Protest at a non-union construction site, New York City, 2000



Monday, July 15

The United States emerged from a colonial regime based on conquest and bondage. How does this legacy affect American life? How does it affect the labor movement in particular?

Compare and contrast the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In what ways do they differ, in particulars and/or in spirit? In what ways are the similar?

If you were to update the Bill of Rights, what would you add to the original? Are there also things you would subtract?

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Tuesday, July 16

Though quite a few white workers supported the abolition of slavery, larger numbers were indifferent or hostile toward the antislavery movement.  How do you explain that?

In chapter 10 of his autobiography, Frederick Douglass writes of his fight with Edward Covey: "This battle...was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood." Would Douglass have felt the same if he'd lost the fight?

What's your position on the movement for reparations for the enslavement of African Americans?  Should the labor movement support this cause?

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Wednesday, July 17

In the Gilded Age, Americans repeatedly debated what they called "the social question": is capitalism compatible with democracy? Is this still a relevant question? If so, If so, what can unions do to make it a more frequent subject of public debate?

At the time of its founding in 1886, the American Federation of Labor was much smaller and less influential than the Knights of Labor. Fifteen years later, the Knights were little more than a memory while the AFL was thriving. What explains this reversal of fortunes?

The Gilded Age saw the start of a great wave of military interventions into labor disputes-always on the side of the employer. As David Adams notes, such interventions subsided after World War II, though they did not disappear. Could the pendulum swing back the other way?

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Thursday, July 18

In the early twentieth century, U.S. labor organizers often complained that it was especially hard to mobilize women workers. What does Theresa Malkiel's Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker suggest on that score? Do the gender issues that she explores persist today?

The historical documents for this session present various positions on electoral politics. Speaking for AFL headquarters, Samuel Gompers argues that unions should work within the two-party system to advance their political agenda. The Socialists Eugene Debs and Mrs. Robert Patterson call for political action under the banners of the Socialist Party, which Debs regards as a necessary adjunct to unions and Patterson sees as the best vehicle for achieving racial equality. According to the IWW and to Mother Jones, on the other hand, political action is merely a distraction from the essential work of organizing on the job. Whose position made the most sense? To explore this question, we'll engage in some role-playing, with small groups speaking for the Socialists, the IWW, and the AFL's mainstream and the rest of us acting as an early-twentieth-century audience to the three-way debate.

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Friday, July 19

The young CIO organized workers who were unorganizable according to most AFL leaders. What was the secret of the CIO's success?

Philip Murray was by no means a radical, yet his report to the CIO's 1946 convention was downright revolutionary by today's standards. What prompted this fundamentally conservative man to call for measures such as federal legislation to control prices (pp. 38-42) and outlaw racial-ethnic discrimination on the job (pp. 84-86), steeper taxes on "excess profits" reaped by defense contractors (pp. 91-93), a massive federal effort to provide "[g]ood shelter for every family...regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or economic status" (pp. 95-101), and for American labor's affiliation with the socialist-oriented World Federation of Trade Unions (pp. 103-105)?

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Saturday, July 20

Today it may be useful to engage some counterfactual analysis. Imagine a world in which Congress didn't pass the Taft Hartley Act, the CIO didn't expel the left-wing unions, and those unions spearheaded the post-World War II movements for racial justice, women's liberation, world peace, and other causes associated with the Sixties. What difference would that have made?

Consider the ways in which Sixties movements penetrated workplaces and unions. Did this have a lasting impact on your wing of the labor movement?

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Monday, July 22

As the AFL and CIO worked out their merger in 1955, Walter Reuther and George Meany issued a joint statement that summarized the grounds for unity. It concluded with this declaration of mutual support for the Cold War: "We are happy that in our way, we have been able to bring about the unity of the labor movement at a time when the unity of all American people is most urgently needed in the face of the Communist threat to world peace and civilization." During the Vietnam era, all but a handful of unions either supported the U.S. war or adopted an antiwar position only after a large portion of the U.S. House and Senate had done so. In spring 2003, the AFL-CIO executive board publicly criticized the Bush administration's rush to war in Iraq but then held its tongue once the fighting started. At the SEIU's convention in June 2004, however, 4,000 delegates unanimously approved a resolution that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq; the AFL-CIO convention of summer 2005 called on the government to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq; and in 2011, the AFL-CIO Executive Council declared, "There is no way to fund what we must do as a nation without bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The militarization of our foreign policy has proven to be a costly mistake. It is time to invest at home." Why have U.S. unions generally followed the government's lead in matters of foreign policy since World War II? Why has this not been the case over the past decade?

Commenting on public support for the workers who occupied the Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago in December 2008, the Lawndale News declared that, "It no longer matters what race, ethnic group or religion any given group of workers may be, but that an injustice has been committed against ordinary people in tough times is just plain unacceptable to most Americans." As From the Folks observes, however, bigotry would soon reassert itself as a central factor in American life. How do you explain its resurgence?

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Tuesday, July 23

Today's reading argues that social-justice unionism is essential to the labor movement's survival. Given all you've learned in this course, in others, and from your experience and observations outside the classroom, what is your take on this idea, and what are concrete ways in which social-justice unionism can play out on the ground?

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Wednesday, July 24

No reading assignment.  We'll devote our final meeting to an evaluation of the course and to students' reports on their research plans.

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