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.


From the Oral History Center Director – OHC and Education

For an office that does not offer catalog-listed courses, the Oral History Center is still deeply invested in — and engaged with — the teaching mission of the university.

For over 15 years, our signature educational program has been our annual Advanced Oral History Summer Institute. Started by OHC interviewer emeritus Lisa Rubens in 2002 and now headed up by staff historian Shanna Farrell, this week-long seminar attracts about 40 scholars every year. Past attendees have come from most states in the union and internationally too — from Ireland and South Korea, Argentina and Japan, Australia and Finland. The Summer Institute, applications for which are now being accepted, follows the life cycle of the interview, with individual days devoted to topics such as “Project Planning” and “Analysis and Interpretation.”

In 2015 we launched the Introduction to Oral History Workshop, which was created with the novice oral historian in mind, or individuals who simply wanted to learn a bit more about the methodology but didn’t necessarily have a big project to undertake. Since then, a diverse group of undergraduate students, attorneys, authors, psychologists, genealogists, park rangers, and more have attended the annual workshop. This year’s workshop will be held on Saturday February 3rd and registration is now open.

In addition to these formal, regularly scheduled events, OHC historians and staff often speak to community organizations, local historical societies, student groups, and undergraduate and graduate research seminars. If you’d like to learn more about what we do at the Center and about oral history in general, please drop us a note! 

OHC student employees Hailie O'Bryan and Pilar Montenegro
OHC student employees Hailie O’Bryan and Pilar Montenegro in front of our “blue wall of transcripts”

In recent years we have had the opportunity to work closely with a small group of Berkeley undergrads: our student employees. Although the Center has employed students for many decades, only in the past few years have they come to play such an integral role in and make such important contributions to our core activities. Students assist with the production of transcripts, including entering narrator corrections and writing tables of contents; they work alongside David Dunham, our lead technologist, in creating metadata for interviews and editing oral history audio and video; and they partner with interviewers to conduct background research into our narrators and the topics we interview them about. With these contributions, students have helped the Center in very real, measurable ways, most importantly by enabling an increase in productivity: the past few years have been some of the most productive in terms of hours of interviews conducted in the Center’s history. We also like to think that by providing students with intellectually challenging, real-world assignments, we are contributing to their overall educational experience too.

As 2017 draws to a close, I join my Oral History Center colleagues Paul Burnett, David Dunham, Shanna Farrell, and Todd Holmes in thanking our amazing student employees: Aamna Haq, Carla Palassian, Hailie O’Bryan, Maggie Deng (who wrote her first contribution to our newsletter this issue), Nidah Khalid, Pilar Montenegro, Vincent Tran, and Marisa Uribe!

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the Oral History Center

Patricia J. Greene: Recombinant DNA Technology in Herb Boyer’s UCSF Lab in the 1970s

Now available online, an oral history with Patricia Greene: Recombinant DNA Technology in Herb Boyer’s UCSF Lab in the 1970s. Interviewed by Sally Smith Hughes in 2006, this interview in the series on bioscience and biotechnology in Northern California documents Greene’s contributions in the Boyer lab to making recombinant DNA technology in the 1970s more efficient and productive.

Photo of Patricia Greene from 1970s

George Halvorson, Chair and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, 2002-2013

Today we are thrilled to release our substantial life history interview with George Halvorson, a former Chair and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest providers of health care. Halvorson has been listed several times on Modern Healthcare‘s “Most Influential People in Healthcare” roll call, reaching the #6 position in 2012. Halvorson headed up the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals from 2002 through 2013. Before that, he served as founding CEO of HealthPartners in Minnesota. Since his retirement from Kaiser, Halvorson has devoted his time to promoting the benefits of early childhood education through California’s First Five initiative and to addressing social difference and tensions through his own Institute for Intergroup Understanding.

In 2016, Karen Ignagni, herself one of the Most Influential People in Healthcare and former CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, wrote this of Halvorson:

George Halvorson has led an extraordinary life that is filled with accomplishment, introspection and leadership. These tapes beautifully capture what he did, but what’s especially riveting is how he did it. In listening to the complete set, you come away with nothing but admiration for the sheer magnitude of what this curious, big thinking, self-aware but personally modest man has accomplished.

I’ve known George for approximately 25 years and believe leaders from different stakeholder communities will find these interviews both inspiring and challenging. While all of us know how successful George has been, these interviews explain how his career unfolded, what drove him, and how he created the circumstances that allowed him to lead very different organizations.

As listeners, we have a front row seat for his thought process, his choices and his perseverance. We learn what a formative experience it was for George not to become the CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, how it made him available for the leadership role at HealthPartners, and how he forged new relationships with physician groups and hospitals long before health policy leaders were suggesting this was the path to the future.

