Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Legal History at San Francisco State University's Labor Archives and Research Center

I was fortunate to be able to do a large chunk of the research for Forging Rivals at the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University (LARC). LARC is a fantastic resource that is underappreciated by legal historians.

LARC contains over 6000 feet of primary source material related to the labor movement in California. This includes the records of dozens of local unions, the papers of California labor leaders and others involved in the labor movement, oral histories, and labor periodicals, as well as ephemera and material culture of unions and working people in the state. Obviously, it is an incredible resource for people studying labor history.

What is less obvious on its face, but quite obvious once you get into LARC’s holdings, is what a great resource it is for legal historians. Some of the collections are composed primarily of legal materials: briefs, trial transcripts, depositions, exhibits. For example, LARC houses the Norman Leonard Collection, which includes materials on Harry Bridges’ trials, Smith Act cases (including Dennis v. United States, and Yates v. United States), HUAC cases, and cases involving the McCarran Act and the Free Speech Movement, as well as traditional labor law cases involving some of the more radical West Coast unions. The legal history of anticommunism is also recounted in the Harry Bridges Papers, the William Schneiderman Papers and the Archie Brown Papers. Similarly stuffed with legal materials is the Sam Kagel Collection, which contains the records of thousands of arbitrations that Kagel, one of America’s leading labor arbitrators, was involved in over the course of his fifty-year career. Case files for other significant arbitrations are included in the papers of the University of California’s Institute of Industrial Relations, also housed at LARC.

There are also materials at LARC for researchers interested in the development of the administrative state in twentieth-century America. The Clark Kerr Collection includes detailed records of the War Labor Board’s activities on the West Coast. Similarly, Patrick Henning’s papers contain materials related to California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Not surprisingly, the National Labor Relations Board shows up repeatedly in the collection in a variety of contexts: in labor newspapers, individual union's collections, and the papers of labor leaders who interacted with the agency. Finally, the collection has many sources related to the politics surrounding the creation of a variety of administrative entities within California, including the Agricultural Relations Board, and state and local agencies created to combat employment and housing discrimination.

Much of LARC’s collection consists of the papers of individual labor unions and various Bay Area labor councils. Many of these contain materials that are of special interest to legal historians. In particular, the legal files of individual union locals have materials related to grievance arbitrations, proceedings before the NLRB (both at the regional and national level) and cases in state and federal courts. These records also contain a plethora of information about legislation and ballot propositions that unions supported or opposed.

All of this adds up to an impressive resource for legal historians. If you are studying the development of labor and employment law or anticommunism, LARC is a must-visit archive. There is also a tremendous opportunity to study the history of labor arbitration, a subject that legal historians have neglected. Finally, because the collection is so rich in materials related to union involvement in California politics, anyone studying the legal history of California will find LARC’s collection to be invaluable.

For information about LARC and its holdings, click here and here. This entry is based, in large part, on Conor Michael Casey’s article ‘Legal History Through Labor’s Prism: Collection Highlights of the Labor Archives and Research Center, SFSU.” This article is not available on-line, but if you contact LARC’s exceptionally knowledgeable and helpful staff, they will be able to provide you with a copy.