Union ephemera

A blackball box, a hoodwink and other glimpses of union-related history from the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives are on display in Catherwood Library.

Known in the archives world as “realia” – 3-D objects from real life – the Kheel selections span the 1800s to the 1970s.

Highlights from the exhibition include:

A wooden blackball box, or communal ballot box; a leather hoodwink used as a blindfold in initiation rituals; a switch lock used on railroads to direct trains; a seal press for the Molders Union No. 107 of Auburn, N.Y.; badges displaying ranks and positions of railroad employees; a watch fob from a railroad uniform; and mourning badges worn in remembrance of co-workers.

Also displayed are the lyrics of a 1975 song, “Look for the Union Label,” sung by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union Chorus, which urged Americans to buy union-made products:

Look for the union label
when you are buying that coat, dress or blouse.
Remember somewhere our union’s sewing,
our wages going to feed the kids, and run the house.
We work hard, but who’s complaining?
Thanks to the I.L.G. we’re paying our way!
So always look for the union label, it says we’re able to make it in the U.S.A.!

 — Mary Catt, ILR School



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