Research Guide

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.

Building Power for Hotel Workers

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.

Justice for L.A. Janitors

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.

Garments Workers’ Struggle for Union Power

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.

Workers celebrate a union victory outside of a garment factory in Los Angeles, 1980. They stand waving and smiling while holding a sign that indicates that 149 workers voted for the union and 10 against it.

Online Sources

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.

Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collections

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 Reports
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.

Archival Collections

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.

Further Reading

Blasi, Jeremy, Aaron Greenberg, Katherine Marino, and Zoe Tucker. “Learning from LA: How Hospitality Workers Built Power and Changed Politics.” New Labor Forum, December 28, 2023.
Brodkin, Karen. Making Democracy Matter: Identity and Activism in Los Angeles. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007.
Glass, Fred. From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2016.
Laslett, John H. M. Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880-2010. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
Luce, Stephanie, Jennifer Luff, Joseph Anthony McCartin, and Ruth Milkman, eds. What Works for Workers? Public Policies and Innovative Strategies for Low-Wage Workers. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2014.
Meyerson, Harold. “The Red Sea: How the Janitors Won Their Strike.” LA Weekly, May 4, 2000.
Meyerson, Harold. “The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy: A New Model for American Liberalism?” The American Prospect, August 6, 2013.
Milkman, Ruth, and Veronica Terriquez. “‘We Are the Ones Who Are Out in Front’: Women’s Leadership in the Immigrant Rights Movement.” Feminist Studies 38, no. 3 (2012): 723–52.
Milkman, Ruth, Joshua Bloom, and Victor Narro, eds. Working for Justice: The L.A. Model of Organizing and Advocacy. Ithaca: ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 2010.
Murray, Bobbi. “Living Wage Comes of Age. An Increasingly Sophisticated Movement Has Put Opponents on the Defensive.” Nation 273, no. 4 (July 23, 2001): 24–28.
Narro, Victor. “Si Se Puede - Immigrant Workers and the Transformation of the Los Angles Labor and Worker Center Movements Symposium: Immigrant’s Rights: From Global to Local.” Los Angeles Public Interest Law Journal 1 (2009 2008): 65–106.
Soldatenko, Gutierrez Maria A. de. “International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union Labor Organizers: Chicana and Latina Leadership in the Los Angeles Garment Industry.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 23, no. 1 (April 2002): 46–66.
Struthers, David. The World in a City: Multi-Ethnic Radicalism in Early 20th Century Los Angeles. University of Illinois Press. Accessed December 6, 2020.
Waldinger, Roger, Chris Erickson, Ruth Milkman, Daniel Mitchell, Abel Valenzuela, Kent Wong, and Maurice Zeitlin. “Helots No More: A Case Study of the Justice for Janitors Campaign in Los Angeles.” In Organizing to Win: New Research on Union Strategies, edited by Kate Bronfenbrenner, 102–19. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Wong, Kent, and Victor Narro. “Educating Immigrant Workers for Action.” Labor Studies Journal 32 (March 2007): 113–18.
Zepeda-Millán, Chris. Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.