The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972 Page: 157
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Some Reflections on Labor History
and contracts for studying manpower, labor markets, poverty, and hu-
man resource developments. Labor unions are and are likely to re-
main important institutions and, therefore, deserve more historical
study than they are receiving. If historians are to assume the main
burden of labor research, they probably would profit either from ac-
quiring some of the tools of economic analysis or from collaborating
with economists. At least the rudimentary analytical tools are necessary
to deal effectively with labor history because unions are so intimately
related to the economic environment. Although many economists
would have the world believe otherwise, the essential tools of econ-
omic analysis are not difficult to acquire.
Another problem for the study of labor history is sources. The most
essential sources of information for the study of labor organizations
are union records and documents. Newspapers are important, but
they were no more reliable in the past than they are now, especially
with respect to labor news. Unpublished union records ordinarily can
be relied upon because these documents are designed to guide the
affairs of the organization. Of course, unpublished union documents,
such as minutes of meetings and financial statements, are much more
valuable than official convention proceedings and union newspapers,
although in some unions, the latter might be valuable. Personal rec-
ords of union leaders are particularly useful for biographies but rarely
for other historical work.
Once all published and unpublished documents are studied, the
labor historian often can expand his knowledge through personal in-
terviews which help clarify issues and substantiate facts. However,
personal interviews also can be very unreliable because the union
leader's natural tendency is to put himself in the best possible light.
Moreover, memories are much less reliable than written documents.
Nevertheless, the writer has found personal interviews to be extremely
valuable supplements to other sources in writing labor history.
Although the prospects do not appear to be bright for much his-
torical work on labor history from economists, who seem generally (I
hope, temporarily) to be losing interest in historical matters, labor
history is too important to be neglected, so, hopefully, historians will
continue what seems to be a growing interest in this field. We must
understand the unions' motivations, values, and power as they in-
teract with individuals and organizations in the real world. Indeed,
no economic policy is likely to be very effective if it is based on ig-
norance or false theories of how unions operate. Labor history can
do a great deal to deepen this kind of understanding.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972, periodical, 1972; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/m1/169/: accessed September 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.