Senior Research Seminar, AHIS 489Z
Helen Quirini exemplifies the experience of many labor activists whose lives drastically changed during the McCarthy era. Quirini was a member of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UERMWA) who adamantly fought for gender equality while working at a General Electric Plant in Schenectady, New York. During the Cold War era, anti-Communist sentiments strengthened across the United States. In an effort to eradicate Communism from America, Congress investigated leftist activists, politicians, and labor union leaders, in the process labeling any leftist political ideas, speech, or presentations as subversive to the American government. This resulted in the McCarthy era; a time in history characterized by political repression, a chilling effect on free speech, and the diminution of the power of labor unions.
Quirini and her Local 301 of UERMWA serve as a case study of the disastrous results of McCarthyism. The Helen Quirini Papers in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives at the University at Albany, SUNY are a wealth of primary source information to describe the challenges Quirini’s union endured during the McCarthy era. Utilizing these materials as well as other secondary articles and books, most notably Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, my research concluded that activists in the McCarthy era faced extreme suppression of their constitutional rights. They were questioned in Congressional hearings even if they had no connection to the Communist Party; their flirtation with leftist activism was enough to make them a target of the government. Quirini and other members of UERMWA were subject to the horrid practices of McCarthyism. My conclusion states that despite showing bravery in the face of McCarthyism, Helen Quirini’s valiant efforts to hold her union together were not strong enough to defeat the anti-Communist powerhouse that had taken over the United States and dismantled unions across the nation.
Flemming, Sabrina, "Helen Quirini’s Confrontation: McCarthyism and its Effect on the United Electrical Workers Union" (2020). Library Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research. 2.