The OAH 2016 Annual Meeting in Providence, Rhode Island features an array of opportunities for attendees interested in labor and working class history. Kenneth Fones-Wolf of the Labor and Working Class History Association (LAWCHA) program committee writes:
In addition to several tours that will excite LAWCHA members in Providence, we have worked with the OAH to include sessions that show off the range of topics that make up the field of labor and working-class history. LAWCHA solicited sessions on somewhat traditional topics, such as new directions in early American labor history, Irish-American labor leaders and diasporic identity, and new perspectives on American socialism. But we also are proud to feature timely panels on labor and environmental history, on new directions in the study of paid domestic work, and on Christianity and modern capitalism. In addition, LAWCHA members will want to check out sessions on interracial activism between the 1930s and 1960s, the American whaling industry, Latino power brokers, the construction of unfreedom in the Americas, organizing interracial coalitions in the urban Midwest, and the war on poverty and public employment. In short, people interested in the broad scope of labor and working-class history can see LAWCHA members presenting and discussing research that encompasses the full span of American history. LAWCHA will also host a reception on Friday evening from 6 to 8 pm; if you are interested in our activities and would like to know more, please join us!
Limited to 40 people. Cost: $35
Slater’s Mill on the Blackstone River is known as the earliest, successful factory in the United States. Opened in 1793 to spin white cotton thread, Slater’s Mill marked the entrance of the new country into an industrial economy. On the first part of this tour we will travel to Pawtucket, RI to explore the Old Slater Mill and to examine the industrial development of the region. We will then travel north to Woonsocket, RI in the heart of the Blackstone Valley. At the Museum of Work & Culture we will hear from experts in Rhode Island’s industrial, immigration and labor history.
Tour: Contemporary and Historical Labor Tour and Trinity Brewhouse: Saturday, April 9, 3-4:30pm
Limited to 40 people. Cost: $30
This walking tour will visit some of the historical and more recent sites of labor activism in downtown Providence. The tour, lasting about an hour, will end at Trinity Brewhouse, home of Trinity IPA. Cost includes one beer/wine ticket, snacks/appetizers, and a donation to Rhode Island Jobs with Justice.
Meal: Labor and Working-Class History Association Luncheon: Saturday, April 9, 12:20-1:50pm. Cost: $50
- Nancy MacLean, Duke University
- James Gregory, University of Washington
Join incoming and outgoing LAWCHA presidents Jim Gregory and Nancy MacLean for an update on the activities, prize winners, and future plans of the association that brings together scholars interested in the history of labor and the working class. LAWCHA is able to subsidize the lunch tickets for graduate students on a first-come, first-served basis. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
New Politics, New Economy: Redefining Leadership in Postindustrial America: Thursday, April 7, 12-1:30pm.
“This session addresses the rise of “new economy” industries and changing ideas and practices of corporate and political leadership in America after 1970. Its papers explore different dimensions of this complex and understudied relationship, focusing in turn on the histories of the industries themselves, the political responses to their rise, and how the broader economic restructuring of the era reshaped national party ideology.
As Leslie Berlin explains, the “high-tech” revolution was actually the product of five distinct industries, all of which emerged in one place in a remarkably short period of time. The secret of their success was not simply the technology on which they were built, but on the leadership of the companies themselves and – importantly – personal and professional connections across generations and industry sectors. Despite this reality, as Margaret O’Mara explores, politicians seized on the heroic myth of the brilliant, lone, tinkering techie as a hopeful emblem of the new economy. In doing so, they helped to redefine the idea of America business leadership and rationalize a turn toward a more entrepreneurial state. The career of Lily Geismer’s subject, Ira Magaziner, demonstrates how and why Democrats came to embrace market-oriented solutions and entrepreneurial ideologies in the wake of this new-economy revolution. The prior work of our chair and commentator, Bruce Schulman, reframed the 1970s as a foundational moment of economic, cultural, and political change. These papers build on this argument and provide further evidence of the decade’s far-reaching impact.
