a seamstress, earning $2.50 a week working 10-hour days. Her experiences radicalized her and she toured the country speaking out as an anarchist and defender of labor rights. Although she was a citizen by then, she was deported as a “dangerous” person by J. Edgar Hoover, then working in what would become the FBI, and sent to Russia. Becoming disillusioned with the Bolsheviks, she lived in France and Spain and returned to the U.S. briefly in 1933, then moved to Canada. The home where she lived in Windsor, Ont., is sometimes included on labor history tours. Emma Goldman died in 1940 in Toronto.

During her brief visit to the U.S. in the 1930s, she told reporters, “I’m glad that President Roosevelt has been one of the very few men in the White House who has come to realize the right of the working people to organize and better their conditions by means of their organized power.”

The Detroit production will be a staged reading based on Howard Zinn’s play Emma, and will be presented at Matrix Theater, 2730 Bagley St., on Detroit’s southwest side. Tickets are $10 for general admission and can be reserved at 313-967-0599 or at matrixtheatre.org. Performances will be given on Friday, May 16, and Saturday, May 17, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 18, at 3 p.m. A special preview program “Conversations with Emma in the Here and Now” is set for May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Swords into Plowshares Gallery, 23 E. Adams, Detroit.

MLHS Marks 100th Anniversary of Copper Strike

Metro Detroiters gathered Dec. 8, 2013, at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit to observe the 100th anniversary of the historic Copper Country miners’ strike of 1913 and the disaster at Italian Hall, where 73 people died trying to exit the hall after someone gave a false cry of “fire” during a holiday party for strikers’ children.

The Michigan Labor History Society in cooperation with the Sunday Progressive Cinema group screened 1913 Massacre, a recent film about the strike and the Italian Hall events. Shawn Ellis of Labor’s International Hall of Fame described the induction ceremony in Calumet last July for strike leader Anna “Big Annie” Clemenc, and Kay Halonen and David Elsila spoke about the contribution of Finnish Americans to the labor struggles then and beyond. Immigrants from Finland, Cornwall, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Scotland, and elsewhere were represented both in the Copper Country population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as well as making up a large part of the mine workforce.

1913 Massacre is now available for purchase on DVD for $25, and copies may be ordered online. www.1913massacre.com More information on the strike and its aftermath can be found in the Spring-Summer issue of Looking Back, Moving Forward. Simply click on the “Labor History” link at the right of the MLHS home page, and then select the Spring-Summer 2013 issue to read the story and see the photos, or click here to download the PDF file.
Michigan Labor History Society — Spring/Summer 2013 Newsletter

Two Michigan Unions Mark Centenaries

Local 58 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Local 636 of the Pipefitters and Steamfitters Union will be celebrating 100 years of progress during 2014. Watch this space for information on activities connected to these important anniversaries.

Get On Board a Labor History Bus Tour

Why not get your local union membership, community group, or class to learn about our area’s rich labor history by taking a bus tour of the region?

The Michigan Labor History Society can provide one–two hour tours covering a wide variety of sites: from the historic Ford River Rouge plant to the site of downtown sit-down strikes of the 1930s, to Cadillac Square, scene of many labor demonstrations, and more. Often, they can be combined with lunch at a historic or labor-related restaurant.

MLHS members can volunteer as guides, and the reasonable cost for renting a bus driven by union operators is all your group has to pay. For information, please contact the MLHS by telephone at 313-577-4003. We’ll be happy to work with your group in arranging a custom-made tour.

Power Point, Exhibit and Speakers’ Bureau

The Program Committee of the Michigan Labor History Society is working to create several programs to carry labor history messages to broader audiences. A subcommittee is at work to create a power-point presentation on Michigan labor history that can be provided, along with speakers, to union meetings and classrooms. The Committee is also working to revamp the MLHS photo exhibit on Michigan labor history.

If you’d like to be part of any of these projects, please let us know with a message to our telephone number: 313-577-4003. We’ll be glad to have your support. Our next Program Committee meeting is set for Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 at 10 a.m. at the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO, second floor, 600 West Lafayette, Detroit. For further information, please contact either of the co-chairs: Mike Kerwin, 313-861-5760, or Dave Elsila, 313-690-1053.

Labor Day: More than 150 persons attended the MLHS annual Labor Day Mobilization Luncheon in August. Popular radio talk-show host Tony Trupiano keynoted the event, talking about past and current labor issues.

Anniversaries Coming Up: The coming year will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of Electrical Workers Local 58, and special observances are planned. Check the next issue of the MLHS publication, Looking Back, Moving Forward, for details. 2014 will also mark the centenary of the Clayton Anti-Trust Act, which, among other things, declared that "labor is not a commodity." Committee Chair Mike Kerwin has written an article on the importance of the act that will appear in the next issue of Looking Back, Moving Forward.

Take a Walk Down Woodward

Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit offers visitors an opportunity to learn about major labor history events.

Starting at Grand Circus Park at Woodward and Adams, and continuing for about a mile south to the riverfront, visitors will walk past historic Central United Methodist Church; the statue of the "idol of the people," Mayor Hazen Pingree; the site of the 1937 sit-down strike at the old Woolworth’s 5-and-dime; Cadillac Square, which has been the scene of many demonstrations and rallies over the years; and Hart Plaza, at the riverfront, home to the Labor Legacy landmark, "Transcending," and the Underground Railroad monument.

You can take a self-guided tour in about an hour, starting at Grand Circus Park, and then catch a bus to take you back to your starting point. Download the tour from this website by going to the "Labor History" section. Under "Newsletter, Papers, Talks," you’ll see the Summer 2011 edition of the MLHS newsletter, "Looking Back, Moving Forward," where you’ll find an annotated description of major sites along Woodward. Enjoy your walk!

New Labor Legacy Signs

Ever since it was installed in 2003, the Labor Legacy Landmark, or "Transcending," on West Jefferson Ave. just west of Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit has been seen by thousands of visitors from all over the world. A 62-foot-high pair of stainless-steel arcs is surrounded by bronze bas-relief sculptures that tell stories of local labor and social history and that honor working men and women in many different occupations. A raised dais incorporates dozens of quotations from many men and women — including the classic statement by former hotel workers’ president Myra Wolfgang: "Women were in Labor Before Men Were Born."

Now, two new signs calling attention to the landmark have been erected, so that pedestrians and drivers on Jefferson Ave. will be introduced to the purpose of "Transcending." A similar sign faces Hart Plaza and the river, welcoming visitors to the plaza into the landmark area.

A photo of "Transcending" appears on the cover of one of the Detroit road atlases and several photographs are included in the National Geographic book, "Etched in Stone." By going to the "Labor’s Legacy Landmark" section of this website, you can find further information and photographs.

Last edited: Monday, May 5, 2014

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