Labor community comes together for archive dedication

Plaque Unveiling

Plaque Unveiling -

From left to right: Bob Duggan, Ian Kennedy, George Lovell, and Jim Gregory unveil the Labor Archives of Washington Founders' Circle plaque at the entrance of Suzzallo Library. 

Photo by Andrew Tat

Plaque Unveiling

Plaque Unveiling

Members from Washington’s labor community and the university community gathered Saturday inside Suzzallo Library for a formal dedication of the Labor Archives of Washington (LAW) and to honor its most generous donors.

The LAW project is a result of the collaborative effort by the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, UW Libraries, and the labor community. Since the project’s founding in 2010, it has raised more than half a million dollars from approximately 270 different individuals and organizations. 

The short ceremony featured speakers who discussed the importance of the archives and the Bridges Center. The ceremony was followed by the unveiling of a commemorative plaque for the archives’ Founder’s Circle, which includes the names of every donor that has given $500 or more to the effort.  

Every speaker made a point to acknowledge Conor Casey, the chief labor archivist, who recently accepted the John Sessions Memorial Award from the American Library Association on behalf of the LAW. 

George Lovell, Harry Bridges endowed chair in labor studies and associate professor of political science, said he doesn’t know of anyone who has worked as hard or efficiently as Casey. 

“He’s been a dream come true to the development of this project,” Lovell said.

The LAW houses more than 200 different collections of labor materials from unions, individuals, and organizations of labor movement in the Pacific Northwest. It is used by researchers from all over the United States, along with UW students and community members. 

“You can tell these collections are important to an active community of users,” Casey said. “Included in the collections are stories of human rights, social justice and economic justice, and all the struggles of people who just wanted a better life. These are stories.” 

However, Casey explained that one of the challenges of the archives that he is trying to help mitigate and overcome would be accessibility. The archives are located in the basement of Suzzallo and not all of the collections are digitized. Students and the public who would benefit the most from these stories may be unaware of the existence of this resource. 

“What I am trying to do is make people understand that these [records] are stories of people, and that we can liberate these stories by trying to make them more accessible so that they can see our history articulated through those records,” Casey said. 

Casey emphasized that he is not alone in the effort to collect and process the materials in the archives and has had a lot of help from volunteers, interns, and community members. 

Lila Smith, a member of the visiting committee of the Harry Bridges Center, said she believes the Bridges chair is the only one in the U.S. named after a labor leader and funded by workers. 

“The whole point of the Harry Bridges Chair was for the people to fund something in academia so that academia would look at labor, and it has done exactly that,” Smith said.

Bob Duggan, former president of the UW Alumni Association and longtime member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, helped establish the Bridges Chair position. Duggan said the event was significant because it acknowledged the people that made it all possible. 

“Today was important because it recognized the contributors that got us through the first four years,” Duggan said. “We have got enough money to keep us going for another year or two. We are trying to raise another $2 million to keep us going long-term.” 

Reach reporter Christina Cho at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @ccchews

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