Another World Is Possible (2013), mural by Mike Alewitz
Click for papers on:
Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America
Albert Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier
Robert Weir, Beyond Labor's Veil: the Culture of the Knights of Labor
Elliott Gorn, Mother Jones: the Most Dangerous Woman in America
Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires
Paul Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti: the Anarchist Background
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Noelle Iati on The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, by Andrés Reséndez
Labor history, while traditionally focused on the history of
white wage laborers in Europe and the United States, in truth encompasses all
kinds of labor, whether bonded or unbonded, regardless of the racial or ethnic
identity of the laborers. Often left out of American labor history are the enslaved.
While the history of African slavery in the United States is more or less well-known,
Native Americans were also enslaved on an institutional level in the Americas
for hundreds of years. Historians Julius Scott and Andrés Reséndez
have both recently published work on the forgotten laborers of American history.
Julius Scott's The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the
Haitian Revolution explores the different communication networks used by
black slaves in the Caribbean, arguing that the exchange of knowledge and information
in the late 1700s catalyzed slave rebellions throughout the Caribbean, the biggest
of which being the Haitian Revolution. Andrés Reséndez's The
Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America surveys
the history of the Americas from European contact to 1900 through the lens of
indigenous slavery, showing how the enslavement of Native people was not anomalous
in colonial history but rather systemic. Reséndez shows that Scott's
arguments in The Common Wind applied not only to eighteenth-century Afro-Caribbean
slavery, but also to indigenous slavery throughout the Americas and over centuries,
underlining the similarities between these two groups of laborers despite their
differing racial identities.
In The Other Slavery, Andrés Reséndez frequently argues that the possibility of communication between enslaved Native people in Spain's American colonies was the difference between becoming free and remaining enslaved. In 1542, after fifty years of legal and institutionalized indigenous slavery, the Spanish crown forbade it, giving Native slaves the power to sue their masters for holding them in bondage. While colonists in the Americas continued to enslave the indigenous population for their own benefit, gaining knowledge of the avenues available for them to free themselves was the only way in most cases that slaves had any chance of escaping bondage. While slaveowners had strategies to get around these "New Laws," including lying about the ways they obtained their slaves to fit the few allowed exceptions to the new legal order, slaves' connections to each other could convince the courts of the plaintiff's honesty in their claim to freedom. In such cases, other enslaved or formerly enslaved people could be brought to court as witnesses, perhaps claiming to have known the plaintiff since childhood or attesting to knowing their family or place of birth. The importance of the collective knowledge of these New Laws, and the connections among enslaved indigenous people that in many cases made the enforcement of them possible, parallel the claims made in Julius Scott's The Common Wind, which focuses on the ways that knowledge about the possibilities of freedom was shared between slaves under three different imperial jurisdictions in the second half of the eighteenth century. He argues that news about French, Spanish, and English changing policies towards slavery served to catalyze the Haitian Revolution and other revolutionary movements in the Caribbean, and that without these connections or collective knowledge of the activities of imperial powers, the organization of slave rebellions in the Caribbean and beyond may have been impossible.
While communication among Native people was important in terms
of the ability of individuals to gain freedom, it also was key to the rebellion
of indigenous people against slavery. While Scott highlights slave rebellions
themselves, Reséndez includes an entire chapter on the Pueblo Revolt
of 1680, a rebellion that, while not fomented by slaves, was certainly influenced
by indigenous enslavement. In 1680, different Pueblo groups all over New Mexico
rose up against settlers, intending to kill all civil and religious authorities.
While epidemics, famine, and religious suppression were also catalysts for this
revolt, Reséndez argues that the trafficking of Pueblo people to work
in Mexico's silver mines was perhaps the most important breaking point for Pueblos.
In his chapter on the Revolt, Reséndez explains the complex, covert ways
in which groups of Pueblos with different cultural traditions and languages
communicated to secretly foment a revolution that succeeded in pushing the Spanish
out of New Mexico entirely. Connections among medicine men as well as runners
allowed hundreds of pueblos in disparate regions all over New Mexico to come
together. In the end, 20 percent of New Mexico's Spanish population was killed.
As in The Common Wind, shared knowledge and networks of communication
are integrally important to the success of this rebellion against slavery .
