Oregon trustee launches new biography on social unionism

Bussel book coverA new double biography by Oregon PNLHA trustee Bob Bussel, director of the Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) in Eugene, tells the story of two St. Louis Teamster leaders who practiced their unionism in a different way.

Fighting for Total Person Unionism shares the visions of Harold Gibbons and Ernest Calloway. Gibbons was a top assistant to Jimmy Hoffa and Calloway was a leader of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both were leaders of Teamsters Local 688 in St. Louis during the 1950s and 1960s.

What is total person unionism? It’s “a visionary form of social unionism,” Bussel told the Northwest Labor Press (Oct. 16, 2015). Gibbons and Calloway “were interested in using the knowledge and power that workers had – to act as effective citizens in the community.”

In the book, his second labor biography, Bussel talks about the “working-class citizenship” that the two men exhibited and promoted in their union leadership roles. Borrowing on the shop steward model, they encouraged members to become “community stewards.”

Issues they championed: improving public transportation, public health, better public housing and education, preventing juvenile delinquency, and even rat control. “They were really trying to fashion a way in which workers could improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods,” Bussel told the paper.

Bussel will discuss his work at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 3, at the Wayne Morse Commons, Knight Law Center in Eugene, and at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5 in Room 302 of the UO White Stage Building, 70 NW Couch St. in Portland.

Fighting for Total Person Unionism: Harold Gibbons, Ernest Calloway, and Working-Class Citizenship (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 272 pages, $32 (paper). For more details.