Book on Workers at Winchester Now Available

by Joan Cavanagh, former Archivist and Director, GNH Labor History Association

Our Community at Winchester: The City and Its Workers at New Haven’s Gun Factory is now available for purchase online at https://octoberworks.com/our-community-at-winchester. Based on a traveling exhibit produced by the Greater New Haven Labor History Association in 2013 about workers at the plant and the community they created there while struggling for fairness in the workplace, this new book includes updated information and much additional research.

Here is the book description on the October Works website:

From the late 19th century through the early 21st, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was an important employer in New Haven, Connecticut. The legendary guns it produced and their role in American expansionism at home and abroad were celebrated, largely uncritically, in movies, books, and songs. But the stories of those who worked there and of the company’s impact on its host community have received little attention.

The tale includes elements familiar to students of United States economic, social and labor history: workers’ struggles to win collective bargaining rights and to achieve equity in the workplace across all job classifications, ages and ethnicities; relentless management efforts to divide them and prevent, then undermine, union representation; a ruthless company’s repeated threats to leave town in order to force union concessions and win economic incentives and tax abatements from city government; and the gentrified aftermath of the loss of working-class jobs in an American city.

The story of New Haven’s experience unfolds in Our Community at Winchester through interviews with former workers and their families as well as material from union newsletters, archival records, and city publications.

Please visit octoberworks.com/our-community-at-winchester to read reviews of the book and information to purchase the book.

‘Our Community at Winchester: An Elm City Story’ — A traveling exhibit

by Joan Cavanagh, researcher and curator

From 1870 until 2006, the Olin-Winchester plant operated in New Haven under various names and with multiple corporate owners. Famous around the world for the Winchester rifle and other firearms (along with occasional tentative and short-lived ventures into the production of more benign goods), it has been the subject of many books, films and articles. But before the Greater New Haven Labor History Association’s traveling exhibit, “Our Community at Winchester: An Elm City Story,” the tale of the company’s workers and its impact on the New Haven community throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries had not been told.

In a series of panels which include interviews with former employees as well as a historical chronology, the exhibit depicts workers’ struggles to unionize and gain racial and economic justice and equality in the face of relentless management resistance. It illustrates the rich culture they formed within the plant, and it describes the always fraught interaction between the company’s owners and managers and the city of New Haven.

The exhibit, which opened at Gateway Community College on Jan. 29, 2014, was shown in several other venues including Yale’s Science Park, the Stetson branch of the New Haven Free Public Library, New Haven’s City Hall, Fairfield University and the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Thanks to volunteer David Cirella, it can be viewed online at http://exhibits.winchesterworkers.gnhlha.org.

Researcher and curator, Joan Cavanagh, and designer, Jeanne Criscola, are planning a book based on the exhibit which will include additional material to bring the story up to date in the context of New Haven’s current housing and economic crises. They are also seeking a venue in which to mount the exhibit for permanent display. If you can suggest a location or would like to help fund these efforts, please email joan.cavanagh@gmail.com.