Like Scott, Reséndez also makes clear that the enslavement
of Native people at all was the consequence of the settler-capitalist colonial
project in the Americas. From the landing of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the
use of slave labor and the selling of indigenous people into slavery were seen
as key ways to keep voyages of discovery and conquest profitable to the Spanish
monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. From the moment he landed ashore, Columbus
"intended to turn the Caribbean into another Guinea" (24), a hub of
slave trading that would bring him and his sponsors incredible wealth. The sale
of human beings itself would have been incredibly profitable to Columbus and
his contemporaries, but slavery seemed to become a necessity once gold was discovered
in the Caribbean. A cheap labor force was necessary to extract it: hence, indigenous
people were enslaved for the purpose. The practice of using indigenous slaves
to mine precious metals continued on the mainland when Cortés and his
men discovered silver. These silver mines continued to fund the Spanish empire
for centuries. Slavery as the foundation of empire is also a central theme in
The Common Wind, where in particular the responses of the British and
Spanish to information about the French Revolution make clear their anxiety
about the effects of emancipation on their colonial possessions. Both the British
and the Spanish went to great lengths to control the flow of information from
Europe and between slaves from French Saint-Domingue and their own territories,
worried that the spread of this information would spark a slave revolution in
the Caribbean, greatly damaging their access to wealth and power as empires
dependent on the production of cash crops.
Julius Scott's The Common Wind covers a little-known
aspect of a well-known history, arguing that communication among Afro-Americans
in the Caribbean helped them to resist both slavery and colonial domination
at the end of the 18th century. In this paper, I have discussed the ways in
which Andrés Reséndez's The Other Slavery reinforces and
expands upon Scott's central arguments, highlighting the application of these
arguments to the little-known history of indigenous enslavement in the Americas
and clarifying that the causes of slavery, regardless of the race of the enslaved
person, are the funding and maintenance of empire, while resistance to these
forces lies in the ability of marginalized people to communicate with each other,
spreading both their own ideas and news from around the world. Without information,
revolution is impossible.
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John Denegre Jr. on Indian Suvival
on the California Frontier, by Albert Hurtado
The throughlines of labor and land ownership can be used to uncover the often neglected, transitory history of the nineteenth-century (what is now considered American) Southwest. When we trace the fundamental changes to the economy, legislation, and territory of this period, an important image of cultural and social restructuring of Native Californians, and their fight against it emerges. This history of resistance and survival persists throughout both the Hispanic and Anglo frontiers, but is often ignored for a post-racialized, U.S. occupied story of the southwest. For this reason, when an author comes along and uses the cross-disciplinary perspectives of labor history and anthropology necessary to remove this insufficient, pacifying version of history, it is important to take note. That is exactly what both Albert Hurtado, in Indian Survival on the California Frontier, and Martha Menchaca, in Recovering History, Constructing Race, do with their studies.
The two books differ most extremely in size of subject matter. Hurtado presents a case study of the changes to Native Californian life during (as well as slightly before and slightly after) the shift from Spanish to Mexican to U.S. rule; while Menchaca offers an expansive, multi-century (1570-1898) account of race creation, erasure, and legislation of the Southwest as a whole. At times they overlap specifically, but even when this is not the case Menchaca's broad history, and interpretation of racist legislative restructuring, forms a larger network to place Hurtado's study into. For example, the Spanish colonial years take up less than 30 pages in Indian Survival, but Menchaca recounts them in detail, and with it she foreshadows many of the themes Hurtado writes about.
For instance, both books discuss the alteration of Native American households and family life by the hand of the Catholic Church. Menchaca cites "the marriage laws passed in Mexico," which, among other things, allowed low-ranking military men to remarry so as to have kids, as a defining moment in "the initial formation of a racial order where race and nativity become the basis of ascribing and denying social and economic privileges" (56). These privileges had not only to do with population but also with land, as she asserts in her treatment of the situational, and cultural pressures placed on native people to relocate during the Spanish mission system of California (1769-1834). Hurtado echoes this idea, claiming: "The missions converted Indians to habits of industry as well as Catholic piety" (24).
For both authors, then, the concept that those in power refashioned customs and households on the dual grounds of political and economic gain proves to be essential. Hurtado notes this in the lead up to the Mexican-American war, where he inserts into his chapter heading the expansionist, camouflaged as moral, rhetoric of Manifest Destiny, which President Polk used to justify the war. All to say that neither author treats land expansion and ownership as void of perspective.
Following the first chapter's brief history of the Hispanic frontier, Hurtado quickly moves on to the bulk of the book: the Anglo frontier. A focal point for him is the early exploitation of Native Californians' labor by John Sutter, whose administration of the stockaded New Helvetia colony that harvested wheat (beginning in 1847) took advantage of Indian labor through slavery, capture, and sometimes wage work. By this time, many native communities were already uprooted by the war and ever changing land reform laws, and Sutter's ventures proved only to expedite this process, by acting as something like a distribution network to other labor bosses. Beyond the physical spaces being rearranged, the advent of wage labor gradually eroded Native ideas of time (Sutter even introduced a work bell) and introduced monetary measurement--the introduction of wage labor came with the introduction of money and credit (note that debt peonage would later become a way that former slave owners would maintain their access bound labor). With relocation, and cultural washing afoot, Hurtado returns to marriage laws and household infrastructure to situate his book.
