©2003-2007 Lincoln Cushing; a print version of this article is in Progressive Librarian Journal, Issue #21 (Winter 2002); revised 1/2/2010
ALSO see related articles - Sidewalk contractor stamps and Use the Union Label

Proposal for Inclusion of Union Label Description
In Bibliographic and Archival Cataloging Guidelines

I. Invisibility

"Step by step, the longest march
Can be won, can be won;
Single stones will form an arch
One by one, one by one
And, by Union what we will
Can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill,
Singly none, singly none."

-from the cover page of the Constitution of the American Miners' Association, 1864

Data are like drops of water. Individually, they are usually quite meaningless. Only once they are organized, with purpose, do they take on significance.  This proposal seeks to rectify the oversight by catalogers to include information about a small but important item of published data - the union label, or "bug [1] ".

II. A Brief History of Union Printing

The dawn of modern printing occurred during the 1880's, when photoengraving and rotary presses made their debut.  By the 1890's the production improvements included linotype machines, electric drives, and automatic paper feeders. Mechanization began to transform a small-scale industry into a trade with craft specialization.

In January 1850, New York journeymen organized the New York Printers' Union, whose president was Horace Greeley, apprenticed printer and founder of the daily New York Tribune. Greeley was an outspoken advocate for social justice -"…the first if not the most important movement to be made in advance of our present social position is the organization of Labor. [2] "  The National Typographical Union was organized soon afterwards on May 3, 1852 (in 1869 it upgraded its name to International Typographical Union, or ITU).   Originally the ITU was a comprehensive industrial union with a membership drawn from all phases of the printing process.  Technological developments at the end of the 1800's resulted in increased job specialization, which in turn led to segregation of union jurisdiction.  Pressure formed within the ITU. for a separate pressmen's union [3] . The International Brotherhood of Bookbinders (IBB) was founded in 1892. The International Printing Pressmen Union of North America (IPPU) was founded in 1889, and by 1897 added the Assistants to form the IPPAU.  The International Stereotypers' and Electroplater's Union (IS&EU) was formed in 1902.  By the time the International Photoengraver's Union (IPEU) was formed in 1904 four separate unions represented the portion of the printing trade outside the composing room. However, of these the ITU remained the strongest and most stable printing union in the United States until the mid 1900's. [4] , [5]

The Amalgamated Lithographers of America (ALA), representing the lithographic industry, was founded in 1915. [6]   By the late 1900's a series of mergers consolidated many of the unions. The Lithographers and Photoengravers International Union (LPIU) was formed in 1964 when the International Photo Engravers Union of North America (IPEUNA) and the ALA merged, and in 1972 the LPIU merged with the International Brotherhood of Bookbinders (IBB) to become the Graphic Arts International Union (GAIU), whereupon the locals involved added a "-M" (signifying "merged") to their GAIU bug number. Meanwhile, in 1973 the IPPAU merged with the IS&EU, creating the International Printing and Graphic Communications Union (IPGCU).   [6.5]

Ten years later the IPGCU merged with the GAIU to form the Graphic Communications International Union (GCIU) [7] , and in 1987 the ITU, suffering from declining membership in the face of dramatic technological changes, joined forces with the Communication Workers of America (C.W.A.) [8] . The Graphic Communications International Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters officially joined forces on January 1, 2005 after the GCIU membership ratified the merger by a clear majority in late 2004. As of 2007 more than 60,000 GCIU members in the United States are part of the Graphic Communications Conference (GCC).

The impact of union membership on document production varies depending on geographical region, type of document, printing client, and date.  As with most industrial unions, membership is highest in regions where laborers are most concentrated. Also, some parts of the country (Northeast, Midwest) have a history and culture that is supportive of trade union activities. Estimates of the portion of the lithographic workforce represented by the ALA in 1958 is illustrative of the major regions of representation [9] :

Metropolitan area

All production workers

Journeymen & apprentices

ALA Represented portion

New York








San Francisco








St. Louis




Los Angeles








Union representation in the printing workforce, as most industries, has generally declined in the last half of the 20th century.  In 1899 an estimated 26% of wage earners in printing and publishing as a whole were unionized, the percentage by 63% in 1935 [10] .  The current figure is approximately 5-10%.  Another factor is industry segment; workers in the newspaper and magazine sectors have always been more organized than those in the book and job printing sectors.  The San Francisco Chronicle was one of many major metropolitan newspapers produced with union labor, and the Allied bug appeared on the front page of every edition until July 2009.

