Volume 3, 2006
Liberation between Selves, Sexualities, and War
Class and Race in the USA Labor Movement
The Case of the Packinghouse Workers
Drawing on several recent studies, and a few personal interviews with leadership, the author reviews the history (1937-1968) of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) in order to demonstrate how this Chicago-based labor movement exemplified radical commitments to social welfare and civil rights, in addition to more traditional concerns with pay and other shopfloor issues. Not only did the union have significant membership among African-American workers, but it also undertook active programs of anti-racism in order to fight racial discrimination with its own ranks. The union also resisted much of the anti-communist politics of the post-Cold War era, resulting in a tradition of racial commitments to “social unionism.” For example, this was one of the first unions to offer financial support to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference soon after the civil rights organization was founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.