Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Moving Images Collection
Language of Materials
The Tamiment/Wagner Moving Images Collection represents the core motion picture film collection of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. It includes the film archives of the Transport Workers Union of America, a labor union founded in 1934 to organize subway workers and bus drivers in the New York City area that later included taxi drivers, railway employees, airline workers and utility workers in locals across the country; films and film footage from District 65/UAW , another labor union formed in New York City (in 1933) that organized warehouse workers, later expanding to include workers from the retail and manufacturing sectors, clerical personnel, salesclerks, writers, editors, technicians, and lawyers, include large numbers of women; a complete film, Nos Maisons d'Enfants, from the Jewish Labor Committee, a New York-based umbrella group of Jewish or Jewish-led trade unions and fraternal organizations, founded in 1934 to organize anti-Nazi and anti-fascist activity and to provide assistance to European Jews and others persecuted by these movements; footage shot by still photographer John Albok (1894-1982), known for his images of children and New York City street life during the Depression, who also documented organized labor and left-radical political life in New York City; and early footage of Camp Tamiment, a summer resort for socialists, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, that opened in 1921. The remainder of the materials in the Collection come from various other labor and radical organizations. Together, they comprise approximately 40 hours of black and white and color 16mm motion picture film (and one 35mm film) which have been transferred to video for research use. They document activities and history of the labor movement and radical left or progressive organizations, mostly in New York City (although Philadelphia, Barcelona, Geneva, and a few locations in France are also represented. Most were produced by or for labor, left or progressive organizations and associated individuals in the United States. The Collection includes a dozen documentary films and a similar number each of television programs and filmed press conferences, but the largest proportion of materials by far consists of outtakes and edited sequences from these productions; a small amount of stock footage shot, acquired for, or associated with, these productions and unedited footage not associated with them.
The Tamiment/Wagner Moving Images Collection represents the core motion picture film collection of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University. A description of the four main creators/subject areas of footage follows.
The Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) was founded in New York City in 1934 by subway workers. Affiliating with the fledgling CIO, it soon became the bargaining agent for all New York City bus and subway systems, and branched out to form locals across the country. By the early 1950s the union's membership had grown to over 100,000, in both public and privately-owned transit lines. By the 1960s, TWU locals were also established among railroad, airlines, and utility workers and taxi drivers. Politically progressive, it actively supported equal rights for African-Americans long before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Its principal and eventually successful struggle in the decade or so following World War II was to win a five-day, forty-hour week for its members. Its New York Local 100 has always been the largest and most influential in the union.
The TWU's founders were mostly Irish immigrants who came to the United States after the Irish rebellion of 1916. Among them was Michael J. Quill (1905-1966), a Kerry native and subway ticket clerk who led early organizing efforts for the TWU, and became its president, a position he held for the first thirty years of the union's existence. Quill's leadership abilities and public persona quickly spread his influence beyond his own union to make him a key player in the broader labor and political arenas in New York and nationally. He was elected to two terms on New York's City Council, on the American Labor Party ticket, was the chairman of the City's CIO Council, and later served as a vice president on the AFL-CIO's executive council.
From its early days the TWU made aggressive use of public relations to communicate with its members as well as the general public, and to keep its fingers on the pulse of public opinion: it tape-recorded important meetings, it produced hundreds of radio advertisements for itself and its political allies, as well as live radio broadcasts. And it used moving images as well. It filmed union soapbox speakers and rallies and Michael Quill's election campaign rallies in the 1930; it documented TWU field days and victory rallies during World War II. In 1941 the union produced its first film documentary, the half-hour, United We Are Invincible(aka United We Strike, aka The Great Bus Strike of 1941), which told the story of the union's strike against New York City bus lines. This was followed by several other documentaries commissioned by the union. The TWU also enthusiastically embraced the new medium of television in early 1951, when it launched what was to be the first of hundreds of television programs and filmed press releases produced by the union (a small selection is included in this Collection). Most of these were made by professional filmmakers and producers, including Paul Miner, Tom Costigan, and Workers Film and Photograph League member, Leo Seltzer.
The labor union later known as District 65, UAW, was organized in New York City in 1933 by Arthur Osman. In 1938 it became Local 65 of the United Retail and Wholesale Employees of America, CIO. Though at first composed primarily of male, Jewish warehouse workers, the union expanded to include members of varied ethnic backgrounds from the retail and manufacturing sectors, clerical personnel, salesclerks, writers, editors, technicians, and lawyers, and it came to include large numbers of women. The union was characterized by democratic, rank and file rule, and an activist progressive political agenda that included early and active support for the civil rights movement.