For perspective, he offers a treatment of pre-colonial family relations, stating both that "family ties bound native people to each other, to their communities, and to the land;" and that "family bonds defined social, political, and economic relationships in native cultures and were of paramount importance to Indian personal and corporate life" (14-15). With this framework, it is no surprise that the fundamental structure of native life was so averse to and ill-suited for the dawn of wage labor and the Anglo frontier in general. Again, Hurtado returns to Sutter, and cites his crimes against the Native household: taking Indian women out of their communities to marry white men, or relocating them to marry men closely associated with him. The result was a concentration in certain communities, and a void in others, creating a steady decline in healthy birth rates, and incline in spread of new sexual diseases. And it was not just Sutter; Hurtado sees this contortion of marriage and familial life as a defining part of the California frontier. Giving another example, Hurtado discusses James Savage, an employer of Indians in the southern district. He writes: "[Savage] learned that it was provident to use marriage as a diplomatic and economic tool," taking the Native view of marriage "as a powerful way to link distinct communities" (114).
It is no surprise, then, that the last chapter of Indian Survival is all about the household, in particular the devastating statistics and census from 1860; the results show steep depopulation, and geographically decentralized communities. Of course, 1860 comes after the introduction of forced reservations, the gold rush (which both authors see as a California Epoch) and the stipulations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848); a document which did not guarantee Native residents of California recognition as U.S. citizens, or reimburse them in any way for the devastations to their communities. (As Menchaca notes, those the U.S. viewed as Mexican as opposed to Indian had different rights under the treaty.) By 1860 (if not in law, in effect much earlier), Menchaca writes, "[the] legal infrastructure was created to turn [Native Californians] into indentured slaves" (257), and, sadly, the results can be seen in statistics from that year.
Though the uprooting of Native American life in California is undeniable, both Hurtado and Menchaca are careful to note the resistance to these infrastructural and historical circumstances; Hurtado eloquently comments on this: "Indians could affect their destinies, but they were not the masters of the new California" (218). His goal from the outset of the book is to present Native people as active agents instead of as the passive bystanders they are so often falsely portrayed as. This same line of resistance runs through Menchaca's book as well, and is only furthered by the anthropological autobiography that bookends her book. Again, her scope is helpful here, as it shows that the idea that any group was passive during either the Hispanic or Anglo frontier is a fabrication and misremembering of history. Both accounts show that as early as the mission system and as late as the introduction of reservations (shooting all the way into the present) there were boycotts, raids, community organizing, banditry, deployments of legal loopholes, threats of war, and survival of communities against all pressures and odds. Even James Savage's meddling eventually caught up to him and got him killed by a rival businessman.
Indian Survival offers evidence for the thesis of Menchaca's Recovering History, Constructing Race: that race is essentially constructed as a means to gain labor and control land. Throughout Hurtado's study, the uprooting of community, removal of identity, and even the grounds for war are all presented as the results of capitalist, expansionist strategies. As he shows, community, land, and labor intersect indefinitely. So whether the cause is missions or wheat harvests, the result is not only a change in labor, but also a restructuring of the household, of population, of the land. Both books make it a point to emphasize that these reorganizing forces are met with resistance, and further make it a point to show why such resistance might get continually uprooted- as is the case here. Thus, the phrase Recovering History, is truly earned by the work of both authors.
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Jessica McNamara on Beyond Labor's Veil: the Culture of the Knights of Labor, by Robert Weir
On the eve of 1870, Uriah S. Stephens and a few of his fellow Philadelphian
garment cutters decided to abandon their national union and form an organization
of their own. Thus, the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor was created.
Most of the Order's history can be divided into three periods; the first being
from its founding to 1882, when the Order went public, the second during the
mid-1880s when the Order was at its height, and then from around 1886 onward
until its death in the early twentieth century, when it returned to its vows
of secrecy. Throughout his history of the Order, Robert E. Weir emphasizes the
importance of culture within the Knights and how it both brought people together
and divided them. The reason the Knights weren't able to unite and survive the
end of the nineteenth century was because the Order remained divided on important
issues and failed to unify its ranks.
Weir organizes the book's chapters around the different forms of culture the
Knights of Labor (KOL) expressed. The first three, ritual, religion, and song,
can be considered "inward facing" cultural habits. They existed when
the society was still secret and were meant to be shared among Knights. The
following four chapters detail poetry, fiction, material goods, and leisure,
all of which can be considered "outward facing" because they really
started only once the Order made itself public and could be shared with the
outside world. As Weir describes it: "Pre-1882 KOL culture was private,
fraternal, ritualistic, and oral; post-1882 culture was increasingly public,
individualistic, formulaic, and literate" (148).
As mentioned, the Knights started as an extremely secret society. They would
lead people into secret places and initiate them through various rites. Even
before the initiates came into the inner chamber of the meeting, there had already
been opening ceremonies (including rituals). Reasons for secrecy included the
fear of retaliation against the worker. It was felt if their society was made
public, employers, the government, and the ruling class would wage an attack
against the entire working class.
