United Automobile Workers of America, District 65 Records
Language of Materials
The labor union now known as District 65, UAW, was organized in 1933, by Arthur Osman and in 1938 became Local 65 of the United Retail and Wholesale Employees of America, CIO. In 1948, Local 65's leadership refused to sign the Taft-Hartley Act's non-communist affidavits, and Local 65, seceded from its parent union and the CIO but rejoined in 1954 as District 65 of the RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union). In 1969, differences, including the union's opposition to the Vietnam War, led to District 65's disaffiliation from the RWDSU and the formation of the National Council of Distributive Workers of America. In 1979, District 65 joined the United Automobile Workers. Though at first primarily composed of Jewish workers, the union expanded to include persons of various geographical and ethnic backgrounds from the retail and manufacturing sectors, clerical personnel, salesclerks, writers, editors, technicians, and lawyers. The collection contains minutes, shop files, arbitrations, grievances, counsel files, membership information and reports, financial material, and the records of some of the unions that were affiliated with District 65 throughout its history.
District 65, United Auto Workers (UAW) traces its origins to the Wholesale Dry Goods Workers Union organized in September, 1933, by Arthur Osman and a group of Jewish workers at H. Eckstein & Sons, a dry goods warehouse on New York's Lower East Side. It was one of many unions formed during the early years of the Great Depression and was a part of the resurgence of working class organization that occurred as a result of the passage of Section 7(a) of the National Industry Recovery Act.
Originally affiliated with the United Hebrew Trades, the union succeeded in early 1935 in convincing the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to grant it an industrial charter. As Federal Local 19932, Wholesale Dry Goods Employees Union (WDGEU), it was one of the very few federal locals which organized and functioned on an industrial basis. The relatively slow growth of the union at this time was attributed by the union's leaders to the hostility of the AFL towards the WDGEU's concept of unionism. The insistence of the WDGEU on the policy of uniting all wholesale and warehouse workers--whether engaged in the handling of dry goods, shoes, textiles, hardware, drugs, or their commodities--into one union caused jurisdictional disputes between the various federal locals that were organizing these industries. The WDGEU turned to the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) for support.
In 1937, the WDGEU, whose membership was approximately 1000, merged with the AFL Shoe Warehouse Local and the CIO Textile House Workers Union and formed the United Wholesale Employees of New York. Chartered as Local 65 of the Textile Workers Organizing Committee (TWOC), the union affiliated with the CIO with the understanding that it complete jurisdiction over all warehouse employees in New York City. A unified movement to organize all the wholesale industries was launched as a result of the merging of the three wholesale unions. That same year the Downtown Dry Goods Jobbers Association became the first association to recognize and deal with the union.
The affiliation with the TWOC was short-lived. In September, 1937, when the United Retail and Wholesale Employees of America (URWEA) received jurisdiction over the wholesale industries, 65 became a local of that inter- national. In November, 1938, the CIO United Wholesale Grocery Employees, Local 220 merged with 65; in September, 1940, CIO National Union, Local 353 of the China and Glass Workers also joined 65.
Between 1937 and 1942, 65 grew at a tremendous rate through three carefully planned and executed organizing drives. During the three organizing drives (1939--"Drive for 2500"; 1940--"10,000 in '41" and the 1941--"7 in 7 Drive") membership grew from 4,000 to 15,700 by December 1941. Careful planning, militant and direct action and mass mobilizations characterized the organizing campaigns and gave Local 65 prominence among the grouping of left-wing locals in New York City.
Beginning with World War II Local 65, along with most other CIO unions, adopted the no-strike pledge. The war period was characterized by a dramatic shift in union tactics. Instead of confrontation the union turned to the War Labor Board to resolve conflicts. Over 10,000 served in the armed forces or joined war-related industries depleting the ranks of union pioneers. Additionally, women members became the majority of the union and took increased leadership roles.
During World War II the conflict between the union and the inter- national subsided as the two factions entered a period of cooperation in support of the war effort. But differences between the left-wing New York locals and the Wolchok leadership, including a dispute over the signing of the Taft-Hartley Act's non-communist affidavits, led to a split in the URWDSEA in September, 1948. Eight of the largest of the 40 New York locals of the URWDSEA seceded from the international; these seceding locals, which represented between 30,000 and 40,000 workers, formed a joint council known as the Distributive Trades Council of New York. Arthur Osman became president of the council.
