November 2009

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Member Brings Labor History to Public Library

About a year ago, a visitor to the César Chávez Library in Salinas, California would have had a hard time finding a book on the famous labor leader that the library is named after.

But thanks to the activism of Castroville Local 234 member Juan Dominguez—who spearheaded the "Save Our Labor History" project—the Chávez branch now boasts its own burgeoning labor studies section with dozens of selections.

"For people who aren't familiar with labor history, I'm hoping that they will become aware of things that many take for granted," said Dominguez, 30, a journeyman wireman for Redwood City. "People fought and died for privileges that we enjoy, like the eight-hour day and unemployment benefits. These things weren't just given to us."

Dominguez started the initiative last fall as part of a course requirement for one of his online classes at the National Labor College. Students were tasked with designing and completing a project that benefited workers in the area, such as helping run an organizing campaign.

So Dominguez set out to his local library to do some research—until he quickly hit a wall.

"I only found about a few books that had anything to do with labor issues in the whole library," he said. "And the most recent one was from 1994. I thought, ‘This isn't right.'"

Following talks with his NLC professor Bonnie Ladin, Dominguez decided to turn his assignment into a campaign to get volumes of labor history onto library shelves. His first goals were to find a branch that accepted donations and then purchase the books he thought would form the basis of a solid labor studies section.

After discussions with representatives at the Chávez branch and progressive publisher and distributor Haymarket Books, Dominguez's project started taking shape. At a local meeting, he appealed to his brothers and sisters for support, and they overwhelmingly voted to give Dominguez $500 to buy books from Haymarket to give to the branch. Enthusiastic about the project, Haymarket waived shipping fees and added a 10 percent discount.

"The people at Haymarket were great," Dominguez said. "And our local is very involved in the community—they've always been generous about donating to charities and public causes."

Local 234 Business Manager Ken Scherpinski praised Dominguez's activism and sense of purpose. "We want people to read about the struggles of steelworkers, miners and other workers," Scherpinski said. "It puts in perspective how tough it was for Henry Miller to get things going and the sacrifices that he made."

Some of the new titles at the Chávez branch include Michael D. Yates' "Why Unions Matter" and Philip S. Foner's 10-volume "History of the Labor Movement in the U.S." Each new book in the library's collection boasts a nameplate thanking Local 234 for the donation. Older titles on labor history that were in Salinas' other two branches will be moved to the labor studies section at the Chávez branch.

Dominguez sees the campaign as a way to help preserve the memory of struggles and victories spanning the entirety of the labor movement.

"As the saying goes, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it," he said. "With the way that workers' rights have been dwindling, and with the current economic problems we face, I fear we could be losing some of what we've gained. Social Security, health care and other benefits may be things of the past unless people know that our ancestors fought for them. If we don't maintain this information, it will be lost."

A 12-year IBEW member, Dominguez is completing his degree in labor studies. Readers interested in donating to theproject can contact him at For more information on the National Labor College, visit

A class project prompted Juan Dominguez (top) to create a labor studies section at his local library. National Labor College professor Bonnie Ladin (bottom, right) provided guidance and encouragement.