Part of their secrecy included handshakes, hand gestures, passwords, and phrases.
Women were originally excluded from the Order by Grand Master Workman (national
leader) Uriah Stephens ,who felt they were incapable of keeping secrets. However,
they did include African American men in their ranks, which was progressive
for the era. Through the duration of its existence the Order defended racial
equality for workers in and out of the society. Few local assemblies (LAs) of
Knights were segregated. African American Knights proved to be important to
the Order and, especially in the South, made up a significant percentage of
the membership when the society started waning in the late 1800s. Despite their
embrace of workers of color and immigrant workers, the Order discriminated against
The Knights criticized the Church for preaching morality and holiness when
they felt they were a more moral and more particular in admitting members than
the Church was. A Church could have drunks, gamblers, lawyers, stock-speculators,
and liquor dealers while the KOL didn't allow such members. Alexander W. Wright,
whose columns often appeared in one of the Order's newspapers, Journal of
the Knights of Labor (JKL), pointed out the hypocrisy of the Church
in banning men who gambled in poker or at horses, but allowing stock-speculators
into the Church.
The peak of relations between the KOL and the Church was when the KOL was itself
at its peak. Seeing its rising popularity, Protestant churches in particular
reached out to the KOL with olive branches. The Order's response, however, was
to demand concessions. The two groups went back and forth with demanding concessions
from one another, until their relationship deteriorated to the state it had
been before. As the KOL declined, it garnered more and more vocal animosity
from the Church.
The Order went through three phases of religious make-up. The first Knights
were mainly native-born Protestants. Then, around the time that Terence Powderly
served as Grand Master Workman (1879-1893), the composition was heavily Irish
Catholic, as he was. After the Order's decline, when it expanded into more rural
areas, it became once again a mostly Protestant organization. Religious divides
within the Order were exacerbated by its public relationship with the Catholic
Church. Powderly was hounded by accusations of investing too much in his appeals
to Rome. Religious animosity created great divides within the Order.
Music and song were a vital component of the Knights' society. In the early
days of the Order, most Knights were illiterate, so songs were an easy way to
disseminate information and ideas among the masses. They were also easily memorized.
As Weir observes, out of all its different purposes, KOL musical culture's primary
function was "to foster solidarity among the rank and file" (104).
He compares the act of singing in a group to the act of performing rituals,
and notes that in early ceremonies song was a part of the spectacle.
Weir also points out that, "The KOL understood that music, religion, and
organizing went hand in hand" (106). Group singing was part of nineteenth
century working class social protest culture. It became imbedded in Knight culture.
The Order's manual of rituals mandated that "appropriate odes" be
sung at the beginning and end of each assembly meeting. Soon, an ode from Ottumwa,
Iowa became the generally used opening song across the Order. The song stressed
the importance of being an "ideal Knight." Different assemblies added
songs at different parts of the ceremony, including initiation. From the 1880's
to as late as 1892 songsters were compiling collections of the songs they had
penned and publishing them in books as well as periodicals such as the JKL
and the Journal of United Labor. Weir says: "despite the Knights'
imprecise notions of the future, their songs offered wage-slaves the sort of
hope embedded in antebellum slave songs" (111). Lyrics stressed the "manliness"
of recruiting other members to the Order. Assemblies were meant to educate about
labor, and songs were a method by which they could do that. In the early 1870's
Tom O'Reilly composed "Song of the Proletaire" or "If We Will,
We Can Be Free," which became the usual closing ode to most assemblies'
meetings until 1887. KOL songs also had content that was political and patriotic.
Both political and religious imagery was used to create an "us/them"
mentality among the rank and file to further unite them.
Writing poetry was a matter of personal expression, but publishing poetry involved
an editorial decision. Weir tells us that post-1882, "new forms of expression
evolved, but they seldom had the cohesive influence on the Order that ritual,
religion, and music once had" (148). Leaders wanted to use poetry as a
way of "public education." This proved difficult for several reasons,
one being that poetry was a way for Knights to express their opinions on matters
that were highly contested. Another reason was it was difficult to avoid certain
Victorian stereotypes and prejudices. For example, everyone could agree that
financial institutions were corrupt and many wrote about this, but it was hard
to avoid the language of popular anti-Semitism when condemning them. Also, writing
about the rights of the woman worker did not necessarily mean t supporting her
inclusion in one's district Assembly (DA, the local leadership body that oversaw
local assemblies). In their quest to educate, leaders found that, to quote Weir,
"ritual, religion, and music reinforced values within local assemblies,
but to spread ideas across communities, districts, and nations required more.
Public rallies, speeches, parades, and picnics were one way to do this, but
newspapers offered unique advantages" (191). As mentioned, publishing poetry
allowed contrasting views to appear alongside each other. This was a win for
worker expression, but ultimately must have hurt the KOL because there was no
unified message. Weir concludes that, "Poetry and other journal content
confirms that there was not one KOL agenda, but many" (192).