III. Use of the Union Bug

Printers have been know to use a bug to designate union labor as early as October 15, 1891, when it appeared at the head of the editorial column of the Compositors (ITU) Typographical Journal. The first known use of a bug in commercially-produced documents was by the IPPAU in May 1893 [11] .  The union label has at least five purposes [12] :

1. It is a protection against anti- or non-union shops that might otherwise profess union working conditions.
2. It can be part of a public-relations campaign to induce customers to buy union-made products. [13]
3. It is a sign of good workmanship and quality standards.
4. It is badge of union prestige to attract new members.
5. It is warning against trespass by competitive unions.

In 1897, under the pact with Pressmen and Bookbinders, the Compositors agreed to a design for a new Allied Printing Trades Council label (see Appendix 1).  In 1911 all five unions in the trade (ITU, IBB, IE&SU, IPP, and IPEU) formed the International Allied Printing Trades Council (IAPTC) as an inter-union agency to control and promote the use of the union label. By 1939 the Allied label was in general use throughout the printing trade and took precedence over the individual labels of the five internationals.  Of course, this was not seen as an entirely positive activity by the management side of the industry.  The United Typothetae of America (UTA) was founded to represent the interests of printshop owners in response to the outrageous demand by the ITU for a nine-hour day in the late 1880's.  In 1899 the UTA passed a resolution deprecating the use of the union label by its members and encouraged them to stop putting the label on work produced in their shops. [14]

There are two exceptions to the use of the Allied label. Some printshops use their own printing union's bug, such as that of the GCIU, when there is no regional Allied council. Some examples displayed below are the GCIU "football" bug and the Amalgamated Lithographer's Union.

The other comes from shops that are in-house duplication services of unions for trades other than printing exclusively, such as the United Electrical Workers Union, the United Farm Workers, the California State Employees Association, or the Industrial Workers of the World (pictured below). Note that the IWW bug is accompanied by the "I.U" (Industrial Union) number 450 which designates it as a printshop; it has no geographic meaning whatsoever.


 The label has remained a highly symbolic weapon in the struggle between labor and capital.

 Here is a sample of the text describing use of the union label in 1925:

"Witnesseth, that the said party of the first part, in consideration of the use and privileges of the Amalgamated Lithographers of America Union label, owned and controlled by the said party of the second part, hereby agree to employ in the different departments of which the party of the second part claim jurisdiction over none but members of the union of the party of the second part and to comply with the adopted rules and regulations of the union represented.

To see that all work contracted by _____ is produced by union labor, as heretofore provided, not to use the said union label upon anything but the strict production of such union labor, and not to loan said union label, except by permission of the party of the second part.  Any violation of this agreement shall make it null and void; and the further use of the Amalgamated Lithographers of America's Union label shall be warrant and illegal. [15] "

IV. Bug metadata

Bugs usually appear discreetly at the corner of a back page or at the bottom of a title page – (sample below is from Printers and Technology, by Elizabeth Faulkner Baker).  

The most common union bug is that of the Allied Printing Trades (below). It signifies that all aspects of the work, from typesetting to finishing, were performed by union labor. This bug contains several important pieces of information.  The lower arc contains the geographic region, which may be a city ("New York") or a broader area ("Northern California"). Coupled with that location is a shop name or number.  The number is permanently assigned when the shop is organized.  A regional list of union shops, indexed by shop name and number, is available from the local Printing Trades Council.  A national database is also now available on-line [16] .

It should be noted that the union bug is a copyrighted symbol, and is occasionally accompanied by a © symbol.  This adds a legal dimension to archival material duplication, because any reproduction of the document, commercial or otherwise, cannot bear the bug unless it is reproduced by union labor.  The bug is protected by state laws and printing trade customs, with penalties for misuse including fines and imprisonment.

