Dig Deeper into the History of the L.A. Labor Movement
On this page you will find links to thematic research guides, online primary sources, archival collections, and a list of selected books and articles on Los Angeles labor history.
The history of L.A.’s hotel workers union (UNITE HERE Local 11) is one of labor history’s great turnaround stories. Members fought to make the union more responsive to their needs, elected new leadership, and built real power in their industry.
Los Angeles witnessed a real estate boom in the 1980s with new office towers rising well beyond the downtown area. But conditions for the workers who cleaned those offices got much worse. An innovative organizing strategy turned the tide.
In the 1970s, garment worker unions were among the first U.S. unions to organize undocumented workers. The ILGWU in LA became known as an immigrant worker union. But the industry has resisted widespread unionization.
Memory Work L.A. Video Library
A collection of historic television coverage and documentary video dating from the late 1980s to the 2010s.
Organizing Los Angeles Workers (Calisphere).
A selection of images from the labor history projects of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor & Employment. Original images are preserved in the collections listed below at the UCLA Library’s Department of Special Collections
UNITE HERE Local 11 Oral History Project
Interviews with members and staff of the hotel workers union for Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Orange County, UNITE HERE Local 11. Video, audio, and transcripts of interviews document a variety of organizing campaigns, the perspectives of rank-and-file members as well as local and national leaders.
LAPL’s digital collections interface, known as “Tessa,” includes many images of working people, union picket lines and strikes, immigrant rights marches, and other demonstrations. Many of these come from the photo collection of the defunct Los Angeles newspaper, the Herald-Examiner. Search for the name of an organization (“Justice for Janitors”), an occupation or industry (janitor, garment, farm worker) a type of action (strike, boycott, picket), a person (Rose Pesotta, Angela Davis, Pete Beltran), location, or company name.
Newspaper and television reports are one of the easiest ways to begin researching the past, especially now that many are fully digitized. We have compiled thematic lists of news reports from the Los Angeles Times and other sources to get you started.
United Service Workers West (USWW) Papers
Finding Aid for the Service Employees International Union, United Service Workers West records, ca. 1935-2008, UCLA Library Department of Special Collections.
The United Service Workers West collection includes the records of the Justice for Janitors campaign in Los Angeles, and other building service worker campaigns affiliated with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 399 and Local 1877. The more than 100 items on this website are a small sampling of the whole collection, which includes 45 boxes of organizational records, photographs, video tapes, and ephemera dating from the 1930s to the 2000s.
Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) Papers
Finding Aid for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) records, 1987-2013
Founded in 1993 by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and individual unions, LAANE engages in policy research and activism in support of the region’s unions and working-class communities. Beginning as the Tourism Industry Development Council, LAANE’s records document efforts to establish living wage ordinances, support for union drives in the hotel industry, and research on equitable development.
UNITE-HERE Local 11 Papers
Finding Aid for UNITE HERE Records
UNITE-HERE Local 11 represents housekeepers, cooks, bartenders, and other staff at hotels across the Los Angeles region. Led by Maria Elena Durazo, immigrant rank-and-file union members successfully transformed the local from a traditional, and failing business union into an activist powerhouse. Mergers with Santa Monica and Long Beach locals increased the local’s reach in the 2000s. Formerly known as the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union (HERE), the union changed its name when its parent union merged with the union UNITE. The collection includes materials from Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Long Beach dating from the 1930s to the 2000s with the bulk of the collection covering the 1980s to 2000s.
Oral History Collections at UCLA
The UCLA Center for Oral History Research hosts a number of excellent collections of audio and video interviews with labor activists. Check the Center’s website for a complete list of interviews available online, and consult the UCLA Library catalog for materials available for research in the Library. In particular, check out: Donde Haiga Un Trabajador Explotado, Ahí Estaré Yo: Justice for Janitors’ Workers, Organizers, and Allies, collected by Andrew Gomez; and Making Democracy Matter: Identity and Activism in Los Angeles, collected by Karen Brodkin.