In February, 1950, an international that was to be one of the shortest- lived unions in American labor history came into being. This was the Distributive Workers Union (DWU), formed by a merger of local 65 and other former Retail and Wholesale affiliates: Local 2 (Gimbels-Saks 34th Street); Local 3 (Bloomingdales); Local 5 (Sterns); Local 1199 (Drug Clerks); and Local 144 (Displaymen). Local 1250, formerly affiliated with the Retail Clerks International and representing the Norton's department stores employees and Local 121, formerly part of the Gas, Coke and Chemical workers also merged. Local 65 had 122 of the 290 delegates to which the various merging locals were entitled. Arthur Osman headed the international; David Livingston became president of Local 65. In April, 1950, Local 65 leaders signed the non-communist affidavits in order, they said, to minimize the danger that other unions would use the NLRB facilities against the DWU's proposed organizing campaign.
In October, 1950, the DWU merged with the remnants of two unions expelled from the CIO for Communist domination, the United Office and Professional Workers of America (UOPWA) and the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union, to form the Distributive, Processing and Office Workers of America (DPOWA). This international proved more durable than the DWU, surviving until 65 returned to the RWDSU in 1954. The merger made Local 65 (now District 65) the largest local in New York, and next to Ford Local 600, UAW, the largest in the country.
In January, 1952, the RWDSU, then headed by Irving Simon, who had replaced Wolchok in 1949, unanimously adopted a resolution inviting any of the seceding locals to rejoin the parent international. This resolution was aimed at the DPOWA. Also, in District-wide elections in June, 1952, candidates representing the Communist Party's opposition to reunification with the CIO were decisively defeated, in part because many District 65 Communist members and officers opposed this policy. The following year negotiations occurred between the two unions, and the merger, which was delayed by the death of Simon, was effected in 1954. Simon's successor, Max Greenberg, remained president of the international and Osman became a national officer. The DPOWA became District 65, RWDSU-CIO.
At the same time 65 was experiencing internal strife, it was being investigated by Congressional committees and grand juries for alleged radicalism. Leaders of the union were called to appear before a grand jury in the spring of 1952. David Livingston, President and Jack Paley, Executive Vice-President of 65, were held in contempt for their refusal to release membership records. In July, 1953, union officials appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee's New York City hearings. On advice of counsel and with the approval of the membership each refused to answer questions as to whether they were Communists or supported Communist causes.
Though workers in the warehouse industry remained the core of union strength, the union expanded in the 1940's and 1950's to include a variety of workers in small retail and manufacturing firms and other small shops such as those dealing in shoes, hardware, toys, gifts, television, mail order merchandise, needles, cigars, knitwear, chemicals and dental supplies. This growth brought significant changes in the composition of the union, adding groups of blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians, and Irish to the original, primarily Jewish workers from small wholesale dry goods and textile shops. District 65 attempted to reach white collar workers by its organizing of clerical personnel, salesclerks, writers, editors, technicians, and lawyers.
Opposing the Vietnam War, 65 helped to found the Labor for Peace Coalition. By 1969, differences between the RWDSU and District 65 over foreign policy, civil rights, and organizational matters resulted in the disaffiliation of 65 from the international. A new national organization, the National Council of the Distributive Workers of America (NAWCDA), was formed by District 65 and ten local unions in seven states. Cleveland Robinson, Secretary-Treasurer of District 65, was elected president of NAWCDA.
As an independent union the Distributive Workers opened new organizing campaigns among clerical workers at Barnard and Columbia universities; editors at Simon & Schuster, Harper & Row, Random House, and Prentice-Hall; employees of the Museum of Modern Art; writers at the Village Voice; and other white collar workers. In 1969, the Distributive Workers joined the short-lived American Labor Alliance formed by the Teamsters and the UAW two years earlier. Ten years later, a merger between District 65 and the UAW was completed.