V. Union bug recognition and oversight

Some catalogers recognize the importance of the union bug in describing materials. One example is a commercial website specializing in political campaign ephemera, including buttons and badges [17] (significant text bolded by author):

209. "REPUBLICAN INTEGRITY: 41st PRES. BUSH" (w/Lincoln, TR, etc.).$8.00
210. "MIKE DUKAKIS FOR PRESIDENT '88" w/union bug. r/w/b. cell. $6.00 211. "BUSH - QUAYLE '88" r/w/b. litho. $4.00
212. "DUKAKIS-BENTSEN '88" r/w/b. cell. mint. $8.00
213. "ATU - DUKAKIS - BENTSEN '88" with union bug. litho. bright. $6.00

Most catalogers, however, have no idea what to do with them.   Full cataloging of bug-bearing documents either omits mention of them at all or indicates only that which is recognizable.  The following document is from the Library of Congress' "An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera" on-line gallery [18] .  Because it provides excellent images of the artifacts, it is easy to identify items that have bugs and then view the documentation.  A good example is the poster "Woman suffrage co-equal with man suffrage. (Quoted from the platform of principles of the American federation of labor), New York [1910]."  The Allied bug is clearly evident in the image. (Detail below)

 The catalog text (below), however, reveals that the bug was an unknown cipher.  It is a text element that could only be identified by three question marks in brackets.  The shop number "11", however, is diligently indicated (significant text bolded by author).  Direct inquiry confirmed that "The Library of Congress has not sought to describe (this) level of detail … when encoding historical documents with the American Memory DTD. [19] "



(Quoted from the Platform of Principles of the American Federation of Labor.)


State Federations that have endorsed

Woman Suffrage:


VI. Sources for guidelines for cataloging bugs

The authoritative source on cataloging guidelines is the Anglo American Cataloging Rules (AACR2r).  According to Michael Gorman, Dean of Libraries at C.S.U. Fresno and editor of the AACR, "I can safely say that the Union Bug is not mentioned in any English-language cataloguing code."   A review of the 1988 edition provides several potential loci for specifying union bug information:

1. General Rules
1.4G1 Place of manufacture, name of manufacturer, date of manufacture
“If the name of the publisher is unknown and the place and name of the manufacturer are found in the item, give the place and name of the manufacturer”
2.4G1 Place of Printing, name of printer, date of printing “If the name of the publisher is unknown and the place and name of the printer are found in the item, give that place and name as instructed in 1.4G”

2. Early Printed Monographs
“Give the rest of the details relating to the publisher, etc. as they are given in the tem. Separate the parts of a complex publisher, etc. statement only if they are presented separately in the item. If the publisher, etc. statement includes the name of a printer, give it here. Omit words in the publisher, etc. statement that do not aid in the identification of the item and do not indicate the role of the publisher, etc. Indicate omissions by the mark of omission.”

2.16H “If the printer is named separately in the item and the printer can clearly be distinguished from the publisher or bookseller, give the place of printing and the name of the printer as instructed in 1.4G”

3. Graphic Materials
“If the name of the publisher is unknown and the place and name of the manufacturer are found in the item, give that place and name as instructed in 1.4G”

8.4G2 Optional addition.
Give the place, name of manufacturer, and/or date of manufacture if they are found on the item and differ from the place, name of publisher, etc. and date of publication, etc., and are considered important by the cataloguing agency.”

VI. Suggested Revisions for Cataloging Rules

Given that the union bug is a valuable piece of cataloging data, I would like to propose that it be formally included in AACR2, MARC, EAD, and other archival cataloging protocols.  The default option should be that absence of information means that there is no bug.  If a bug is present, however, the relevant information should have a designated place to record it.

The logical MARC location for this information would be in the Physical Description, etc. Fields (3XX); the current subfield codes are:

$a - Extent (R)
$b - Other physical details (NR)
$c - Dimensions (R)
$e - Accompanying material (NR)
$f - Type of unit (R)
$g - Size of unit (R)
$3 - Materials specified (NR)
$6 - Linkage (NR)
$8 - Field link and sequence number  (R)A

An example of MARC record accommodation for bug data might look like this:
164p. $h Union label $i Allied Printing Trades Council $j #147 $k Northern California $l Inkworks Press

While dedicated subfields for the bug information might be ideal, it also may be unduly detailed and unwieldy. Since formal rules at this level change at a glacial pace, in the meantime I would suggest that original catalogers adjust their current practice to include relevant data under existing subfield $b. The above example might look like this:

164p. $b Union label, Allied Printing Trades Council, #147, Northern California, Inkworks Press.

