08/30/19: Labor Day Message 2019/Statement to the Board of Governors regard


Labor Day is a time for those of us committed to the support of Organized Labor to stop and think about where we are nationally and locally. Organized Labor has taken some blows in recent times. The conservative U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against us in the matter of right-to-work policies in public employee unions. This means that for public employee unions, like ours here at Wayne State University, bargaining unit members do not have to join our Union or to pay for the representation the Union is legally required to provide them.

But Labor Day is not the time to devote too much time to complaints about obstacles: rather it is a time to celebrate what we can do by working together in the interests of all workers. The decline of membership in Organized Labor due to changes in the marketplace, globalization, the technological innovations in manufacturing and the service industries, and other factors that correlate with the failure of workers to see their wages rise with the increases in the productivity of their work. The benefits of increased productivity have gone to those at the top of the wage structure and not to the workers. Today, 43% of the workforce makes $15.00 an hour or less. The average family has less than $400.00 in the bank to meet an emergency. The most consistent voice in the public square proposing measures to meet these problems comes from Organized Labor.

Critics of Organized Labor point to the current scandals in the United Automobile Workers and charge that unions are corrupt. Rarely do the editorials point out that for every bribed UAW official there is a corporate briber who is equally corrupt. There is no excuse for either the briber or the bribed in these outrages. We must, in this age of the Trump swamps of corruption, fight to make our unions honest and clean. When you look at American society today and yesterday you find that American unions are overwhelmingly a force for good. They fight to improve their members’ lives and for progressive causes that aim at the improvement of our country.

So, this Labor Day, let us commit ourselves to the support of honest, fair and representative unions. Let us remember the struggles of Organized Labor in Detroit. The records of the Flint Sit-down Strike of 1936-37, and the Battle of the Overpass in 1937 that did so much to establish the UAW and lift so many from poverty and into the middle class are documented in the Walter Reuther Labor Archives on our campus. The records of many important unions, including those of the 1.7 million members of the American Federation of Teachers of which we are proud members, are located in our Archives. We here at Wayne State have a role in the traditions of Organized Labor in Detroit, Michigan and the country. Below is my statement to the Board of Governors when the proposed Master Plan projected a “repurposing” of the Reuther Archives. The Board did not adopt the Administration’s proposal and probably would not have even if I had not provided my statement.




On May 16th, President M. Roy Wilson attended a dedication of the Gardner Special Collections Room in the Walter Reuther Labor Archives. In the course of his remarks, he announced that his intention is to have the building “repurposed” to be a Student Services Building. I was told of his remarks a few days later, and I had difficulty believing it. I knew that he was relatively new to Detroit, but I was sure that he would be advised against doing this when his intentions were made known to others who had a greater appreciation of the history of the Archives, how it came to be built, who paid for it, and what it means to the history of Detroit and organized labor in Michigan and nationally. Then I realized that there were none among his closest advisors who had the experience or knowledge on which to base such advice.

I particularly expected that he would consult with members of the Board of Governors, who have long experience in Detroit and would counsel him to not pursue an act that some would see, as I do, as an affront to the memory of the great leaders and ordinary workers of organized labor; particularly UAW members whose dues enabled the Reuther building to be constructed. Such consultations did not take place until this public meeting. One can note the public presentation posted on the BOG website on the proposed Master Plan still includes the proposal to repurpose the Walter Reuther Labor Archives.

However, I understand that there were sufficient protests from members of the Master Planning Committee and that the President has withdrawn the proposal to repurpose the Archives building. This should have been headed off when it was first proposed, not a proposal to be finally withdrawn at the meeting of the Master Planning Committee two days before this review.

Throughout the world, the Walter Reuther Labor Archives serves as a monument to organized labor. It is the intellectual center for those who study workers and the social movements developed, in part, from labor leaders. The traditions that the Archives represent obviously meant little to the planners who were driving the formulation of the Wayne State Master Plan. There are others, however, on campus, in the Detroit community, and nationally and internationally, who have a deep respect for the traditions of the labor movement and the role of the Walter Reuther Archives in documenting it. The proposal to repurpose this building is an insult to the members of organized labor generally, and the members of the UAW specifically.

The library serves as the official archival repository for the:

1. Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA),

2. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME),

3. American Federation of Teachers (AFT),

4. Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Graphic Communication Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,

5. Industrial Workers of the World (IWW),

6. The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC),

7. The Newspaper Guild (TNG),

8. Service Employees International Union (SEIU),

9. United Auto Workers (UAW),

10. United Farm Workers (UFW)

11. Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW),

12. Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU),

13. Workers Defense League; and

14. Numerous labor-related organizations, especially those active in the Detroit area.

The Walter Reuther Labor Archives are also the repository for progressive leaders who are not forgotten by some of us. Residing in the Archives are the papers of political leaders such as Jerry Cavanaugh, the Mayor of Detroit during the 1967 troubles, who some refer to as the Detroit Rebellion, Mel Ravitz and Mary Ann Mahaffey, members of our faculty and our Union and long-time members of the Detroit Common Council, Millie Jeffrey, a former chair of the WSU Board of Governors, and Mayor Coleman A. Young. I knew all of these leaders, some better than others. The papers of Doug Fraser, former International President of the UAW, and Irv Bluestone, former UAW Chief Negotiator for 400,000 workers for General Motors are in the Archives. They were faculty members, and I had the honor of walking picket lines with them during the strikes forced on our Union during the Adamany years.

The Archives also document the rich history of urban Detroit. Many of those collections, such as the papers of Kenneth Cockrel, Sr., and Judge George Crockett, provide the most significant record of Detroit’s African American civic, judicial, and social justice leaders. Of course, Reuther is also the home of the Wayne State University Archives, which the Board of Governors established in 1958 in recognition of the importance and permanent value of the University's official records.

These and the other historic materials in the Archives are part of a priceless trove of primary materials that must be protected for scholars whose work illuminates the impact of organized labor, those who brought you the weekend and other benefits. When I say protected, I mean it in the physical sense. There is a lively market for the memorabilia that these materials constitute. They are literally locked up to protect them from theft or vandalism. The foot traffic from the repurposing of the Archives building to a Student Services Building would create serious and unnecessary security challenges.

I have brief advice for President Wilson. Don’t try to do this.


Charles J. ParrishPresident, AAUP-AFT, Local 6075, WSU ChapterVice President-at-Large, AFT MichiganPresident, AAUP Michigan ConferenceMember-at-Large, National Council, AAUP5057 Woodward Avenue, Suite 3301Detroit, MI 48202313.577.1750