Fiction was similar to poetry in a few ways within the Knights. For starters,
it was an outward facing public form of expression which "offered fewer
oppositional challenges to hegemonic culture" than did ritual, religion,
and song (198). Part of the reason the Order chose to go public was to further
its attack on hegemonic Victorian societal standards. But because the Order
itself was never united on whether society should be mildly reformed, radically
transformed, or completely reborn, neither was its fiction unified. As critics
of publicizing the Order feared, being open to the outside world meant that
the Order could be influenced by it. And, indeed, Victorianism infused itself
into printed KOL poetry and fiction.
Before the Order started publishing its own material, individual Knights began
reading dime-novels and story-papers. These seldom had working class heroes,
and often villainized workers. This reflected middle-class fears of the militant
working class. Most dime-novels just ignored the working class and didn't include
them at all. Story-papers were almost like readable soap operas, being serialized
in journals and filled with "a diet stock of characters, time-worn plots,
melodrama, romance, Victorian morality, and vicarious thrills" (200). Once
the KOL had expanded and become a truly national public organization (around
1886), story-papers began embracing the Order, endorsing them in print as well
as including them in the stories. By the late 1880's, editors realized they
needed to divert readers of dime-novels and story-papers to their own journals
if they wanted to stay in print, so they adopted some of the same styles and
published their own stories.
For the reasons detailed above: religious divides, different opinions being
expressed in writing, and general disagreement on how the Order should operate,
the KOL wasn't able to reach the heights it aimed for. I don't think one can
say definitively that going public or then returning to secrecy was what made
the Knights decline. Indeed, they never would've surged to their highest numbers
had they not made themselves public. But the heated debates within the organization
on whether to go public or stay private are part of what stunted the Order from
succeeding in all its goals. The KOL remained divided on many different issues
(religion, women's rights, etc.) and these disagreements were on display in
journals and newspapers. Because the Knights weren't able to unite on political
and social issues, they were unable to maintain their influence over the outside
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Vickie Nidweski on Mother Jones: the Most Dangerous Woman in America, by Elliott Gorn
What can an in-depth study of the life of one individual teach
us about a moment or movement in the past? When I read a biography, I often
see a life reconstructed, a story filled with ethnographic detail. You as the
reader are immersed in the story of this individual's life, and how they were
able to achieve their fame. One can see this in Michael Helquist's biography
of Marie Equi. While hers is a fascinating story, Helquist constructs Equi's
surroundings in painstaking detail so that readers can immerse themselves in
the story. There is certainly value in this type of biography, and it does encompass
what was happening to society as a whole, in addition to how a life can become
a part of a movement, but the biography of Mother Jones is unlike any biography
I have read before. The story of Mother Jones is the story of the labor movement;
she is the persona of the labor movement, the matriarch of the labor family.
"Biography is a literary genre. A good life history unfolds
life a novel; the writer plots the story, develops character, cuts from scene
to scene, employs metaphor and allusion. Biography, however, must cleave to
known facts. So how does one write a biography of someone who preferred not
to reveal her past?" (8) This is the question that drives author Elliott
Gorn throughout this thorough biography. From the beginning of Mary Harris Jones's
life Gorn constantly refers to her autobiography. Gorn does this to help answer
his question and, by doing so, constructs the life of two people; Mary Jones
and the persona that was Mother Jones. The autobiography is really the story
of Mother Jones in the family of labor. In order to find out how she became
known as "Mother," with the United Mine Workers as her sons, Gorn
needed to sift through Jones's own embellishments of her life and then compare
her autobiography to the known facts.
As a biographer, Gorn had more difficulty than Helquist. Although
both Jones and Equi were cited in newspapers, Equi kept personal papers and
correspondence. Equi also kept up relations with her family. Mother Jones devotes
only a few pages in her autobiography to her early life as an Irish Catholic
from Cork who immigrated to Canada during the potato famine. Moreover, Jones
only spends a few sentences on her husband and four young children who died
of yellow fever due to poor living conditions in Memphis in the 1860s. Similarly,
Jones offers only a brief passage on the Chicago fire that consumed all of her
possessions. What Gorn does in the first chapters of his biography is tell us
a story of a woman who chose not to be consumed by her grief and become helpless,
but arose from the flames of Chicago like a phoenix to become Mother Jones.
Mother Jones understood the importance of the labor movement
and class struggle because she was a part of it from the very beginning of her
life. Fteling alienated as a poor working-class Irish Catholic and as an immigrant
in Toronto fleeing from famine, Mary Jones (née Harris), like many other
women and girls in her position, would have found comfort in the figure of the
Virgin Mother Mary. As Gorn writes, "Mary provided a model of maternal
piety; she represented feminine virtues raised to spiritual heights" (28).