Although news of Silicon Valley fills the headlines and its high-tech products inhabit nearly every corner of contemporary American life, the industry and its leaders and allies have received relatively little attention from historians, chiefly because the phenomena it reflected were so new. Now that the personal computer is entering its middle age and the commercial Internet is well into its second generation, the time is right for serious historical study not only of the industry itself, but also of its broader influence on U.S. politics and culture. Our intent is to add to a lively and growing debate among American historians about the relationship between national politics and corporate capitalism, and to focus attention on the distinctive and catalytic role that the high-tech revolutions of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s had upon this relationship.
Chair and Commentator: Bruce Schulman, Boston University
- Priming the Innovation Engine: Culture and Technology in 1970s Silicon Valley. Leslie Berlin, Stanford University
- From Yippie to Yuppie: Ira Magaziner and a New Democrat Approach to Leadership. Lily Geismer, Claremont McKenna College
- Startup Cowboys and High-tech Pioneers: The Political Construction of Entrepreneurial Leadership. Margaret O’Mara, University of Washington
Possibilities and Pitfalls in Early Interracial Activism, 1930s-1960s: Thursday, April 7, 12-1:30pm.
Scholars searching for the antecedents of multiculturalism have begun to situate the roots of interracial coalition-building in the United States back to particular moments and institutions of the Popular Front. Black, white and Hispanic activists took the leadership on anti-lynching campaigns, black civil rights campaigns and other causes of the progressive left at a time when such activism and racial and gender bridge building raised red flags of un-Americanism for many other white people. Our panel looks at the leadership that progressive organizations and individuals such as the International Workers Order; its Emma Lazarus Division; the Sojourners for Truth, and Puerto Ricans working within the Mobilization for Youth took to build interracial bridges but also to press claims to minority inclusion and equality in the body politic. Still, the tensions between intergroup cooperation was apparent even as activists tried to cooperate on voting-rights, educational reform and racial-equality campaigns, foreshadowing the white ethnic “backlash” and assault on “identity politics” that later developed.
Organizations affiliated with the Communist Party USA, particularly the International Workers Order, championed black civil rights (among other causes) from its inception in 1930, and IWO lodges reached out to black and Puerto Rican workers as well as south and east European members, and took the leadership on anti-lynching mobilizations, Scottsboro Defense campaigns and lobbying for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee. Black and Jewish women struggled in the early 1950s to cooperate to develop a proto-intersectionality that linked the campaigns against gender discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism, all in an era when anti-Communist investigations were ratcheting up official persecution. Women such as Louise Thompson Paterson and June Gordon took the lead to build cross-racial solidarities to alleviate these social ills under trying, repressive conditions.
Such progressive coalitions were not without internal frictions, as is highlighted by periodic Communist complaints of “white chauvinism” within the IWO. By the late 1950s and early ’60s white ethnic backlash against non-white gains was already lurking in some Jewish New Yorkers’ resistance to increasing Puerto Rican activism within the Mobilization for Youth. Congressman Leonard Farbstein, a lawmaker with liberal bona fides in the Democratic Party, increasingly found it hard to reconcile his liberalism with his Puerto Rican constituents’ calls for a greater say in decision-making in the schools and other institutions of his district. Puerto Rican organizing in the Mobilization for Youth was countered with Farbstein’s mobilization of white ethnic, particularly Jewish, identity politics on the Lower East Side. Earlier, Congressman Vito Marcantonio, an IWO officer, had forcefully advocated for his Puerto Rican as well as Italian and Jewish constituents. By Farbstein’s era fractures developed even as the resources available to urban communities contracted, and ethnic and racial communities frequently squabbled over who would lead the parade of what was left of the left in post-McCarthy America.