Sep 1933Workers at H. Eckstein & Sons organize the Wholesale Dry Goods Employees Union.Feb 1935WDGEU affiliates with the AFL as Federal Local 19932.Jan 1936Union drafts Arthur Osman as full-time executive secretary.Jul 1937Union adopts resolution to affiliate with the CIO.Aug 1937WDGEU merges with AFL Shoe Warehouse Local and CIO Textile Warehouse Workers Union to form United Wholesale and Warehouse Employees of N.Y.'s Local 65.Sep 1937D65 becomes local of the United Retail and Employees of America.Nov 1938CIO Local 220, United Wholesale Grocery Employees merges with Local 65.Mar 1939Union reorganizes along a geographic rather than an industrial basis.Jun 1939First major organization drive begins -- goal of 2500 members in one year.Feb 1940Union establishes Hiring Hall.Jun 1940Union achieves first organizing drive goal. A new drive, "10,000 by 41", begins.Sep 1940CIO Local 353, China and Glass Workers merges with 65.Jun 1941Union membership reaches 10,000.1942-1945Union takes "No Strike" pledge.May 1942Union purchases building at 13 Astor Place.Jul 1943Union reverts to industry (local) groupings.Sep 1945Union inaugurates Security Plan.Aug 1947Union solicits $500,000 strike fund to fortify 65 against anti-labor attacks.Jul 1948Union officers decide not to sign Taft-Hartley non- communist affidavits.Sep 194865 and seven other locals secede from the URWDSEA. They form the Distributive Trade Council with Osman as president.Nov 194865 reverts to a territorial structure as defense against raidingFeb 1950Local 65 mergers with seven other locals to form the Distributive Workers Union. Osman heads international; David Livingston becomes president of 65.Apr 195065 leaders sign non-communist affidavits.Oct 1950DWU merges with the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union and the United Office and Professional Workers of America to form the Distributive, Processing and Office Workers of America. Local 65 becomes District 65.May 1952Union adopts a dual structure of organization --a combination of local and geographical alignments.Sep 1953Union divides into four locals or sections.May 1954District 65 rejoins the RWDSU.Sep 1963Union shifts from local to area structure.Apr 1969District 65 withholds per capita in move to disaffiliate from RWDSU. Union forms new national organization, Distributive Workers of America.Aug 197965 affiliates with the UAW.
Bibliography: District 65 Publications:
- The Union Voice: August 1934 - April 23, 1935
- The New Voices: April 23, 1935 - August 15 1937
- New Voices: August 15, 1937 - January 7, 1945
- Union Voice: January 7, 1945 - June 6, 1954
- Publication of the RWDSU: June 6, 1954 - July 4, 1954 (two issues)
- RWDSU Record: July 4, 1954 - January 8, 1961
- The 65er: January 8, 1961 - July 1969
- The Distributive Worker: July 1969 - Present
Works about District 65:
- Cook, Alice, Union Democracy: Practice and Ideal, An Analysis of Four Large Local Unions,Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1963. (Section on Local 100.)
- Rogow, Robert, Relationships among the environment, policies, and government of a labor union: a study of District 65, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, AFL-CIO,Ph.D, New York University, 1965
- Tabb, Jay, A study of white collar unionism: tactics and policies pursued in building the Wholesale and Warehouse Workers Union of New York,Ph.D, University of Chicago, 1952
Folders are generally arranged alphabetically; minutes are arranged chronologically
The records are arranged in nine series:
- I. Minutes, 1933-1970
- II. Counsel Files, 1944-1974
- III. Finance Department, 1940-1964
- IV. Affiliates, 1937-1950
- V. Grievances and Arbitration Dispositions, 1940-1969
- VI. Subject Files, 1938-1979
- VII. Shop Files, 1937-1971
- VIII. Officers' Files, 1933-1992
- IX. Unprocessed Material, 1930s-1995.
Scope and Content Note
The records of District 65, UAW, 1933-1970, consist of minutes, shop files, arbitrations, grievances, counsel files, membership information and reports, financial material, photographs and tapes. The collection also contains the records of some of the unions that were affiliated with 65 throughout its history. The records relating to the history of the union provide extensive documentation in the following categories: the evolution of the union's organizational structure; affiliative history; policies and procedures for organizing shops; work process and working conditions and the union's achievements in collective bargaining. They offer considerable information concerning the District's leading role in the organization of retail and wholesale employees in New York City.
