Book Review: From Coors to California: David Sickler and The New Working Class

Captured in part through the Oral History Center’s interview of Sickler, the labor activist’s winning personality and creative intelligence is evident throughout all the essays.

By Lisa Rubens, Oral History Center Historian and Academic Specialist, Emerita

At 19 David Sickler, with ambitions to run his own horse ranch, went to work for Coors Brewing Company. It was the best-paying job he could find in his hometown of Golden, Colorado. But the working conditions there were so deplorable, the control William and Joseph Coors had over the lives of their workers so complete—and as Dave would learn over the government of Colorado and some of the most powerful right-wing institutions in the nation—that David committed himself to the labor movement, first as a union shop steward and then as head of the Brewery Workers Local 336. He led a strike against Coors in l977 and organized a national boycott of the beer that lasted ten years. This catapulted him into the leadership of the AFL-CIO and some of the most critical labor struggles from the l970s through his retirement in 2015.

Boycott Coors Non Union

Newly published by UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education, From Coors to California: David Sickler and The New Working Class is a collection of six essays written by scholars and labor activists that focus on key industries and constituencies Sickler targeted and the strategies he employed during his nearly fifty year career as a labor organizer and leader. The book is based substantially on an oral history that I conducted for the Oral History Center in 2014: David Sickler: A Lifetime as Labor Organizer, AFL-CIO Leader and Champion of Immigrant Workers.

An essay on the Coors strike discusses how Sickler became close friends with the San Francisco gay-rights activist Howard Wallace, having determined that gay bars in the City—and Latinx communities in Los Angeles—had the highest consumption of Coors beer in the country. They were able to stop the sale of Coors in most bars and kept distributors from handling Coors—a strategy replicated throughout the country.  Another essay on immigrant worker organizing shows how Sickler brought those who most trade unions considered threats to their movement, and who had been excluded, into unions and ultimately into the political mainstream of California. This took a lot of commitment, courage, and finesse. A new generation of Latinx leaders emerged from campaigns against California’s rabid anti-immigrant and labor Propositions l87 and 226. When longtime labor activist and California state assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 2005—the first Latino mayor—he appointed Sickler as his senior labor advisor and commissioner for the powerful public works department. Other essays examine the role Sickler played coordinating political strategies of various unions and establishing labor think tanks and educational programs.

David Sickler
David Sickler

Sickler’s winning personality and creative intelligence is evident throughout all the essays. The book will serve as a case study for labor organizing: already at book parties held at several labor centers around the country, a separate session has been convened for union representatives. There is also a useful bibliography and photographs that chronicle the narratives. As William Coors often repeated, one of the biggest mistakes he made was hiring David Sickler. As the oral history and this new book demonstrate, David Sickler was the better for it and so has been the history of the labor movement and social justice.


Deadline for Library Prize for Undergraduate Research coming up soon!

We are accepting submissions for the Charlene Conrad Liebau Library Prize for Undergraduate Research now until April 18 at 5 p.m. Undergraduate students of all levels and disciplines may apply. We especially welcome submissions from lower division students, whose projects are judged separately from those of the upper division. More details are available on the website.

Works in progress are eligible. Submissions are open to research projects from a UC Berkeley course in one of the following terms:

  • Lower division: Spring 2018, Summer 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019
  • Upper division: Summer 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019


The Languages of Berkeley: An Online Exhibition

Title page of the 1885 bilingual Madras edition

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Tirukkural holds the same status in Tamil culture that Confucius’s Analects hold in the Chinese and Sadi’s Gulistan holds in the Persian cultures respectively. Not only is the Tirukkural considered a masterpiece of literature but is also seen to embody the essence of Tamil ethics, virtue, and morality. A copy of the text can be found in nearly every Tamil home and verses from it are frequently quoted. In fact, it is so revered that one can take an oath on it in Tamil courts of law.

Despite such reverence, very little is definitively known either about the work’s author or the context of its production. Traditionally, it is attributed to Tiruvalluvar. The prefix tiru in both Tiruvalluvar and Tirukkural is the Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit sri and roughly means holy or sacred. Hence, the name of the reputed author is Valluvar. It is said that Tiruvalluvar, or Holy Valluvar, was a humble weaver who, despite his humble origins and implied lack of formal education, was so sagacious, pious, and holy that he perfectly captured the very essence of ethics, virtue, and morality, in fact the very essence of dharma, in short pithy poetic couplets that remain unsurpassed to this day.