The Jewish Labor Committee, an umbrella group of Jewish or Jewish-led trade unions and fraternal organizations, was founded in New York City in 1934. Its primary purposes were to organize anti-Nazi and anti-fascist activity and to provide assistance to European Jews and others persecuted by these movements. During World War II it maintained close ties with European resistance movements and was able to effect the rescue of hundreds of labor and socialist activists and their families. After the War, it assisted and resettled survivors and helped to reunite families, and became active in civil rights and labor rights campaigns in the United States and human rights work world wide.
John Albok (1894-1982), who immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1921, and opened a tailor shop to support himself and his family, was also a still photographer known for his sensitive depiction of Central Park, children, and New York City street life from the Depression through the 1960s; he also photographed images of trade-union and leftwing political protest and culture during this same period. He occasionally documented the same subjects in moving images, using 16mm black and white and color film.
Camp Tamiment, a summer resort for socialists, their families and friends, near Bushkill, Pennsylvania, opened in 1921. Its initial purpose was to serve as a summer retreat for faculty, students, and friends of the Rand School of Social Science (a school for workers in New York City that was closely allied with the Socialist Party) and to provide a reliable source of revenue to support the School. The Camp was also home to the Tamiment Playhouse, a major creative outlet for theater, dance, film, and television in the United States, nurturing major entertainment figures such as Max Liebman, Jerome Robbins and Danny Kaye.
Sources: Albok, John. John Albok: For the Children.Dallas, Texas: Photographic Archives Gallery, 1995.
Huberman, Leo. The Great Bus Strike.New York: Modern Age Books, 1941.
Freeman, Joshua. In Transit(New York, Oxford University Press, 1989)
John Albok, 1894-1982: Through the Eye of the Needle.Budapest: Hungarian Multicultural Center, Inc., 1998.
LoMonaco, Martha. Every Week, a Broadway Revue: The Tamiment Playhouse, 1921-1960.New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.
Malmgreen, Gail. "Labor and the Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle." Labor's Heritage, Vol. 3, no. 4 (October 1991).
Quill, Shirley. Mike Quill Himself: A Memoir.Greenwich, CT: Devin-Adair Publishers, 1985.
Whittemore, L. H. The Man Who Ran the Subways: The Story of Mike Quill.New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.
All three series are arranged in tape and tape hour number order, the order in which the original film segments were transferred to video. Segments were transferred mostly (but not always) in chronological order within union locals or divisions or within organizations as a whole.
- I, Transport Workers Union of America, 1930s – 1967
- II, Other Organizations and Individuals, 1920s - 1966
- III, Addendum, 1930s-1967
Scope and Contents
This collection is comprised of approximately 40 hours of motion picture film, comprising 193 separate segments that document the activities and history of the labor movement and left or progressive organizations, mostly in New York City (although Philadelphia, Barcelona, Geneva, and a few locations in France are also represented/depicted/included). It consists, with a single exception, entirely of 16mm film—primarily in black and white, but with a significant amount in color--and of the 51 videotapes to which these film materials were transferred, to create surrogates to allow screening while protecting the originals. Almost all of the materials in the collection were produced by and/or for labor, left, or progressive organizations or associated individuals in the United States. About a dozen documentary films, a similar number of television programs (kinescopes), and a dozen and a half filmed press conferences form the core of the Collection, but a larger proportion consists of outtakes and edited sequences from these productions, as well as a unedited footage and a small amount of stock footage shot, acquired for, or associated with, these productions.
The largest share of the materials in the Collection (84% --168 of the 193 segments) is the film archive of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) -- a national, New York City-based labor union whose members are mainly bus and subway workers. The TWU materials stretch from the 1930s through 1967 and document the union's own activities as well as of some of its friends and allies, including mass meetings, conventions, speeches, negotiation sessions, picket lines, demonstrations, parades and press conferences. It is also notable in illustrating the TWU's pioneering embrace of television as a public relations tool for trade unions. The remainder of the Collection--the non-TWU footage—while it represents a much smaller amount, is more eclectic and international in scope. It includes footage ranging from the 1920s through the 1960s documenting organizations or individuals associated with the three main strands of left-radical politics and culture: Communism, Socialism, and anarchism, as well as footage of, or produced by, other labor organizations, both U.S. and foreign. Also represented are New York City May Day parades in color and black and white, New York City and state politicians, and the daily life of poor, homeless, and working-class children and adults in New York City during the depths of the Depression, as well as such occasional random surprises as a shot of the dirigible Hindenberg flying above Madison Avenue on the day it later crashed and burned. While the footage in this Collection documents events and activities specific to labor history and radical and progressive movements, it also documents topics unrelated to these. A wide range of activities, locations, occupations, subjects, attitudes and emotions was incidentally captured, in addition to the intended themes. For example, the same footage that documents union activities in New York City in the 1930s shows street scenes in working-class neighborhoods in Manhattan and other boroughs that are seldom seen in moving images; while picket lines snake around the block and soap-boxers inveigh, in the background and foreground everyday life goes on; in front of tenements and