Our panel looks at the achievements and possibilities, as well as the limits, of American interracial coalitions from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Chair and Commentator: John Enyeart, Bucknell University
- “Helping the Entire Nation”: The International Workers Order, Multiculturalism and Civil Rights Among Radical Immigrants in Red Scare America. Robert Zecker, St. Francis Xavier University
- Fighting Anti-Semitism and Jim Crow: “Negro-Jewish Unity” and Communist Women’s Activism in 1950s Harlem. Jennifer Young, NYU
- “A Revolution in Rising Expectations”: Congressman Leonard Farbstein and Jewish Interracial Politics on the Lower East Side, 1956-1964. Barry Goldberg, CUNY Graduate Center
- The American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born: Multiracial Rights Advocacy at Mid-Century. Rachel Ida Buff, UW-Milwaukee
The Politics of Command and Control in the American Whaling Industry: Thursday, April 7, 12-1:30pm.
From its seventeenth-century origins on the shores of Long Island and southern New England through its nineteenth-century heyday in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, the American whaling industry produced rigid and oppressively hierarchical systems to regulate its workforce. These three papers all deal with challenges to command structures instituted by those at the top. Drawing on the political and social values of their home communities—on how they lived their lives when not whaling—whaling laborers found ways to exert control over the conditions of their labor. John A. Strong’s paper brings to light efforts by Native leaders on Long Island to influence the course of the industry’s development and to subvert English investors’ schemes to coerce a cheap and obedient labor force from Indian communities. Lisa Norling’s paper treats in-depth a conflict on one ship in the mid-nineteenth-century Arctic, in which sexual impropriety became the basis for an underling to question his superior’s professional competence. And Nancy Shoemaker’s paper discusses instances of male-male sexuality on nineteenth-century American whaleships, which inspired whaling crews to engage in a participatory democracy at odds with the complete deference to rank usually expected of them. Even though the whaling industry operated by its own rules and gathered many different kinds of people together to form unique social communities, it was also a site of contestation over the fundamentals of human experience: authority, autonomy, and justice.
Chair: Margaret Creighton, Bates College
Commentator: Matthew Raffety, University of Redlands
- Protecting Whaling Rights: Patterns of Native American Leadership on Eastern Long Island in the Seventeenth Century. John Strong
- Love and Loathing in the Arctic Ice; or, the Triangulation of Authority onboard the Whaleship Cleone in 1861. Lisa Norling, University of Minnesota
- Any Port in a Storm: Autocracy, Democracy, and Sodomy on American Whaleships. Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut
New Perspectives on American Socialism: Thursday, April 7, 12-1:30pm.
A century since Werner Sombart asked the question “Why is there no socialism in the United States?” and 60 years after David Shannon’s classic “The Social Party of America,” historians continue to explore American socialism. This panel discussion will feature scholars who have written recent texts on American Socialism and center on a number of historiographical issues surrounding this current work. Those themes will include the relationship between radical labor and political cultures, new avenues for scholarship such as transnational socialist study, scholarship since and in light of the shift to the “New Labor History,” the role of regionalism and socialist studies, the interactions between trade unionism and socialism, and writing the varieties of socialism (notably the SLP, SPA, IWW).
- Peter Cole, Western Illinois University
- Greg Hall, Western Illinois University
- Jeffrey Johnson, Providence College
- Erik Loomis, University of Rhode Island
- Verlaine McDonald, Berea College
Leadership and Reform Movements in the Postbellum South: Thursday, April 7, 1:45-3:15pm.
In keeping with the conference’s theme of “On Leadership,” this session will examine the roles of leadership in reform movements in one of the most challenging settings in which American reformers have found themselves: the postbellum South. In the decades after the Civil War, the South struggled with poverty, the legacy of slavery and the need to acclimate freedmen into society, the proclivity of nascent industrialists to exploit convict and child labor, and a political system in which one party (Democrats) dominated after Reconstruction. Thus reformers had more ambitious agendas to try to accomplish in the postbellum South than in other parts of the nation, while at the same time facing greater obstacles.