Tiruvalluvar is generally believed to have lived in the 2nd century BCE, although there is no hard historical evidence for this and he might have lived any time between the 2nd century BCE and the 7th century CE. There is also no agreement on the place of his birth and exact religious affiliation. Nearly every major religion and sect in Tamil society has laid claim on him. Buddhists and Jains point to the similarity of Tiruvalluvar’s ethical teaching and the ethics of their respective traditions. Some Christians claim to see a Christian influence on him and declare him to be a disciple of St. Thomas the Apostle, who is traditionally held to be buried in Tamil Nadu. Even among Hindus there is no agreement on whether Tiruvalluvar was a Shaivite or Vaishnavite. Yet all appreciate his insights and their literary style.

The title of the work, Tirukkural, refers to this pithiness of the poetic couplets as kural literally means short, brief, concise or abbreviated. The work can thus be described as a set of poetic aphorisms. The meter used for the couplets is venpa, which is a very short meter. The text covers 133 topics each with 10 couplets dedicated to it giving a total of 1330 couplets. The topics are broadly related to three themes and thus divided into three sections. The first covers aram (virtue or dharma), the second deals with porul (wealth) and the last section is about inbam (love and enjoyment). These three sections cover the four main aims of human life as understood by Hindu sages. In Sanskrit they are called dharma (virtue, religious ethics), artha (wealth), kama (physical enjoyment), and moksha (salvation). The section on aram deals with both dharma and moksha, while the section on porul deals with artha, both at the individual and at the social and political level, and the section on inbam deals with kama.

In the traditions and legends related to Tiruvalluvar, another important person connected with his work is his wife Vasuki. Not only was she an ideal wife but was also wise and holy like her husband. She became a means and medium for many of the teachings about an ideal married life, relations between spouses, patience, and  forbearance. It is through her that Tiruvalluvar was able to give the answer to the question of whether salvation can be achieved while being a married member of society or does one have to renounce all social, especially marital, relations.

Tirukkural was first translated into Latin by the Italian Jesuit missionary Constanzo Beschi in 1699. As interest in Tamil culture and the Tamil language grew, it was subsequently translated into a number of European languages including English. Among these is the translation featured here that includes commentaries by respected Brahim scholars.

Until recently, the University of California, Berkeley was the only university in the United States to have a chair in Tamil Studies. From the very beginning of the Department for South & Southeast Asian Studies Tamil was one of the primary languages offered by it. World-renowned scholars, like Murray Barnson Emeneau, made Cal famous for the study of Dravidian and Indian linguistics. In 1975 Prof. George Hart joined as the Professor of Tamil and remained the holder of the Tamil Chair until his retirement a few years ago. His wife Kausalya Hart was the Tamil language instructor on campus and together they wrote Tamil textbooks that are still widely used. Prof. George played a key role in having the Indian government formally declare Tamil to be a classical language in 2004. Prof. Hart’s scholarly research on Tamil and Tamil literature earned him many awards and accolades including the Padma Shri, India’s third highest honor. Berkeley is set to continue its fine scholarly tradition in Tamil Studies as it looks forward to welcoming a new Tamil professor in a few months’ time. At the same time, Tamil language instruction continues to be provided by Dr. Bharathy Sankara Rajulu.

Contribution by Adnan Malik
Curator and Cataloger for the South Asia Collection
South/Southeast Asia Library

Title: திருக்குறள்
Title in English: The Kural of Tiruvalluvar
Authors: Tiruvalluvar; John Lazarus (trans.)
Imprint: Madras: W.P. Chettiar, 1885.
Edition: Unknown
Language: Tamil
Language Family: Dravidian
Source: HathiTrust Digital Library

Other digital editions:  English translation from Project Madurai, Side-by-side Tamil/English translation from

Print editions at Berkeley:  Tiruvalluvar, John Lazarus  (trans.). The Kural of Tiruvalluvar. Madras: W.P. Chettiar, 1885.

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The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).

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New Books in the Literature Collection

Ah, the mid-semester blues. As the term drags on, it’s nice to have something new in your life to shake things up—like the new books in the library’s collection! The books we recently received have something for everyone—whether you’re looking for poetry, prose, or criticism.

Check out the rest of the new acquisitions!

Want a book that we don’t have in the library? Request it here.

