Liesl Orenic, Dominican University

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Labor History Seminar
Friday, December 7, 2012

3 pm to 5 pm

Towner Fellows’ Lounge

“The Base of the Empire: Chicago’s Teamsters Local 743 and Montgomery Ward”
Liesl Orenic, Dominican University

This paper will examine how Chicago’s Teamsters Local 743 under the leadership of Don Peters, a German Lutheran from Iowa, organized black and then white warehouse workers, crafted a service model union which systematically cultivated black leaders and reached out to the black community while building a foundation for entrepreneurial organizing. During the 1940s and 1950s 743 made major gains by organizing thousands of white and black, male and female workers in the warehouses and retail outlets of Montgomery Ward and Speigel’s and laid the groundwork for organizing another 30,000 workers in over 600 companies throughout the Chicago metropolitan area by the 1960s. This paper challenges the business unionism/social unionism dichotomy and argues that the “entrepreneurial unionism” of 743 presents a third model as a union with tightly controlled centralized power, an extensive service apparatus and a constant and strategic organizing agenda. The model managed a changing urban and suburban economy and a changing workforce both in terms of types of work and racial comity.

Commentators: Colleen Doody, DePaul University and Lisa Phillips, Indiana State University

Cost and registration information: 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, e-mail the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org.  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.