Peter Rachleff: East Side Freedom Library celebrates second anniversary

Peter Rachleff is professor of history a President of the East Side Freedom Library.

Peter Rachleff is co-director of the East Side Freedom Library.

This summer, the East Side Freedom Library is celebrating its second anniversary. Our roots lie in the vision that Dave Roe and Rudy Perpich had in the 1990s of a Labor History Center to tell the stories of the state’s workers and their labor movement, and our branches grow far and wide, reaching out to young people who have not yet entered the workforce and to workers new to our state and our country, new to the labor movement.

Our mission is driven not only by our appreciation of the rich history of the labor movement and our sense that this history is all too rarely recognized in our culture; it is also driven by our awareness of the challenges faced by working people and the labor movement:

  • Since the Reagan era, corporate employers and government have turned away from their cooperative relationships with unions and a willingness to share the benefits of increases in productivity and profits with workers.
  • The place of the United States in the global economy has changed, with millions of manufacturing jobs having been shipped abroad.
  • Working men and women are now more often employed in healthcare, education, retail, public sector and service industries than in manufacturing.
  • As much of the world has been engulfed in the dynamics of change, millions of new immigrants have come to the U.S. (and Minnesota), seeking jobs, security, and a home.
  • Added together, these changes pose great challenges to working people and to the labor movement.

The East Side Freedom Library draws on the rich history of the labor movement in order to incubate ideas, strategies, values and visions that can serve workers and the labor movement now. We are also educating the wider community to better understand how a strong labor movement and fairly compensated workers have been central to the past successes of our national economy and to the establishment of a high quality of life.

While we have a beautiful building and outstanding resources in 15,000 books plus visual art, music, and historical objects, we could not do this work without the partnership of the labor movement. In our two short years, we have:

  • received financial support from the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation and more than a dozen affiliated unions;
  • collaborated with SEIU to bring Ai-Jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, to discuss the crisis in personal care work;
  • collaborated with a network of public sector unions to bring veteran labor educator Bill Barry to keynote a discussion about the Supreme Court and the Friedrichs case;
  • collaborated with the St. Paul RLF to host AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler for a discussion of the “Raise the Wage” campaign;
  • collaborated with the St. Paul RLF, the Carpenters, Bricklayers, Laborers, AFSCME and the UFCW to organize a host a Union Job Fair in which 125 job seekers met prospective employers with union jobs on offer;
  • collaborated with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers to organize a monthly film series about education and then a summer book discussion group about the crisis in education;
  • collaborated with the Caucus for Change to host several “meet and greets” with candidates for St. Paul School Board;
  • collaborated with AFSCME Local 3800 (University of Minnesota) on a monthly labor film series;
  • hosted meetings for the Newspaper Guild, Teamsters Local 320, SEIU Local 284, AFSCME child-care providers, and Workers United Local 150;
  • organized and hosted celebrations of labor and art, labor musical concerts, labor history classes and walking tours.

As St. Paul RLF President Bobby Kasper has said of us, “This is a Labor Hall for the community!”

It’s been a great two years working with the labor movement and working with our community on the East Side. Together, we can mine the past to find valuable insights and ideas with which to shape the future. Please join us!

– Peter Rachleff is co-executive director of the East Side Freedom Library, located at 1105 Greenbrier Street. For more information about the ESFL’s resources, programs and hours, go to or call 651-230-3294.

%d bloggers like this: