U.S. Labor History - Labor 697C, July 2020

                        Industria de Detroit o Hombre y Máquina, by Diego Rivera

Priscilla Murolo,                                                                                     

Click here for the class schedule.  


Reading assignments
- Priscilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty, From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: An Illustrated History of Labor in the United States (2018 edition; ISBN: 978-1620974483)
- Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History (9th ed., 2017; ISBN: 978-1319113025)
- Various articles and historical documents, itemized in the class schedule and available via Moodle or distributed in class. Click here for a link to our course page on Moodle. It is open to guests; use this password: History123!

A note on From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: Don't be fooled by imitations; be sure to get the revised and updated edition published in 2018.

From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend and Rampolla’s Pocket Guide can both be purchased online; they are not hard to track down. (I especially recommend buying them from Powell’s Books, a union shop.) With regard to the Pocket Guide, it’s okay to opt for an earlier edition, which would be less expensive, but steer clear of anything older than the 7th edition, published in 2012.

Before the course begins, please read the From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend and the supplementary essays, articles and documents assigned for July 20-25. To maximize learning, read the various items in the same order in which they're listed in the class schedule below.

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Class preparation
Except for the first and last days of our meetings, gatherings of the whole seminar will be preceded by hour-long class-prep sessions that students may use in whatever ways they find most beneficial. Options include test-runs of small-group presentations to the class, formulation of discussion questions to supplement those posed by the syllabus, discussion of practical conclusions labor activists might draw from the Usable Past essays among our readings.

Seminar meetings
Seminar meetings will focus first and foremost on making modern sense of our reading about times past. Our entry points will be the discussion questions in the course schedule below, plus any additional questions students come up with during prep sessions. Two- or three-person teams will kick off each discussion by presenting a short response (3-5 minutes) to the question the syllabus poses and by raising any additional questions that need our attention. Whether or not it's your turn to present, please think about these questions as you do the reading and get ready for class.

Seminar paper
You are free to explore any topic in U.S. labor history, from the colonial period through 2020. The paper may take various forms: a paper based on research in primary sources, an annotated collection of historical documents or oral-history interviews, an assessment of scholarship on a particular topic, or some other essay that involves critical thinking about U.S. labor history, including very recent developments. For guidelines on historical research and writing, see Rampolla's Pocket Guide; but please use the citation system laid out in the ULA Style Sheet instead of the one presented in Rampolla's book. The paper is due December 1, 2020, and the recommended length is 20 pages (double-spaced 12-point type, including citations). Email it to <>.

During the week of July 20-25, every student will have a one-to-one conference to discuss possibilities for the seminar paper. A one-page prospectus is due on Tuesday, July 28, at our second to last class meeting.

The prospectus should:
- Lay out the central question that prompts your project: what do you want to figure out?
- State your thesis in reply to that question: what's your best guess at this point?
- Explain the significance of your project: why does it matter to you, to other historians, to your union, or to some other worthy project?
- Include a preliminary bibliography of relevant scholarship and/or journalism (both books and articles).
- Briefly describe any primary sources you intend to use.

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C L A S S   S C H E D U L E:                             
Dates, Topics, Reading Assignments
All of the texts marked with an asterisk can be accessed on the UMass's Moodle page for our course. I
n some cases, the texts are also available on public websites, and you will find the links below. As a rule, it will work best to read daily assignments in the same order in which they're listed below.
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Click here for the reading/discussion questions that pertain to our readings.

Click here for a link to the Moodle page where you can access readings. The page is open to guests; use this password: History123!


Monday, July 20                                                                                                  
Introduction/The Unfinished Revolution       

*The Usable Past 1: "What Is Labor History?"
From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend, preface to revised edition, foreword and chapters 1 and 2
*Declaration of Independence - click for direct link
*Constitution of the United States - click below for direct links:
          Original Constitution (1788)        
          Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10, 1791)
          Amendments 11-27 (1795-1992)


Questions for discussion:
- The American Revolution gave birth to the world's first modern republic-one firmly rooted in a settler-colonial regime based on conquest and bondage. How does this complicated legacy affect American life? How does it affect the U.S. labor movement in particular?

- 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 21
The Slaveholding Republic/Another Unfinished Revolution      

From the Folks, chapters 3 and 4
*The Usable Past 2: "Abolitionism"
*Chapter 10 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
*Gerda Lerner, ed., "The Case of Margaret Garner" (1856, 1876), "They Called Her Moses" (1860, 1869) and "An Ingenious Escape" (1852, 1860), in Black Women in White America: A Documentary History
*Civil War and Reconstruction chronology
*Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (1862) - click for direct link
*Emancipation Proclamation (1863)- click for direct link (scroll down for a link to the transcript)
*13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution (1865-1870) - click for direct link; scroll down for Amendments 13-15

*Miranda Booker Perry, "No Pensions for Ex-Slaves: How Federal Agencies Suppressed Movement To Aid Freedpeople," Prologue Magazine (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration), Summer 2010, Vol. 42, No. 2 - click for direct link

Recommended reading:
Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Case for Reparations," The Atlantic, June 2015 (PDF available on Moodle, but for some great additional graphics, see the online version at this url:

PREP SESSION 2:30-3:30 EASTERN TIME: Test-run individual presentations in response to discussion questions posed below; formulate additional questions prompted by readings.

SEMINAR MEETING 3:30-5:00 EASTERN TIME; questions for discussion:

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

- In chapter 10 of his Narrative, Frederick Douglass writes of his fight with Edward Covey: "It...revived within me a sense of my own manhood" (63). Would Douglass have felt the same if he had lost the fight? What does the Narrative suggest with regard to this question, and what do the documents from Gerda Lerner's Black Women in White America suggest?

- The movement for reparations for the enslavement of African Americans is fast gaining ground. How can the labor movement most effectively support this cause? (You can find good food for thought on this issue in the article by Miranda Booker Perry as well as the recommended reading by Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

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Wednesday, July 22
The Gilded Age 

From the Folks, chapter 5
*The Usable Past 3: "Police Power"
*Knights of Labor, "Preamble and Declaration of Principles" (circa 1885)
*Las Gorras Blancas, "Nuestra Platforma" (circa 1889)
*Samuel Gompers, "Free Speech and Public Assembly" (1891-1914)
*National People's Party Platform (1892) - click for direct link
*Lucy Parsons, "The Principles of Anarchism" (1905) - click for direct link
*David Adams, "Internal Military Interventions in the United States," Journal of Peace Research 32:2 (1995): 197-211; see especially the section titled "The Era of Industrial Warfare, 200-205"

Test-run individual presentations in response to discussion questions posed below; formulate additional questions prompted by readings.

SEMINAR MEETING 3:30-5:00 EASTERN TIME; questions for discussion:
- In the Gilded Age, Americans repeatedly debated what they called "the social question": is capitalism compatible with democracy? As the groundswell of support for Bernie Sanders's recent campaign showed, moreover, it's once again a relevant question, and the crises that arise when COVID-19 meets the "free marketplace" make it more relevant still. What can labor activists unions do to keep this question alive as a 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, and what are its lessons for twenty-first-century labor activists?

- The Gilded Age saw the start of a great wave of military interventions into labor disputes-always interventions in support of employers. As David Adams notes, such actions subsided after World War II, although they did not entirely disappear. Could the pendulum swing back so that strikers are once again confronted by troops? What historical evidence supports your answer to this question?

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Thursday, July 23
Politics and Direct Action   


From the Folks, chapter 6
Statements on political action, from the American Federation of Labor, the Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World, and Mother Jones:
          *Samuel Gompers (AFL), "The Political Policy of Organized Labor" (1909-1919)
          *Eugene Debs (SP), excerpts from Unionism and Socialism (1904)
          *Theresa Malkiel (SP), excerpt from Woman of Yesterday and To-Day (1915)
          *Mrs. Robert Patterson (SP), "The Negro Woman in Politics" (1922)
          *Vincent St. John (IWW), "Political Parties and the I.W.W." (circa 1910)
          *IWW, "Organize on the Job Where You Are Robbed" (1911)
          *Ernest Riebe (IWW), "Mr. Block: He Tries Political Action" (circa 1913)
          *Mother Jones (AFL, SP, IWW), "You Don't Need a Vote to Raise Hell," from The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925) - click for direct link

PREP SESSION 2:30-3:30 EASTERN TIME: Rehearse the three-ways debate about politics; formulate additional questions prompted by readings.

SEMINAR MEETING 3:30-5:00 EASTERN TIME; three-way debate:
The documents listed above embody disparate 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, while the Socialist Theresa Malkiel argues that the vote is essential to women's emancipation. Finally, the IWW and Mother Jones contend that political action is merely a distraction from the essential work of organizing on the job. Whose position made the most sense? We'll explore this question though role-playing, with different individuals or small groups speaking for the AFL, SP and IWW and the rest of us acting as an early-twentieth-century audience for the three-way debate. Then, as ourselves, we'll discuss the various positions' usefulness today.

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Friday, July 24
Hard Times, Fighting Times 


From the Folks, chapters 7, 8 and the first two sections of chapter 9 (pp. 185-195)
*Mary Heaton Vorse, "Victory in Flint" and "The Chrysler Strike," in Labor's New Millions (1938)
*The Usable Past 4: "The CIO and the American Dream"
*Philip Murray, excerpts from "Report of President...," Final Proceedings of the Eighth Constitutional Convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (1946)

Recommended reading: *Congress of Industrial Organizations, Final Proceedings of the Eighth Constitutional Convention...

Test-run individual presentations in response to discussion questions posed below; formulate additional questions prompted by readings.

SEMINAR MEETING 3:30-5:00 EASTERN TIME; questions for discussion:

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

- Philip Murray, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1946, was by no means a radical, yet his report to the CIO convention of 1946 was downright revolutionary by today's standards. What prompted this fundamentally conservative labor leader 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 the U.S. labor movement's affiliation with the socialist-oriented World Federation of Trade Unions (pp. 103-105)?

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Saturday, July 25
Repression, Accommodation, Resistance    

From the Folks, final sections of chapter 9 (pp. 195-210) and chapter 10
*The Usable Past 5: "Women's Movements/Labor Movements"
*Vicki Ruiz, "Women's Participation in UCAPAWA Locals, 1939-1950": Tables 4 and 5, in Ruiz, Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950

PREP SESSION 2:30-3:30 EASTERN TIME: Test-run individual presentations in response to discussion questions posed below; formulate additional questions prompted by readings.

SEMINAR MEETING 3:30-5:00 EASTERN TIME; questions for discussion:
- Today it may be useful to engage in 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 postwar movements for racial justice, women's liberation, world peace, an end to colonialism, and other causes associated with the Sixties. What difference would that have made to U.S. and world history?

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

- Given all you've learned from your studies and from life experience, what are the most important things unions can do to promote women's full and equal participation in the labor movement?

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Monday, July 27
Workers of the World         

From the Folks, chapters 11-13
*Service Employees International Union, "SEIU Resolution to End U.S. Occupation of Iraq, and [for] Return of U.S. Troops," New Labor Forum vol. 13, no. 3, 2004, 95-97
*AFL-CIO, Resolution #53 (on the war in Iraq), adopted by the AFL-CIO Convention, 2005
*Convention Debate on Resolution 53, unofficial transcript from U.S. Labor Against the War
*YouTube video: backstory to AFL-CIO's adoption of Resolution 53 - click for direct link
*YouTube Video: David Bacon, "The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration," talk at the National Convention of Democratic Socialists of America, 2013 - click for direct link
*"Border Crises, 2014-2020" (background information and graphs)

PREP SESSION 2:30-3:30 EASTERN TIME: Test-run individual presentations in response to discussion questions posed below; formulate additional questions prompted by readings.

SEMINAR MEETING 3:30-5:00 EASTERN TIME; questions for discussion:
- 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 and Richard Nixon's presence in the White House meant that the war no longer belonged to the Democratic Party. 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 urged 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 did most U.S. labor unions wholeheartedly embrace the government's stand on foreign policy in the decades that followed World War II? Why have the past sixteen years seen a series of deviations from the government's stand? Does this recent trend represent a sea change in labor's attitude toward international affairs, or merely a temporary shift?

- Commenting on public support for the workers who occupied the Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago in December 2008, the Lawndale News--the city's largest bilingual Spanish-English newspaper--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, racist and nativist bigotry would soon reassert itself as a central factor in American life. How do you explain its resurgence, and why did the Lawndale News not anticipate this development?

- What does the current immigration crisis mean to your union, and how should the labor movement address the crisis? Does labor history offer any useful lessons on this front?

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Tuesday, July 28
History in the Making

The prospectus for the seminar paper is due today. Click here for instructions.                                                                                                    

From the Folks, chapters 14-15
*The Usable Past 6: "Lessons from the Public Sector"
*National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, A Safe and Just Return to Work (2020) - click for direct link
*ten most recent articles (first online page) of the Latest COVID-19 Coverage from Labor Notes - click for direct link

PREP SESSION 2:30-3:30 EASTERN TIME: Finish and share prospectuses for the seminar paper; formulate questions on "Lessons from the Public Sector"; prepare for roundtable on unions and COVID-19.

SEMINAR MEETING 3:30-5:00 EASTERN TIME; hand in prospectus for the seminar paper and discuss this question:
What are the most important things U.S. unions can do in response to the COVID-19 crisis? No formal presentationtoday; everyone should be ready to address the question.

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Wednesday, July 29                                                                                          
Looking Backward, Looking Forward            


No reading assignment today and no pres session. We'll focus on students' evaluations of the course and presentation of plans for the seminar paper.

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