We learn how George worked with Key employers in Minnesota to attack rising healthcare costs, create product transparency and pave the way for a pathbreaking buying cooperative. At the same time, we learn how a busy and successful executive constructed and implemented a plan to bring healthcare coverage to the people of Uganda and teach leaders from the World Bank how to achieve that objective efficiently and effectively.

Even though I had the pleasure of watching George’s transition to Kaiser Permanente, I enjoyed listening to him describe why he made the change and what he set out to accomplish in that key delivery system. At that point in their careers many CEOs might have chosen to simply enjoy the ride. Not George Halvorson. He chose to make Kaiser a leader on safety long before it was top of mind for others in large health systems. We learn about his quest to attack sepsis and reorient his hospitals’ processes to make that possible. We also learn about what it took to form a strong partnership with the Permanente medical group and exactly what made that work over time.

But that’s not all. George was a leader in helping to pass the Affordable Care Act. Here he gives us an inside look at what that responsibility meant to him and how it impacted the country. George has been an actor on the national stage, but what is particularly fascinating is his ability to explain what he was thinking, why and how that crafted his strategy. As a listener, you are transported back in time as he recounts his experience.

George’s introspection as a prolific author makes him a skilled raconteur. You root for him, you admire him and you are delighted that you listened. Many CEOs have experiences worth sharing but few have the ability to teach. George Halvorson has that gift, and these tapes make it possible for us to learn, to admire and to respect this unique individual who dared to dream and had the courage and skills to lead.

Video excerpts:

Ian Carmichael: A Life in Geology, Teaching, Research, and Administration

We are pleased to announce the completion of our oral history with Ian S. E. Carmichael. Carmichael, who passed away in 2011, was a professor of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on volcanoes and the underground processes that shape them. Carmichael was the chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Geology and Geophysics from 1972-1976 and 1980-1982. He was associate dean for research in the Office of Provost for Research (1986-2000), associate dean for academic affairs in the Graduate Division (1985-2000), and acting director of the UC Botanical Garden (1997-1998). He was director of UC Berkeley?s Lawrence Hall of Science from 1996 to 2003.was a Professor of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley. Read his obituary here.


Photo of Ian Carmichael in the 1990s by Rebecca Lange

Welcoming our Newest Historian and Interviewer: Todd Holmes

We are proud to announce the arrival of a new interviewer at the Oral History Center, Todd Holmes. Todd is joining us from the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, where he was a researcher and Affiliated Scholar. Todd completed his PhD from Yale University, where he studied the political history of California and its impact on national politics in the late-20th century. His book manuscript is called The Fruits of Fracture: The Corporate West, The United Farm Workers Movement, and the Rise of Reaganism in American Politics. We were intrigued by Todd’s interests, skills, and promise as an oral historian, and thought he would be a great addition to our group, helping us with our series on Politics and Government; Business; Food and Wine; Natural Resources, Land Use, and the Environment; and Social Movements.

We thought it would be appropriate to conduct an oral history interview with Dr. Holmes to learn a bit more about him and to share what we learned with you. Although Todd’s doctorate in history was from back East, he in fact hails from California. He grew up in Roseville, northeast of Sacramento, with both sides of his family farming in the Central Valley. As a child, Todd showed a passion for history, especially the history of US presidents. But unlike many, he persisted in his passion by earning a B.A. and M.A. in history from Sacramento State, resulting in a comparison amongst some of his relatives between him and the Forrest Gump: “Well, Todd just kept going to school because no one told him he had to stop.” At Yale, Todd broadened his interests in subfields of history, and other disciplines as well, including political science and anthropology, which was particularly facilitated by his four years as coordinator of the interdisciplinary Agrarian Studies Program.

In this interview, Todd also discusses the evolution of his dissertation/ book project, which views the rise of Reagan’s brand of politics through the lens of the struggle between the California farmworkers movement and what he calls the Corporate West, a unified front in California that coalesced partly in response to labor organization in California’s farms and fields in the 1960s. Todd’s extensive archival research ranged from politicians to corporate ledgers to the documents of the United Farmworkers. But it was the oral history collection here at the Bancroft Library that he feels helped him to understand what was going on beyond the documentary record:

… there’s no archival material that could give you this type of insight. Reagan’s business advisors, Holmes Tuttle, Henry Salvatori, the kind of influence and relationships and how that worked. There is no paper trail. Holmes Tuttle didn’t write letters with Ronald Reagan; he talked to him on the phone every single day.

Todd then went out on his own to interview housewives who made the consumer choices that supported the boycott, labor activists whose views revealed a range of perspectives on the farmworker movement, and larger growers who stood to lose from the UFW grape boycott. In these interviews, Todd realized the extent to which political identity in his story failed to cleave neatly along lines of party affiliation, occupation, socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity. As one example, Todd recounts his interview with a self-identified conservative housewife who supported the grape boycott.