In many ways District 65's records reflect the major trends of American labor since 1930 -- the increase in industrial unionism during the Depression, the sacrifices of labor during World War II, the problems caused by the Cold War and McCarthyism and demographic changes in industrial union membership during the past 30 years.
District 65 was involved with almost every left-wing political issue of the day and the records reflect this activity. They document the union's survival despite persecution, factionalism and a changing membership. The social concerns of District 65 embraced the rights of minorities, peace movements, and the quest for world-wide nuclear disarmament. Union leaders and members were early supporters of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement and they were instrumental in the founding of organizations such as SANE and Labor for Peace.
Though there is considerable material related to the impact of the McCarthy era on the union -- the time during which the union severed its relationship with the Communist Party -- there is only fragmentary documentation concerning the union's relation with the Party. Files containing the correspondence and memoranda on various union officers are not included in this collection; and it is therefore difficult to follow policymaking within the organization or the conduct of its internal affairs.
The shop files are a rich source. District 65-UAW organized and maintained union contracts for a broad range of business in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area for the approximately 30 years covered by this collection. Left-wing union militancy, CIO wartime organizing, the impact of Taft-Hartley of the shop level, and post-Taft Hartley union politics and mergers, the participation of immigrants, women and minorities -- all part of District 65's history -- are detailed in these files.
The estimated 1,500 shops documented by this series together constitute a rich and varied portrait of working conditions, labor relations and everyday work life in the garment supply industry, warehousing, dry goods retail, shoe retail, corrugated box manufacturing, dental laboratories, and clerical and publishing shops in metropolitan New York. Especially significant are the records of the United Office and Professional Workers Association in such shops as Lane Bryant, social service agencies and publishing. Also remarkable are the breadth of organizing material and tactics found throughout the collection.
NOTE: This collection is housed offsite and advance notice is required for use, with the exception of the first two series, which are available on microfilm (R-7450).
SERIES I. MINUTES, 1933-1970.
Containing the most important information concerning the history and development of the union, the minutes are arranged to follow the changes in the structure of District 65 over the years. Originally divided into autonomous divisions based on the kinds of goods handled by the members, the union has at times been divided along local and geographic lines as well as by a combination of industry, local and area divisions. The General Council is constitutionally the highest body in the District 65 governmental structure. The Executive Council has no powers comparable to the General Council -- it has only the power to recommend. Its functions are the preparation of programs and policies to be submitted to the General Council ad the regular review of the union's departments. The decisions of the General Council are enforced at the executive board meeting of the individual local, area or industry. Included in this series, which is complete except for the minute of the 1935 Executive Board meetings, are the minutes taken during the union's founding meeting in the living room of Arthur Osman's home.
SERIES II. COUNSEL FILES, 1944-1974.
Including correspondence, legal briefs, transcripts, decisions and exhibits which document the major struggles of District 65 with employers, government, and other unions, arranged chronologically. The cases involve litigation at the local, state and federal levels and include AAA and NLRB disputes. In its early years the union retained the firm of Neuberger, Shapiro, Rabinowitz and Boudin. During the 1960's the union developed its own legal department with Eugene Eisner and then Donald Grody as chief counsel. Important files include those relating to 65's disaffiliation from the RWDSU in 1969 ("RWDSU Pension Dispute") and the Employment Act suit brought by the union against Richard M. Nixon and other government officials.
Other noteworthy files include those of the National Association of Women's and Children's Apparel Salesmen (NAWCAS), the organization with which 65 entered into a contract of affiliation under which the organizations jointly engaged in efforts to secure collective bargaining representation for apparel salesmen. The R & M Kaufmann files also pertain to NAWCAS as do those from Joyce Sportswear, the firm whose salesmen were one of the first in the industry to be protected by a collective bargaining agreement. The files for the John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston case, concerning the merger of a unionized corporation into a non-unionized corporation, which was decided by the Supreme Court, is also a part of this series.
SERIES III. FINANCE DEPARTMENT, 1940-1964.
This series contains membership inventories and reports. The Finance Department, the union's control center, was responsible for the record-keeping and reporting duties that are generally associated with a treasurer's office. The membership inventories as well as the weekly, monthly and yearly reports, though incomplete for a number of years, provide an overview of the union's activities and demography.
