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UIC labor historian receives national award

Leon Fink

Leon Fink, UIC distinguished professor of history. Click image to download. Photo: Matthew Kaplan

University of Illinois at Chicago labor historian Leon Fink is the recipient of the Sidney Hillman Foundation’s 2014 Sol Stetin Award for Labor History.

Fink, a specialist in the modern American labor movement, immigration history, and the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, will be honored May 6 during the foundation’s annual dinner and ceremony in New York City.

The annual award, named after the late Sol Stetin, a Polish immigrant labor leader and co-founder of the American Labor Museum, is presented to a scholar who has contributed to greater public knowledge of the labor movement and working people in America.

Fink said it was inspiring to be recognized with an award that was previously given to prominent labor historians such as David Brody, David Montgomery, Dorothy Sue Cobble and Marcus Rediker.

“Sol Stetin, like Sidney Hillman for whom the foundation is named, dedicated himself not only to building a strong union but a larger political movement that would join workers, intellectuals and other professionals in a search for social justice,” said Fink, distinguished professor of history at UIC.

“For its work in supporting scholarly and journalistic work that advances progressive change, I am delighted to be identified with the Sidney Hillman Foundation.”

Fink has written, co-authored, or co-edited 10 books, including his most recent publications, “Workers in Hard Times: A Long View of Economic Crises” (2014); “Sweatshops at Sea: Merchant Seamen in the World’s First Globalized Industry, from 1812 to the Present” (2011); and “Workers Across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History” (2011).

He has also been involved with national efforts to link public history and K-12 history education. Fink led other researchers and graduate students at UIC in the creation of the Chicago Labor Trail, a narrated map and accompanying website that received the Illinois Humanities Council’s 2004 Towner Award for demonstrating “venture and risk-taking” in the development and execution of a public humanities project.

Fink, who joined the UIC faculty in 2000, is founding editor of the quarterly journal Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. At UIC he established a doctoral concentration in the history of work, race and gender in the urban world.

Fink’s previous honors include a Fulbright senior scholar grant and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Newberry Library and the National Humanities Center. In 2013, he was named UIC’s distinguished researcher in the humanities.

Sol Stetin, who moved from Poland to America with his family in 1920, at age 10, began working in the textile industry in 1930 and became active in the nationwide textile strike of 1934. He eventually became president of the Textile Workers Union of America, where he led the 17-year organizing drive at J. P. Stevens, one of the most ambitious organizing campaigns in the anti-union South. He was passionate about preserving the stories of workers’ lives, and in 1983 he co-founded the American Labor Museum at the Botto House National Landmark in New Jersey.

The Sidney Hillman Foundation is named for the founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, predecessor of Workers United. Since 1950 the foundation has honored journalists, writers and public figures who pursue investigative reporting and public policy in service of the common good.

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