Notwithstanding this political complexity on the ground, Todd argues that the farmworkers’ bid for social justice ultimately produced a better organized, more broadly based conservative movement in California and, later, in the entire United States.

So at the end of the day you could say that the movement did this, this, and this. The unintended consequence is you just strengthened and galvanized and politically mobilized the very corporate entity that you thought you were challenging… And that kind of insight, what really pushed me to look at that, came from talking to a number of growers who had been in agriculture for a very long time.

It is from this conclusion that the interview turns to a discussion of the purpose of oral history, which is usually understood as a practice of social justice in itself, of redressing an imbalance in the documentary record that favors, well, the record keepers, the winners of history. While this is an important goal of oral history, Todd recalls that oral history is essential to understanding how people make sense of their world in every conceivable context, including the governance of the state of California.

After Todd completed his PhD, he took a post-doctoral fellowship at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, where he again immersed himself in an interdisciplinary environment that was devoted to historical scholarship, policy research and educational outreach about the region he knows best. At the Bill Lane Center, Todd became intrigued by the possibilities of working in a para-academic environment, one that is devoted to public history and making use of new technological platforms to reach more people: researchers, policymakers, students, and a curious public.

We are delighted to have Todd join us, and we look forward to collaborating with him on large oral history projects and on new ways to present our work online, using the latest tools to do so. Watch these pages for Todd’s contributions to the Oral History Center!

Paul Burnett, Oral History Center

From the Director: Celebrating the Oral History Class of 2016

The 2015-2016 school year recently wrapped up at the Oral History Center with what has become a new and thriving tradition: the annual Oral History Graduation! In late April or early May over the past four years, we have hosted our commencement ceremony in which we celebrate the oral histories completed over the past year. This special event gives us an opportunity to thank our interviewees for the often considerable time they give to our projects and to the sponsors who make those projects possible.

This year we were especially honored to have many of our interviewees in attendance, including: former head of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission Will Travis, labor leaders Dave and Carole Sickler, former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, Emeritus Vice President for Health Affairs for the University of California Cornelius Hopper, jazz pianist Gildo Mahones, former City College of San Francisco president Del Anderson Handy, St. George Spirits founder Jorg Rupf, Berkeley legal scholar Jack Coons, winemaker Zelma Long, paleontologist Bill Clemens, and, last but not least, Bernice Grimes, Kay Morrison, Mary Torres, and Marian Wynn, who were interviewed for our Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front oral history project. We also were honored by attendance of Howard Friesen, who along with his late wife Carmel provided OHC with a substantial endowment that will allow us to develop ever more important projects in the years to come.

At this year’s Oral History Class of 2016 event I had the privilege of introducing our excellent staff members to the attendees. It is always a special occasion when we add a new person to our team and this year I was thrilled to introduce Todd Holmes as a member of our staff for the first time. Todd started with us in mid-April and in just six weeks time has already started to make important contributions to the intellectual life of the office. I encourage you to check out the “From the Archives” piece Todd wrote on our 1978 oral history with former California Secretary of State March Fong Eu. You’ll also want to see the excellent profile on Todd written by our now seasoned oral historian Paul Burnett.

Martin Meeker
Charles B. Faulhaber Director

New Oral Histories in the Global Mining and Materials Research Project

We are proud to announce eleven new interviews for the Global Mining and Materials Research Project, which focuses on key transitions in technology, policy, and geopolitics that have brought mining to its current state worldwide. These eleven new interviews feature leading metallurgists, software engineers, experts in mine health and safety, executives in the fields of industrial minerals, coal mining, and hard-rock mining, and an executive director of a mining association. We are most grateful to these narrators for taking time out of a busy schedule to speak to us about the evolution of the mining industry over the past forty years.


These interviews were funded with support from the American Institute of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME), the Association for Iron & Steel Technology (AIST), The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society (TMS), and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE).

From the Archives: March Fong Eu, Pioneering Woman in California Politics

Photo of March Fong Eu
It almost goes without saying that 2016 may prove to be another historic, breakthrough year for women in politics. In recognition of this, the Oral History Center has initiated a new project to highlight the rare and important interviews in our collection of women who, against tremendous odds, broke through glass ceilings and forged their own path in the political arena. Over the next few months, we will feature some of these noteworthy pioneers in our newsletter. Also be on the lookout for a new audio series we are putting together on this very important subject.