SERIES IV. AFFILIATES, 1937-1950.
Containing shop files and grievance material from some of the unions that merged with District 65, these files demonstrate the influence that 65, these files demonstrate the influence that 65 had on the union movement in New York City. Material in this series is predominantly from Local 5 (Sterns), Local 121 of the Gas, Coke and Chemical Workers, and the Drug Trade Salesmen's Union.
SERIES V. Grievances and Arbitration Dispositions, 1940-1969.
This series is small in size and is constructed from odds and ends found throughout the collection. Some of the information found in the subject files was collected by Robert Rogow in his capacity as Research Director for District 65. Three boxes route grievance, arbitration, and NLRB cases and case determinations. The Textile Division files include contracts and interesting economic questionnaires answered by textile house and office employees.
SERIES VI. SUBJECT FILES, 1938-1979.
Miscellaneous topics. Files include Art Committee, Hiring Hall, Labor for Peace, May Day, Tom Mooney Hall Association.
SERIES VII. SHOP FILES, 1937-1971 (addendum).
Contracts, correspondence between union and employer and between workers and union representatives, legal documents, organizing lists and cards, wage schedules, industrial studies and economic analyses, political materials, documents from union raids, letters of solidarity from other unions, extensive strike materials, circulars, customer lists, company advertisements and documents, grievance letters, shop minutes, press clippings, photos, organizing records, steward records, financial records, and organizer's shop notes and case histories are all included in this series Shop files includes materials from 1937-1971, with the bulk of documents from 1940-1960. The entire series is arranged alphabetically by company names, and are alphabetized separately.
The District 65-UAW shop files initially consisted if 150 feet of records. During the summer and fall of 1983, these materials were appraised and reduced to 81 linear feet. Shop files were retained according to the following criteria: (a) "thick" files or extensive records indicating many years of union presence in the shop or extensive union activity; (b) shop union staff considered significant; (c) evidence of shop militancy, strike activity, red baiting, political involvement, human interest, involvement of other unions and business-other- than-usual; (d) well known New York area businesses and out-of-state businesses; (e) all shops beginning with the letter "M" were retained as a sample control.
SERIES VIII. OFFICERS' FILES.
A portion of this series has been separated and processed as the Papers of Cleveland Robinson, 1956-1992 (Wagner 6.1), 17 linear feet. A separate guide to this collection is available.
Other boxes which will eventually form part of this series (notably the files of David Linvingston) have been described in Series IX, below.
SERIES IX: UNPROCESSED MATERIAL, 1930s-1995.
One hundred six boxes of unprocessed material, described to the box level only, cover the period from the late 1930s to 1991, and include general and office files, shop files, records of UAW, Local 2110, Legal Department records, materials dealing with the UAW merger (1982-1987), and files of long-time president David Livingstone and staff members Frank Brown and Roger Keeran.
NOTE: This collection is housed offsite and advance notice is required for use, with the exception of the first two series, which are available on microfilm (R-7450).
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the United Automobile Workers of America, District 65 were transferred to New York University in 1996 by the UAW, District 65. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives. Please contact email@example.com, (212) 998-2630.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; United Automobile Workers, District 65; WAG 006; 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
Donated by the United Automobile Workers, District 65, 1979-1981. An additional accession was donated by David Schaff in 2007. The accession numbers associated with this collection are 1979.008, 2018.040, and 2019.076.
Additional materials were donated circa 1995, by various individuals circa 2002, and found in repository in 2019.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Due to the fragile nature of the original materials, researchers must use the microfilmed version of Series I: Minutes and Series II: Counsel Files; microfilm call number is R-7450
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Born-digital materials have not been transferred and may not be available to researchers. Researchers may request access copies. To request that material be transferred, or if you are unsure if material has been transferred, 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.
Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures
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 email@example.com, (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.
Photographs were separated to the United Automobile Workers of America, District 65 Photographs (PHOTOS 023).
Correspondence, miscellaneous documents, ephemera and clippings from Cleveland Robinson, Secretary-Treasurer of the United Auto Workers of America District 65 from 1952-1992, were separated to the Cleveland Robinson Papers (WAG 006.001).