brownstone stoops, children frolic and parents push baby carriages, and a horse-drawn cart and a bicycles ride through the frame (in some of these scenes exact locations are even thoughtfully provided—because the addresses appear on the signs carried by union members picketing in front of the homes of more than a dozen individual TWU members who have "deserted" the union). Similarly, a panoply of the feet and shoes (only) of ordinary New Yorkers on Fifth Avenue can be seen as part of a sequence whose purpose was to illustrate the effectiveness of a 1950s transit strike by showing the public walking instead of riding public transport. These unintentionally-recorded, usually fragmentary, documents of social history can be of particular value because they are candid and unposed, in contrast to the staged official activities which were shot to document and promote the activities of the organizations that commissioned them. Other "unintended documents" in the Collection include footage of public meeting places such as hotels and auditoriums; office, restaurant, and workplace interiors; mass transit, including subway trains and buses, subway and bus passengers, train stations and an airport; power plants and industrial equipment; the deserted waterfront of a New Jersey port; the changing streetscapes and neighborhoods of New York City, as well as some of its landmarks (the interior of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station and its clock, New York Public Library, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, Coney Island's Cyclone rollercoaster, and facades of businesses such as a Horn and Hardart Automat, and the Peck and Peck women's clothing store); track and field events, team sports recreation and resorts; parades and marching bands; voting; social dancing; stenographers, shoe shiners, television camera operators, reporters, police, waiters, musicians and teachers at work. Also: racially-integrated social and organizational gatherings in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s; rhetorical styles and oratory of politicians and union leaders; demeanor and dress of ordinary middle-class and working-class Americans in the mid-twentieth century; and performance styles on early public affairs television programs.
Each film segment described in the container list below has been assigned a unique Tape # and Tape Hour # (T# and H#). These T# / H#'s can be found in the container list. All segment titles have been supplied by archives staff except those in italics, which are the original titles given by the film's creator(s). Please note that running times for segments are approximate only, not exact. The container list consists of brief descriptions of each segment that includes a title, the location where the segment was shot, whether it is black and white or color, whether it has sound or is silent, footage type (these include complete film, part of film, filmed press releases, and "footage," by which is meant edited sequences, outtakes or unedited footage -- or combinations of these), date and approximate total running time; it can be used to browse the entire contents of the Collection. For more information on any individual segment, more detailed descriptions are available, including shot-by-shot descriptions of the contents with "in and out points" for each shot (e.g., showing approximately where a shot in the segment begins and ends), and for whom or what entity the segment was produced. Please contact Special Collections at email@example.com for access to these detailed descriptions.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Because of the assembled nature of this collection, copyright status varies across the collection. Copyright is assumed to be held by the original creator of individual items in the collection; these items are expected to pass into the public domain 120 years after their creation. Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives is not authorized to grant permission to publish or reproduce materials from this collection.
Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, the creator of materials in Series I of this collection, were transferred to New York University in 1991. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collecion which were originally created by the TWU, AFL-CIO must be secured from the Tamiment Library.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; Tamiment/Wagner Moving Images Collection; FILMS 001; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Most of the materials in this collection were donated to the Tamiment Library by the Transport Workers Union of America in 1985. The remainder were donated by various other organizations and individual donors, including District 65/UAW, the Jewish Labor Committee, and Ilona Albok--in 1979, 1985, and 1988, respectively--or separated from various Tamiment Library manuscript collections.
The accession numbers associated with this collection are 1950.223, 2015.034, 2018.045, 2018.047, 2018.053, 2018.090, NPA.1993.024, NPA.1999.023, NPA.2000.055, NPA.2000.240, NPA.2000.343, NPA.2003.086, NPA 2004.013, NPA.2005.024, NPA.2005.180, NPA.2005.182, NPA.20015.195, NPA.2005.202, NPA.2005.204, NPA.2005.205, NPA.2005.206, NPA.2005.209, NPA.2005.212, NPA.2005.213, NPA.2005.216, and NPA.2006.099.
The provenance of the materials is varied. Items were obtained through purchases, donations, standing orders with publishers, arrangements with labor unions and other organizations, exchanges with other libraries, and through ongoing collecting by Tamiment staff.
Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures
Access to audiovisual materials in this collection is available through digitized access copies. Researchers may view an item's original container, but the media themselves are not available for playback because of preservation concerns. Materials that have already been digitized are noted in the collection's finding aid and can be requested in our reading room.
Some audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, (212) 998-2630 with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.
About this Guide
Processing decisions made prior to 2017 have not been recorded. In 2017 one film reel related to the 34th anniversary of the Italian-American socialist pubication La Parola was added to Series III: Addendum. In 2018 one film reel of a 1936 New York City May Day parade was added to Series III. Addendum.