Mary Harris was exposed early on to the working class struggles, combined with
the loss of her family to disease, gave birth to a persona, a character, who
had nothing to lose. "It was the tragedies of her early days, then, that
energized the life of Mother Jones," Gorn explains (55). This is how Mother
Jones came to be and how early experience shaped her life as a labor organizer,
activist and survivor.
Going back to the initial question, we see that Mary Jones's
life shaped the persona that was Mother Jones. If we zero in on Mother Jones,
we see that the persona and the labor movement are intrinsically linked. While
she was an activist and organizer in many different fields, from the steel and
garment industries to the campaign to reform child labor law with her Children's
Crusade, Gorn does an excellent job at navigating us through the complexities.
Her work in the coal industry and with the miners is a perfect example of an
individual's life and its influence on a movement. As Gorns describes, "A
labor organizer's role was simple enough-persuading workers to join the union....
All this sounds ordinary enough, until we picture our organizer, neither male
nor a former miner, but an old woman, drinking with the boys, telling off-color
stories, and 'talking union'" (74)
First, Gorn sets the reader up with discussions of Americans'
growing demand for coal and the demographic shift among miners from American-born
to more diverse ethnic backgrounds that made organizing difficult. As he observes,
"the surplus of new workers imposed labor discipline, because men easily
replaced were less inclined to make demands on management" (70). In addition
were the often-isolated coal towns. In these settings, "company stores
because sources of enormous profit because isolation made it impossible for
people to shop elsewhere" (71). Mother Jones, while not a miner, was able
to connect with miners because she understood class struggle. Jones did not
see herself as a bourgeois woman and instead used her past to connect emotionally
connect to the miners and their families, connecting with the working class
with her vernacular. This was not a woman who had a higher status than the communities
she organized, but someone to go out and talk union over a beer or a glass of
Not only did Mother Jones connect with mine workers on a personal
level; she also used her status as "Mother." In her orations, she
would often invoke the love of a mother, and specifically that of the Virgin
Mother Mary. "Unions taught devotion, selflessness, sacrifice; solidarity
meant caring for one another.... Her devotion to her children in the movement
offered an example of the love they must have for each other, as well as the
passion with which they must fight their battles" (88). Not only was Jones
able to connect with the mine workers themselves in this way; she was also able
to use these religious undertones, this devotion to the labor movement, to encompass
the miners' wives and children in the cause. To her, the labor movement was
a labor family.
It is fascinating to learn that while Mother Jones the persona
embodied motherhood and then ironically opposed the idea of women's suffrage.
When we place the stories of Mother Jones and Marie Equi side by side, we see
that Equi's story connects with other women and women's rights through her time
as a doctor and her open lesbian relationships. However, Mother Jones-in my
opinion, perhaps because she did not want to share the spotlight-does not mention
notable women's accomplishments in her autobiography. Mother Jones focused her
idea of motherhood on the working-class labor family, invoking images of "powerful
women who held families together" (228)
Mother Jones could not be stopped. If she was incarcerated,
once free she would be back on the front lines. To judge from what Gorn presents
in the biography, Jones led a life of martyrdom. She sacrificed her past life
to become a legend and forever linked to the labor movement. Jones's biggest
fear was to be forgotten and thus, near the end of her life, she published her
autobiography. As Gorn writes, "The Autobiography of Mother Jones
is not a memoir in the sense of revealing a person in the act of becoming; there
is no unfolding of character here, no revelation of intimacies" (281).
This autobiography serves more as a call to arms for the working-class struggle.
It invokes feelings of religion, class oppression and resistance. It is in the
autobiography that Jones famously writes "Pray for the dead, and fight
like hell for the living," or, and as Gorn puts, it "activism itself,
regardless of outcome, is a victory" (282)
As an academic, reading biographies to learn about a movement
can be difficult at times. This is the case in Helquist's biography of Marie
Equi, an enjoyable read but one in which it is easy to get lost in the descriptions
of emotions and locations. I feel that Gorn does a better job. Here we have
this woman Mary Harris Jones and Gorn is able to expand upon her history to
show us what influenced Mary to become Mother Jones. Gorn is able to perfectly
integrate the history of labor with that of Mother Jones. Gorn is able to then
to separate the person from the persona and show how that persona cannot be
separated from the movement.
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Michael McCabe on Making Sense of the Molly Maguires, by Kevin Kenny
Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America
by Louis Adamic and Making Sense of the Molly Maguires by Kevin Kenny
both seek to understand and explain the nature of class struggle in the anthracite
coal region of Pennsylvania in the late nineteenth century. Both sympathize
with the plight of the laboring classes amidst class violence. Both recognize
the unique role of the Irish experience and anti-Irish discrimination in manifesting
that violence, but Kevin Kenny's analysis of the events over more than a decade
shows his dedication to thorough research and multiple perspectives. Though
Dynamite's section on the Molly Maguires is only a chapterand thus cannot
be expected to reach the same depth of analysis as Making Sense, Kevin
Kenny is able to contextualize consistently the actions of the Molly Maguires
in a way that more completely accounts for the complex overlap of class, ethnic,
religious, and regional tensions at play. While the two authors cover some of
the same ground in terms of historical analysis, they have different perspectives
and goals in terms of using the information.
In Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America,
Louis Adamic uses the example of the Molly Maguires to frame his broader argument
about manifestations of class tensions in America generally. He makes the Molly
Maguires the subject of his second chapter, in order to introduce the reader
to the historical background of American labor violence. "Labor became
a commodity on the market," he writes, "no different from raw material
or coal. Its object was no longer directly to produce, but to keep the machines
going for the enrichment of their owners. All human considerations in industry
became secondary to accumulation of great fortunes by those who owned the machines
and the raw materials"(Adamic). Here we see how Adamic's focus is not on
the origins of the Molly Maguires themselves but rather of class violence in
the context of a specific period of American industrialization. While Adamic
goes on to analyze the specific relationship of the Pennsylvania Molly Maguires
to their counterparts in the Irish countryside counterparts decades earlier,
he contextualizes the Molly Maguires differently than does Kenny. As Kenny observes,
"Without an understanding of Irish rural history, the eventual outbreak
of Molly Maguire violence in Pennsylvania makes little sense. A detailed examination
is needed, first, of the general pattern of protest and violence in the Irish
countryside; and second, of the highly distinctive history and culture of north-central
and northwestern Ireland." (Kenny) Kenny has a distinct interest in presenting
the Molly Maguires as honestly and with as much nuance as they deserve. His
specific interest in tying the Pennsylvania Molly Maguires to the older Irish
tradition reflects Kenny's larger ideas about how the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania
behaved and why they met their grisly end. Kenny applies a closer lens to the
Molly Maguires because he is broadly more concerned with the degree of misinformation
and agenda-driven narratives that have followed the Molly Maguire's historically.
By examining the potential Irish origins of the Pennsylvania Molly Maguires,
Kenny provides the backbone for later arguments tying the sometimes hyper-violent
tendencies of the Mollies to agrarian labor resistance practices that resurfaced
through ethnic ties in American industrial trade unionism. Dynamite on the other
hand doesn't follow the Molly Maguires closely enough to make such a sophisticated
claim about them, and occasionally falls back on broad descriptions of the members
As Making Sense of the Molly Maguires repeatedly articulates,
the Molly Maguires are a group that requires a great deal of historical scrutiny
because the primary sources we have about them are likely to be biased. The
conflict between the Molly Maguires and the coal industry of Schuylkill County
was a labor conflict, already rife with misinformation, but also filled with
conflicting religious and ethnic perspectives. While Kenny acknowledges the
Molly Maguires' complex relationship with Catholicism, the Catholic Church,
and the Ancient Order of Hibernians in a way that meaningfully contextualizes
their violence, Adamic skims over these relationships and, at his worst, posits
a generic association between lrishness, intense Catholic piety, and violence.
An example of this is his conflation of the Ancient Order of Hibernians with
the Molly Maguires, which he considers to be virtually the same organization.
As Adamic tells the story, "More or less officially (for the organization acquired a charter in Pennsylvania under the name of 'The Ancient Order of Hibernians') their purpose was to 'promote friendship, unity, and true Christian charity among the members'"(Adamic). Adamic continues, "While such was the pious basis for the order's official existence, actually the Molly Maguires became fiercer in the United States than in the old country"(Adamic ). As Kevin Kenny might point out, there is a lot in Adamic's claims that needs to be scrutinized, first and foremost the contention that the Ancient Order of Hibernians is interchangeable with the Molly Maguires. This was a claim made by the prosecution in the trial of the Molly Maguires in 1877, in which the prosecutors worked for the Reading Railroad and knew how to stoke anti-Irish bigotry, in a courtroom in which Irish Catholics were excluded from the jury. Kenny argues that, "Despite the allegations of the prosecution, it is clear that most members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians had nothing to do with the Molly Maguires, even in the anthracite region. The Ancient Order of Hibernians had lodges throughout the United States, Britain and Ireland. The vast majority of these lodges had no connection with violence" (Kenny). This seems like information that is perhaps relevant to Adamic's association of the two groups. By simply lumping the two together, Adamic erases the actual historical nature of the Molly Maguire's violence. Interestingly, it seems as though Adamic relies heavily on sources that the prosecution's ahistorical characterization of the Molly Maguires, despite his sympathy for their struggle. Regardless, Adamic's characterization of the Ancient Order of Hibernians as essentially an international front for the Molly Maguire is, as Kenny explicitly states "transparently absurd." Kenny goes on to say "But some Irishmen did apparently use [AOH] lodges to plan acts of violence"(Kenny). This distinction is important because it characterizes not only the strategy of the Molly Maguires but also the Molly Maguires' relationship with the public. Many people in the anthracite region did believe that the Ancient Order of Hibernians was an inherently violent organization, which was why, as Kenny notes "Before 1875 all Catholic clergymen in Schuylkill County, in their public declarations at least, were hostile to the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Molly Maguires" (Kenny). This is another important element of the Molly Maguires that goes unmentioned by Adamic; as much as he mentions their Catholic piety, he never acknowledges their public break with the church.
