Biographical / Historical
The majority of materials found in this collection deal with items related to labor education and Larry Rogin’s role in its growth. Labor education began as an attempt to address the needs and issues surrounding rank-and-file worker participation in the activity and governance of unions. Its core programs were geared toward instructing workers how to be effective unionists. To that end, programs incorporated a wide range of subjects such as collective bargaining, labor law, union administration, steward training, and industry economics. Labor education was, however, also motivated by a desire to expand workers’ knowledge of society as a whole and promote their general educational and cultural advancement. Thus, coursework also focused on the broader topics of history, sociology, and politics while promoting personal development through classes on literacy and the creative arts.
In training workers in effective methods of union organization and promoting their understanding of larger social and political issues, the ultimate goal of labor education was to prepare workers for action, both within the workplace as well the greater community.
The labor education movement germinated at the turn of the twentieth century within the broader reform movement of the Progressive era from the combined efforts of socialists, progressive educators, and social reformers. Unlike its European counterpart, U.S. labor education initially developed outside of the official labor movement. Socialist reformers were the primary leaders of the early worker education movement. Convinced of the inadequacy of AFL-style business unionism, socialists advocated a program of radical social reconstruction. Thus, one of the major objectives of institutions such as the Rand school (founded in 1906) and Brookwood Labor College (founded in 1921) was to raise the consciousness of the working class and prepare them for their roles as actors for social change. Rogin spent his early teaching career at both of these institutions.
The economic pressure of the Great Depression forced many of these early independent labor colleges to close their doors or cutback their programs. The New Deal, however, brought in a wave of pro-labor legislation that swelled the ranks of the AFL and CIO. It also created a large and complex apparatus for labor management relations, making labor education imperative for effective union organizing and administration. In contrast to the earlier, socially oriented workers’ education movement, the union-based labor education program focused predominantly on the maintenance of the union and leadership training. During this period, Rogin spearheaded education innovation while working for the American Federation of Hosiery Workers (AFHW) and the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA). In the post-war period, the growth of university programs in labor education absorbed some of the functions of various unions’ programs and transformed the field into labor studies.
As the civil rights legacy of the 1950s and 1960s wound its way into the university in the form of black and women’s studies, many university campuses began recognizing the need for a discipline, which examined class as well as race and gender. The study of work, workers, and their organizations fell under the rubric of labor studies. Furthermore, industrial relations and with them, collective bargaining, continued to grow more complex in a technologically advancing global economy. Thus, in this period we find Rogin at work in the labor relations programs at the
University of Michigan and American University, as well as serving as consultant to labor studies programs at a number of other universities.
During the 1950s and beyond, the American labor movement did not abdicate its responsibilities to worker’s education. The AFL-CIO created a department of education and, in the late 1960s, an education center. Rogin served both as an education director of the AFL-CIO and as a faculty member at the AFL-CIO’s The George Meany Center for Labor Studies.