What is the labor movement?

UAW 1941, Carl Lieber001
United Auto Workers union members recruit workers outside of a plant in Buffalo, New York.

The labor movement in the United States developed as workers recognized the need to protect their common interests. Laborers of a certain craft, and later whole industries, joined together to form labor unions. These labor unions helped workers raise concerns regarding reasonable wages, workplace safety, and fair hours. When employers would not negotiate with unions, unions would pressure them using other tactics such as strikes, ceasing work in order to disrupt a company’s production and profit. Although the labor movement could be said to have taken place throughout American history, the struggles and triumphs of the twentieth century transformed the nature of labor and responses to it in the United States.



Who was Mollie West?

Mollie West002
Mollie Lieber West

Mollie Lieber West (1916-2015), a Jewish Polish immigrant, settled in Chicago just before the start of the Great Depression. From a young age, she became interested in politics and workers’ rights. Mollie furthered the efforts of the labor movement and opened doors for women to be leaders in their unions and communities.

Using the extensive collection of papers, photographs, and objects that Mollie West and her family donated to the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University Chicago, this exhibit tells the story of her trials and accomplishments.

Through broad historical context and one extraordinary woman’s experiences, this digital exhibition provides visitors with both a broad and a personal perspective of women’s contributions to the labor movement.


The Chapters

Mollie’s Youth
Immigrating to the United States, growing up on Chicago’s West Side, and enduring the challenges of the Great Depression shaped Mollie West’s life. Learn how these events affected workers and the labor movement.

Early Activism
Read about changes in the 1930s that led to the growth of labor unions and explore the impact of World War II on Mollie West and American workers.

Communism and the Labor Movement
Learn how a shared interest in justice for workers led to a relationship between the Communist Party USA and the labor movement, and learn how growing fear of communist espionage led to the dissolving of these connections.

Union Leadership
Learn about Mollie West’s success in building a career as a printer and becoming a union leader, despite the obstacles faced by women. Also, see how her experiences led to another productive phase of her life after retirement.

Mollie’s Legacy
After almost a century of activism, Mollie West’s accomplishments continue to influence women and labor.


Next: Mollie’s Youth