The most crucial difference between the characterizations of
the Molly Maguires by Adamic and Kenny comes in their understanding of the tenure
of the Workingmen's Benevolent Association (WBA). While Adamic glosses over
this union's achievements, Kenny highlights its enormous success in maintaining
non-violence in the labor struggle. Citing the Pennsylvania Bureau of Industrial
Statistics Report on Labor of 1873, Kenny notes "The Bureau attributed
this improvement [a reduction in violence in the anthracite fields] to the stabilizing
influence on the work force of the WBA, which had 'forced into reformation or
removal' the 'reckless and turbulent' elements among the mine workers"
(Kenny). Only after the monopolistic Reading Railroad, led by Frank B. Gowen,
controlled all the smaller distributors in the anthracite region was he finally
able to crush the WBA, at which point the combination of wage cuts and lack
of worker representation caused Molly Maguire type violence to resume. Only
then did Gowen hire the Pinkerton agency to infiltrate the Mollies, which is
what led inevitably to their mass execution and dissolution.
This to me speaks most strongly of Kenny's account of the Molly
Maguires as compared to Adamic's. Only in the context of the dissolution of
the WBA as a functioning labor union do the Molly Maguires' actions begin to
make sense. Without that context, it is hard to understand them outside of their
association with their Irish ethnicity and background of Irish agrarian labor
violence. Once Kenny examines the class and labor dynamics specifically at play
in anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania in the 1860s and 1870s, he is careful
in who he makes the Molly Maguires out to be in a way that Adamic never is.
Two of my favorite pieces of Making Sense of the Molly Maguires come
in how Kevin Kenny details the Molly Maguires so clearly and specifically. The
first is the chart he includes that details the different murders attributed
to the Molly Maguire over the period of years they were active (and significantly
less active). This gives you a snapshot of the Mollies ethnic conflict with
the Welsh and British miners who were given better treatment, of the Mollies'
anti-war killings, and how over time the Mollies' violence was more and more
aimed at bosses and their enforcers of the coal industry, from scabs to police.
Another especially illuminating part of the book comes in Kenny's characterization
of the Mollies' ringleaders, men who were usually tavern keepers and also former
miners. For all of the perspectives on the Molly Maguires, especially in their
own time, few take the time to so closely and attentively peel back the layers
to reveal the real men involved.
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Xander Stecklow on Sacco and Vanzetti: the Anarchist Background, by Paul Avrich
The history of labor is a long violent one. Violence was not just something the working class faced in response to their activism; many people retaliated against the system. The case of Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti is one such instance that involves violence on both sides. But where did this violence come from, and what motivated Sacco and Vanzetti to become anarchists like many of their fellow Italian immigrants in America? Was violent protest something that was brought over from their life in Italy, or did American capitalism radicalize Sacco and Vanzetti? The violence of the Italian anarchist movement is significant because the continuous acts of violence were a way of protest.
Sacco and Vanzetti left Italy when they were young and idealistic.
Despite their idealism, they did not leave Italy to experience the wonders of
capitalism. They both had strong leanings to the left at the time of their departure.
Their time in America, however, would only confirm their ideas about the need
for radical change. It was only when they settled in America that they became
fully involved in the anarchist movement. History paints Sacco and Vanzetti
as immigrants who didn't fully realize the scope of what they were doing, but
it's very clear that both Sacco and Vanzetti were willing to die for their beliefs.
The groups of Italian anarchists during this time were focused on implementing
change by bombing or assassinations or were planning for an anarchist uprising
back in Italy. Sacco and Vanzetti were equally dedicated to these causes until
they were arrested for a robbery that resulted in two murders. It is unclear
whether Sacco and Vanzetti were the ones who actually committed the crimes they
were arrested for, and the trial they received was unfair. At the height of
the Red Scare and the repression of anarchist beliefs, Sacco and Vanzetti were
used as scapegoats to shut down anarchist groups once and for all. There were
hundreds of protests and many bombings that happened as a result of their trial.
On August 23, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. The Italian anarchist
movement would never recover from this loss, as well as the loss of several
other anarchists in the following months. Back in Italy, the anarchist revolution
Almost 100 years after their execution, Sacco and Vanzetti continue
to occupy the thoughts of labor historians. These two anarchists contributed
to the violent history of labor in the United States. Their hope of widespread
reformation was never achieved, but people still fight for change years after
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