One practical problem with bugs is that they are often quite small or smudged and therefore hard to read. Some data, especially the Geographic Region, may even be illegible.  Identification is another issue; a central database of various union bugs would assist the proper identification and description of labels from the many other trade unions. Another problem is that similar documents may be manufactured by different printers or by the same printer at different times. Below is an example of matchbook covers produced by the same vendor, but by two different printshops - one union and one not. Regardless of the challenges posed by proper and thorough cataloging, the first step is to begin acknowledging their very existence through the term "union label."

It is my belief that the inclusion of these data will be of value to future researchers and archivists.  The trade union movement has a long and honorable role in the preparation and production of documents, just as the library and archival community has done so for documentation and dissemination. Catalog inclusion of the union bug as evidence of this contribution is a small but significant step in erasing the historic invisibility of those that labored before us.

Lincoln Cushing
former cataloger, UC Berkeley IIR and Bancroft Library lcushing@igc.org
Member of the Graphic Communications International Union 1983-2001, AFT 2001-2006

Appendix 1 - examples of several historic union labels

Page above from Printers and Technology, A History of the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants' Union, by Elizabeth Faulkner Baker, Columbia University Press, 1957, Appendix VII.

[1] "Item 2040; bug, U.S. slang - Printed matter produced by a union shop", in Elsevier's Dictionary of the Printing and Allied Industries, by F.J.M. and E.F.P.H. Wijnekus, 1983.  Although the term is used interchangeably in this document, I believe the term bug is more specific than union label, because it is in common usage in the trade and distinguishes it from the labels commonly associated with garments, cigars, and other products.  Many different trades have their own form of public identification (such the union labor logos embossed at the corners of some concrete sidewalks).

[2] Printers and Technology; A History of the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants' Union, by Elizabeth Faulkner Baker, Columbia University Press, NY 1957, page 5.

[3] Yes, pressmen… the trade has remained overwhelmingly male (and white) since its creation.

[4] The Printing Trades, by Jacob Loft (Labor in the Twentieth Century  Series), Farrar & Rinehart, 1944, page 187

[5] The I.T.U. portion of I.A.P.T.A. membership in 1900 was 71%, and drifted downward; 61% in 1914, 52% in 1929, and 50% in 1939.

[6] Labor Relations in the Lithographic Industry, by Fred C. Munson, Harvard University Press, 1963, page 2.

[6.5] University of Albany, GCIU special collection http://library.albany.edu/speccoll/findaids/apap021.htm

[7] Graphic Communicator, newspaper of the Graphic Communications Union, October 1989.

[8] personal communication with Pete Rockwell, I.T.U. shop steward.

[9] Labor Relations in the Lithographic Industry, page 243; figures are approximations based on 1958 Census data and estimation by the author.

[10] The Printing Trades, by Jacob Loft (Labor in the Twentieth Century  Series), Farrar & Rinehart, 1944, page 203

[11] Printers and Technology; A History of the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants' Union, by Elizabeth Faulkner Baker, Columbia University Press, NY 1957, page 113.

[12] Printers and Technology; A History of the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants' Union, page 113.

[13] "Indirect emphasis upon buying habits of general public in Chicago can be supported by the List of Firms Whose Advertising Matter Does Not Bear the Chicago Allied Printing Trades Council Label, June, 1941," The Printing Trades, by Jacob Loft, footnote #20, page 221.

[14] The Printing Trades, by Jacob Loft (Labor in the Twentieth Century  Series), Farrar & Rinehart, 1944, page 218

[15] Labor Relations in the Lithographic Industry, page 119; text is from Bureau of Labor Statistics, Trade Agreements:1925, bulletin no. 419 (September 1, 1926).

[17] Ameribilia Books and Collectibles, http://www.ameribilia.com/butcat.htm

[19] e-mail from LeeEllen Friedland, Library of Congress, 4/24/2000.

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