One of our regular contributors (who wanted to remain anonymous for this entry) recently told me that he married the granddaughter of Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Outside New York this name may not resonate as much as it does within, and in labor circles in the Big Apple, the Van Arsdale name is legendary. I rememebered how teachers in high school told us about Van Arsdale's accomplishments as a labor leader, and how there was a high school named after him and a labor center in Albany, but I have to admit, my recollections are sketchy at best. Our contributor friend gave me a short rundown of Van Arsdale's accomplishments and I took that as a starting point to start my own research on him. Labor no longer has the powerful leaders that it once had a few decades ago. This is as much an indication of the decline of the unions as it is emblematic of an anti-labor government.
Van Arsdale's accomplishments as leader of Local 3, The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers offer us lessons today for what unions can do to once again be vital to workers and respected among all.
The Van Arsdale family had radical beginnings. The Van Arsdale's were one of the original Dutch families in New Amsterdam, and it was a Van Arsdale who climbed up the flagpole at the foot of Manhattan island to remove the British flag that Her Majesty's troops left as a parting gift to the colony. Sailor John Van Arsdale climbed up the pole, removed the union jack, nailed the U.S. flag up and greased the pole for prevention of future flag removals.
The Van Arsdale family stayed in New York City for generations following the revolutionary period. Harry's story begins in 1925:
The son of a union...