This month we pay tribute to March Fong Eu, former Secretary of State and member of the State Assembly in California. Fong Eu was the subject a major oral history interview conducted by the Center in 1978. From an early age, Ms. Eu was considered a trailblazer, earning a BS in Dentistry from UC Berkeley and a PhD in Education from Stanford University. In 1966, after years of work in local politics, she announced her candidacy for the State Assembly. Although bold and inspiring, the move garnered little support initially from the Democratic Party. Even Nicholas Petris, a Democratic incumbent in Eu’s district who knew her well, gave his endorsement to another candidate. “When you’re pressed to endorse candidates, sometimes you ultimately make a decision as to the one that?s going to win, more than the person you prefer,” Eu would recall. “Maybe he just felt that it couldn’t happen that I would win: There was only one woman in the legislature; women just did not get elected. And a Chinese woman at that.”

March Fong Eu proved them wrong. She won the Democratic primary, and went on to win in the November election, becoming not only the second woman elected to the California Legislature, but also the first from Asian ancestry. After serving four terms, she successfully ran for Secretary of State in 1974, becoming the first Asian American woman elected to a state constitutional office in the United States. She would hold that office for the next two decades, resigning in 1994 to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Federal States of Micronesia at the request of President Bill Clinton.

March Fong Eu’s accomplishments in Sacramento were many. In the Legislature, she pushed to abolish paid toilets in public buildings, an unfair and discriminatory feature for women, and spearheaded many successful policy campaigns in the fields of education, public health, consumer affairs, farm pesticide safety, family planning, environmental protection, and tax reform. As Secretary of State she instituted innovations such as voter registration by mail, at-large absentee balloting, internet reporting of all election-related data, and the inclusion of candidate statements in ballot pamphlets. Throughout her thirty years of service, Ms. Eu stood as a pioneer in California politics, opening doors for the number of women who followed. As she would later observe, her tenure in Sacramento helped many “accept the fact that change is here and change has come.”

Excerpts from her speech, ‘The Self-Sufficient Woman’ February 1973

If there is one field where women must be especially self-sufficient, it is politics. I say this not only because I could cite statistic after statistic about the small number of women in elected offices. I say this not only because I could talk about the virtual void of women in higher political administrative positions?. But my saying women have to be especially self-sufficient in politics has to do with a kind of ?seriousness syndrome? which is part of the double standard in politics…

When women have fun, there seems to be a massive male overreaction. When one burning took place of a uniquely female garment of support, all of a sudden all women seeking legal justice and social equality were frivolous, crazy bra-burners. If I may speak jocularly, I wonder if someone revolting against the rather unusual athletic mystique in this country were to burn a uniquely male garment of support, whether there might be a similar reaction.

Maybe if some men had to bear and rear unwanted babies themselves, they would understand better our resentment of laws relating to our reproductive systems. Maybe if some men let their wives involuntarily control their income, they would understand better our resentment of present discriminatory statutes directed toward women as a class. And maybe if some men were raped, and, in pursuit of justice, they found that they had to reveal humiliating information about their past lives- maybe then they would understand the anger of women who feel they are doubly wronged by rapists and the laws concerning rape.

I guess what I am saying is that I believe it is about time that some men need to do some honest rethinking about their perspective and prejudices.

Being one of only two women in the California Legislature, in the last six years I have been in a good position to see the emerging political activism of women and I am delighted by it…

I am confident that the two constituencies for whom I have become something of a symbol will continue to grow in power and influence so that no longer will they feel that they are constantly being ‘White-Maled.’

Todd Holmes, Oral History Center

David Sickler: A Lifetime as Labor Organizer, AFL-CIO Leader and Champion of Immigrant Workers

David Sickler Boycott Coors Non-union button

David Sickler: A Lifetime as Labor Organizer, AFL-CIO Leader and Champion of Immigrant Workers

David Sickler has a long and distinguished career as a labor organizer, as a leader within the AFL-CIO and as an innovator of efforts to organize immigrant workers. At 18, he began work on the bottling line at Coors Brewing Company in Golden Colorado, soon becoming a shop steward and then business manager of Brewery Workers Union, Local 366. Following a strike in 1977, AFL-CIO President George Meany picked Sickler to head the national boycott of Coors Beer, a struggle that lasted ten years and led to a successful resolution, and became a model campaign emulated by other unions.

In 1986 Sickler was appointed AFL-CIO Regional Director as well as the Executive Director of the Los Angeles-Orange Counties Organizing Committee. Following passage of the Immigration Reform Act in 1988, he established the Labor Immigrant Assistance Project and the AFL-CIO Immigrant Workers? Association. Subsequently he was the senior labor advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as Commissioner of Public Works, and as Executive Director of Employment Relations at the L.A. Department of Water and Power.

Beginning in 2009 Sickler was Southern Regional Director of The California State Building and Construction Trades Council. He has served as Chair of the UCLA Center for Labor and Research Advisory Committee and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Pat Brown Institute.