Nominations Open for Oral History Center’s Class of ’31 Narrators

We are excited to announce that nominations for our Class of ’31 interviews are now open. These interviews are intended to document the life and contributions of a person who has participated in and contributed to UC Berkeley’s campus life.

Selection criteria for nominees include: willingness of the nominee to participate, OHC interviewer expertise, uniqueness and rarity of the nominee’s story and level of contribution to campus life, and the generation of the nominee. Past nominees have included Patricia Pelfrey and Susan Ervin-Tripp.

Nominations are due by May 1, 2019 for the annual “Class of 1931” interviewee; the 2019 interviewee will be announced in mid-May 2019. Direct any questions to Martin Meeker, Oral History Center director:

New Photo Books in the Art History / Classics Library

The Art History/Classics Library has received a gift of eight photography titles from donor Richard Sun. In addition to being the donor of a generous endowment to the Library Fine Arts Collection at Berkeley, Richard Sun annually selects and purchases specific titles for the Library. Among his recent selections for the library are several rare titles, limited editions, and Julia Borissova’s artist book “Let me fall again.” These books will be housed in the Art History / Classics Library.

OHC Director’s Column, March 2019

by Martin Meeker; @MartinDMeeker

How do thoughtful, articulate, quiet people who have something to say get heard? In this day and age in which the loudest voices, the most outlandish ideas, and the most shocking stories get the greatest attention, is there even room for the longform, deep-dive oral histories that the Oral History Center produces? We certainly think that there is — actually, we’re pretty sure that not only is there a place for these interviews, but there is a real need for them. This leaves us with the question: how do we spread word of the remarkable interviews that we conduct? What’s the best way for people who could benefit from our work to learn about it and thus use it?

Since you’re reading this newsletter, you’re already in the loop and engaged with what we do (and we thank you for paying attention!). But we are also constantly examining the ways in which we attempt to connect and considering potential new avenues for outreach. Like most every organization today, we have a pretty robust social media presence. We use our feeds (twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube, and soundcloud) to announce the completion of new oral histories, to pay tribute to narrators who’ve achieved something or sadly passed away, or just to share things reasonably related to oral history which might interest our community. Have you engaged with us on social media? Are you interested in what we have to say? Do you think we might use it better? We want to know.

We try to extend our reach by hosting educational seminars and institutes, by speaking to classes and community groups, and by simply answering our emails (but we get a lot, so apologies in advance if I take a few days to get back to you!). We recognize that a 300-page oral history transcript is sometimes a difficult nut to crack, so we produce brief clips introducing folks to some main themes or interesting moments drawn from the interviews, and share these as widely as possible. We have begun producing podcasts and, soon, longer format videos to show ways in which the original recordings of our interviews can be used to create engaging and informative analytic pieces — and thus encouraging others to use our oral histories in similar ways. And, of course our transcripts continue to provide extraordinarily valuable, irreplaceable evidentiary bases to mountains of books, articles, and theses. What are other options that we might use to spread word of the remarkable interviews? How might the transcripts and recordings be used in novel and enlightening ways?

The big questions posed above are now being addressed head-on by our newly refurbished and expanded production/operations/communications team at the Oral History Center. As a result of a recent search to fulfill our “Communications Specialist III” vacancy, we hired two immensely qualified individuals. David Dunham, who has been on our staff for many years in other capacities, has assumed the new role of Operations Manager; Jill Schlessinger, who came to us from UCB Student Affairs, has joined us as Communications Manager. In addition to working as a team to make sure we continue our successful production of dozens of oral histories every year, Jill and David are tackling these very thorny questions focused on how to raise our collective voice so that the voices of narrators are heard and the content of their oral histories is widely known. Expect to hear more from us in the coming months as all of this comes to fruition. As always, we welcome your input and we’re happy to listen — you might say that’s something we do rather well!


Martin Meeker

Charles B. Faulhaber Director

Meet Jill Schlessinger, the Oral History Center’s New Communications Manager

The Oral History Center is pleased to announce our newest staff member, Jill Schlessigner. She joins our team as Communications Manager. We caught up with her recently to chat about her background in history, interest in oral history, and the projects that she’s most excited to embark on with the OHC.

Q: When did you first encounter oral history?

Schlessinger: As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I chose a senior thesis research course that was about oral history. I studied the field of oral history interviewing and research methodology and wrote an oral history thesis. I studied female college students’ attitudes towards abortion from the 1950s to 1980s. Interviewing people from different backgrounds and perspectives taught me a lot about the importance of solid preparation, not making assumptions, and keeping an open mind.

