Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Teamsters keep alive the legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt

Mrs. Roosevelt visits a coal mine. 
We must never forget the people who fought and died for the rights we have today. Nor must we forget the leaders who showed us the way.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a champion of American workers. Even as First Lady she frequented union halls, and she was a member of the Newspaper Guild for more than 25 years. She believed everyone has the right to a decent job, fair working conditions, a living wage, and a voice at work.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters keeps her memory alive through the Labor History Research Center at George Washington University. The Center hosted a book talk recently by Brigid O'Farrell, distinguished independent scholar and employment equality researcher. O’Farrell discussed her latest work, “She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker.”

Here's a review of O'Farrell's book, which was published in the summer of 2011:
Eleanor Roosevelt was a staunch and lifelong advocate for workers ... "She Was One of Us" tells for the first time the story of her deep and lasting ties to the American labor movement. Brigid O'Farrell follows Roosevelt—one of the most admired and, in her time, controversial women in the world—from the tenements of New York City to the White House, from local union halls to the convention floor of the AFL-CIO, from coal mines to political rallies to the United Nations. Roosevelt worked with activists around the world to develop a shared vision of labor rights as human rights, which are central to democracy. ...   
"She Was One of Us" provides a fresh and compelling account of her activities on behalf of workers, her guiding principles, her circle of friends—including Rose Schneiderman of the Women's Trade Union League and the garment unions and Walter Reuther, "the most dangerous man in Detroit"—and her adversaries, such as the influential journalist Westbrook Pegler, who attacked her as a dilettante and her labor allies as "thugs and extortioners." As O'Farrell makes clear, Roosevelt was not afraid to take on opponents of workers' rights or to criticize labor leaders if they abused their power; she never wavered in her support for the rank and file. 
O'Farrell explained the deep connections between Mrs. Roosevelt, American workers and their unions. From 1933 until her death in 1962, Roosevelt was a strong, politically involved woman who wrote columns ranging from the mundane tasks of First Lady to fighting Taft-Hartley and No Rights At Work laws.

Mrs. Roosevelt understood the No Rights At Work laws promoted then as now are “predatory and misleading.” And in a quote that's as relevant today as it was during her lifetime, Mrs. Roosevelt urged “all right-thinking citizens, from all walks of life, to join in protecting the nation’s economy and the working man’s union security from the predatory and misleading campaigns now being waged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.”

O’Farrell said the history of the labor movement is inextricably linked to that of Eleanor Roosevelt’s work. She explained that those connections must be researched and used to teach the new generation of labor leaders how to fight today's battles.

The Teamsters Union and The George Washington University launched the Labor History Research Center as an educational and research environment in 2008. Its purpose is to explore the role that the American labor movement in general, and the Teamsters in particular, have played in the development of the United States from the late 19th century until today.

O’Farrell’s appearance was part of a series of book talks being held at the Center. The first book talk, held in November, was by Professor Eric Arnesen of the GWU Department of History. His topic was the book, “The Next Emancipation: A. Philip Randolph’s Life in Labor and Civil Rights.”

For more on Brigid O’Farrell’s current and past work, you can visit her website here.