Development of the collection

The Slichter Industrial Relations Collection was developed in the late 1930’s by renowned economist and Harvard Professor Sumner H. Slichter in support of his seminars at the Harvard Business School and the Graduate School of Public Administration, including the Harvard Trade Union Program. Over the next 60 years, the Industrial Relations Library, also known as the Manpower and Industrial Relations Library, “the labor collection,” and since 1980, the Slichter Industrial Relations Collection, was developed and expanded significantly through the dedicated curation of Littauer Library librarians.

In addition to the collection of U.S. and international labor agreements, the Slichter Collection includes U.S. and international labor newspapers and periodicals, U.S. and international labor union constitutions and proceedings, arbitration awards and agreements, and U.S. and international labor-related pamphlets. The collection provides a glimpse of the working conditions in a variety of organizations such as the circus, the auto industry, the airline industry, the electrical industry, the screen actors guild, and more.

The Harvard Trade Union Program

Sumner Slichter was key to establishing the Harvard Trade Union Program (known then as the Harvard Trade Union Fellowship Plan), which began in 1942, under the auspices of the Harvard Business School, as an attempt to create “better American labor-management relations.”[1] This program was seen as mutually beneficial for the labor executives in the program, who gained practical and theoretical training, and for the professors, who had direct access, perhaps for the first time, to major players in the labor movement. Courses dealt with subjects such as proper record-keeping, public speaking, the history of labor in the US, legal labor issues, international labor issues, collective bargaining, and labor economics. Both domestic and international labor leaders attended the program, which started off as a nine-month long program, but soon changed to a 13-week session and then two 13-week sessions out of concern that labor leaders not be absent from their positions for such a long time.[2]

When labor started to turn out of favor in the 1980s, the Business School, not seeing much of a future for the program, chose to dissolve this relationship. The program, needing to survive on its own, found new life and direction under the leadership of a new Executive Director, Elaine Bernard, who shortened the program eventually to six weeks, its current length. With the help of funding from outside organizations and foundations, the program expanded its focus and grew into the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, an opportunity for research into the role of work in society in general, of which the Harvard Trade Union Program is now one part.[3]