Q: You recently joined our team as a Communications Manager. What were you doing before the OHC?

Schlessinger: Before joining the Oral History Center, I was a content strategist in Student Affairs Communications at UC Berkeley. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of fields in my career — higher education, health care, human resources, technology — and I find working in education to be especially fulfilling.


Q: You have a PhD from UCB in History. What did you study?

Schlessinger: I studied US History at the turn of the century, with a focus on social history and women’s history. My dissertation, “Such Inhuman Treatment”: Family Violence in the Chicago Middle Class, 1871–1920, was an analysis of changing power dynamics and community intervention in middle-class families. Something interesting I learned was that many Chicago residents, without anywhere else to turn, pressured the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to address cases of child cruelty, and the Society ultimately changed its mission and name. The Illinois Humane Society became a pioneering child-saving organization. This is something that happened in cities across the country, and numerous animal protection agencies also expanded to protect children and other vulnerable people from physical cruelty.


Q: Which of the OHC interviews do you feel the most connection to, either because of your PhD or current interests?

Schlessinger: It’s challenging to choose just one project because the Oral History Center’s interviews touch on so many of our society’s most pressing issues. However, I would say I feel a connection to the interviews from the Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front collection. The Rosies are an important part of women’s history, the history of World War II, and our local history here in the East Bay, and I’ve always found their stories inspiring. On a fun note, I helped break the Guinness world record for the most people dressed as Rosie the Riveter in one place! It’s wonderful that the Oral History Center is instrumental in preserving these voices.


Q: What projects are most excited to be working on?

Schlessinger: The team at the Oral History Center produces an enormous amount of important work. There are the oral history interviews, of course, which delve into the thinking of some of California’s — and the world’s — greatest pioneers and influencers. And the podcasts based on these interviews bring to life the experiences of our narrators and the causes they championed. The Center also conducts a number of educational programs, which reach beyond academics to support journalists, public historians, independent scholars, and others to deepen their interviewing and research skills. We also employ a small army of students who help us with video and transcript production, research, communications, and more. Without them, our historians wouldn’t be able to conduct so many interviews, and it’s wonderful that in turn we are also able to give our students meaningful research and work opportunities. I’m excited to develop a communications plan that helps the Oral History Center share all of this marvelous work, so that people are able to take advantage of everything we have to offer.


Q: How do we get in touch with you?

Schlessinger: You can reach me at I’d love to hear from anyone who is interested in helping us share the stories of our narrators and the Center.

Oral History Center Leads Introductory Workshop

by Shanna Farrell; @shanna_farrell

When Spring  rains shower the Bay Area,  saturating the ground and greying the skies, we know it’s time for our annual Introductory Oral History Workshop. On Saturday, March 2nd, as raindrops beat against our stained-glass windows, we welcomed a group of forty to campus, where they they learned the nuts and bolts of doing oral history . They braved the wet weather to join us from all over Northern California , and even  as far as North Carolina.

The  oral history project topics of attendees varied from burlesque to the Third World Liberation Front, and from the mining industry to environmental conservation. However, we design our  introductory seminars to be applicable for everyone. OHC Director Martin Meeker gave an overview of what makes oral history oral history. Paul Burnett and Roger Eardley-Pryor discussed the intricacies of project planning. Amanda Tewes and Shanna Farrell led a discussion on interviewing techniques. Burnett and Meeker shared recording tips and tricks, and Tewes and Todd Holmes shared potential uses of oral history drawing from  a cadre of past projects.

The workshop also featured a live interview exercise led by Farrell. One of the workshop participants, Trisha Pritikin, volunteered to be interviewed by Farrell so other attendees  could see an oral history unfold in real time. Eardley-Pryor then engaged Farrell, Pritikin, and workshop participants in a group discussion. Attendees shared their observations, asked Farrell about  certain lines of questioning , and inquired how Pritikin felt sitting in the “hotseat.”

These workshops always prove inspiring for OHC interviewers, staff, and student supporters  because we interact with attendees who share our passion for oral history.

Thanks to all of you who made the workshop so great! And if you missed it this year, we’ll see you next Spring in 2020!

Want more oral history training? Check out our Advanced Oral History Summer Institute. Email Shanna Farrell ( with questions.