“Worker Rights and Wrongs” is the theme of the 2016 Untold Stories series of labor history programs sponsored by The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library.
This year’s series kicks off with a program that looks beyond the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Friedrichs case. Other programs feature the author of “Reviving the Strike;” an examination of the future of Minnesota’s Iron Range and a history of Minnesotans persecuted for their political beliefs. Historians Dave Riehle and Peter Rachleff will lead a walking tour of St. Paul’s Payne Avenue.
Programs are free and open to all. Here is the schedule:
The Friedrichs Case and the Future of the Labor Movement
Monday, May 2, 7 p.m.
Saint Paul Labor Center, 353 West 7th St.
The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a landmark labor law case that could have undermined public sector unions and worker rights in general. While unions breathed a sigh of relief, the barrage of legal challenges is expected to continue. Join a panel of union activists to discuss the meaning of these cases, their historical context and effect on the future of the labor movement. Speakers will include Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota; Tee McClenty, executive director of the Minnesota School Employees Association; and Debbie Prokopf, attorney and business agent for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. This program is co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service.
Elmer Smith and the Wobblies with Tom Copeland
Wednesday, May 4, 7 p.m.
Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave.
In his book, The Centralia Tragedy of 1919: Elmer Smith and the Wobblies, Tom Copeland, Macalester graduate and lawyer, tells the little-know story of Elmer Smith, also a Macalester graduate and lawyer. At the end of the Armistice Day Parade of 1919 in Centralia, Washington, Legionnaires, veterans and others hostile to the Industrial Workers of the World marched on the IWW hall intending, again, to “run the radicals out of town.” The Wobblies fought back, four Legionnaires died, and three others were seriously injured. Later the Legionnaires lynched one of the Wobblies. Thirteen people, including Smith, were indicted for murder. While he was acquitted, Smith spent the rest of his life fighting, both in and out of court, for workers’ rights and the freedom of his codefendants.
Joe Burns: Reviving the Strike
Monday, May 9, 7 p.m.
Saint Anthony Park Library, 2245 Como Ave.
Strikes have played a critical role in the development and growth of unions in both the private and public sectors, but have virtually disappeared in recent years, while unions have shrunk and inequality has grown. What can we learn from the historical role of strikes in Minnesota and in the United States? Join the discussion with Joe Burns, author of Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America and Strike Back: Using the Militant Tactics of Labor’s Past to Reignite Public Sector Unionism Today. A veteran union negotiator and labor lawyer, he has bargained contracts in the airline and health care industries.
The Iron Range: Past, Present & Future
Tuesday, May 17, 7 p.m.
Arlington Hills Community Center, 1200 Payne Ave.
The Iron Range has always held a special place in Minnesota’s labor history and lore, but now its future seems uncertain. Two recent books provide the opportunity to grapple with the connections between past, present and future. Megan Marsnik, a Minneapolis high school teacher, is author of the novel Under Ground, which centers on the roles of women in the miners’ strike of 1916. Jeffrey Manuel, associate professor of historical studies at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, has written Taconite Dreams: The Struggle to Sustain Mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range, 1915-2000. The authors will participate in a conversation and reading moderated by Peter Rachleff of the East Side Freedom Library.
Trotskyists on Trial
Thursday, May 19, 7 p.m.
Rice Street Library, 1011 Rice St.
Seventy-five years ago, 29 unionists and working-class socialists were prosecuted and labeled as dangerous revolutionaries by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Justice Department under the newly passed Smith Act. Most were members and officers of the militant Minneapolis Teamsters Union that lead the historic 1934 truckers strikes. In Trotskyists on Trial: Free Speech and Political Persecution Since the Age of FDR, Donna Haverty-Stacke tells the story of how these strikers were imprisoned – and how the Smith Act was later invalidated by the Supreme Court.
Walking Tour: The Immigrant Past and Present of Payne Avenue
Sunday, May 22, 2 p.m.
Meet across the street from Yarusso Bros. Italian Restaurant, 635 Payne Ave.
Join labor historians Dave Riehle and Peter Rachleff for a walking tour of Payne Avenue. The focus will be on the street’s role as a center of immigrant working-class life, from the Swedes, Italians and Germans of the 19th century to the Hmong, Mexicans and Salvadorans of the 21st century. The tour begins at Swede Hollow and proceeds about 1.5 miles to the East Side Freedom Library, where refreshments and restrooms will be available. Registration will open soon at www.thefriends.org
A Celebration of History Day Projects
Thursday, June 2, 5 p.m.
East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier St.
Every year for the History Day contest, middle and high school students creat great projects — essay papers, story boards, websites, videos and skits — which reveal many of the formerly “untold” stories of local history. View these projects and celebrate the young historians who have created them. This event will also celebrate the second anniversary of the East Side Freedom Library.
Untold Stories is an award-winning series held in celebration of labor history month each May. The program is co-sponsored by a number of unions and other organizations. Learn more at The Friends website.