Through its three papers, this session will examine the challenges faced by southern reformers in the decades after 1865 and how important effective leadership was in overcoming some of these challenges in order to achieve some meaningful progress. While all three papers will focus on the postbellum South, each paper will examine a different specific time period, a different state, and different reform movements. Steven Wang’s paper, “A New Birth of Freedom: O.O. Howard’s Leadership of the Freedmen’s Bureau,” will primarily focus on the efforts of General Oliver Otis Howard to help African Americans achieve progress in Georgia in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War, particularly in the realm of education. Matthew Hild’s paper, “Building the Alabama Labor Movement: Nicholas Byrne Stack and the Knights of Labor,”” will focus on the efforts of this Irish immigrant and newcomer to the American South to organize laborers in Alabama’s fairly new but rapidly expanding coal and iron and steel industries in the 1880s, and his role in trying to ameliorate the difficult conditions that workers in these industries faced, such as the use of convict labor, imported contract labor, child labor, and longer work days with less pay than elsewhere in the nation. Gregg Cantrell’s paper, “Legislating Populism: The People’s Party and Public Policy in the 1895 Texas Legislature,” will examine the efforts of leaders of the most significant reform party of the late-nineteenth century in one of the few states where they possessed any meaningful level of strength in the chambers of a state capital as they pursued an ambitious agenda that dealt with matters of race, education, criminal law, and the regulation of financial institutions. This session will be complemented by two historians serving as chair and commentator, Maureen Flanagan and Charles Postel, each of whom has done considerable and significant research and writing on American reform movements during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Chair: Maureen Flanagan, Illinois Institute of Technology
Commentator: Charles Postel, San Francisco State University
- Legislating Populism: The People’s Party and Public Policy in the 1895 Texas Legislature. Gregg Cantrell, TCU
- Building the Alabama Labor Movement: Nicholas Byrne Stack and the Knights of Labor. Matthew Hild, Georgia Tech/Univ. of West Georgia
- A New Birth of Freedom: O. O. Howard’s Leadership of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Steven Wang, North Hall High School
Irish-American Labor Leadership and Diasporic Identity: 1900-1940: Thursday, April 7, 1:45-3:15pm.
April of 2016 will mark the centennial of the Irish Easter Rebellion. The significance of this anniversary for Irish history is clear and will doubtless spark memorial events across the globe; by contrast, its importance for U.S. labor history will likely escape the attention of most observers. Yet Irish Americans dominated the early 20th century U.S. labor movement and left an indelible imprint on U.S. labor institutions. This panel will explore the ways in which the diasporic identity of Irish-American labor leaders, and their participation in the transatlantic Irish nationalist crusade of the early twentieth century, proved important in shaping how they understood the U.S. and international class struggles, and their leadership roles within them.
In explaining the Irish-American role within the U.S. labor movement, historians have typically emphasized the working-class status of the majority of the Irish-American population in the early 20th century. They have also noted that the peak periods of Irish immigration to the United States came in the 19th century. This assured that many Irish Americans had already risen to positions of leadership within the labor movement when so-called “new immigrants” from Eastern and Southern Europe arrived in large numbers after 1900 and when African Americans also increasingly migrated to Northern cities to search for jobs in industry. Historians thus emphasize that the diasporic identity of early twentieth century Irish-American labor leaders was forged both on the anvil of their oppression at the hands of an Anglo-American economic elite and by their efforts to selectively exclude would-be economic competitors, especially African Americans, from the labor movement.
Yet such portraits neglect the transnational character of the Irish-American experience in the early 20th century. Although Irish immigration to the United States slowed after 1900, a steady stream of new Irish immigrants brought the Irish cultural renaissance as well as new currents in the Irish nationalist movement to American shores. Irish labor leaders like James Connolly and Jim Larkin made lengthy sojourns to the United States, and Irish-American labor leaders, in turn, often reciprocated. When James Connolly proclaimed his vision of a workers’ republic during the Easter Rebellion, he ignited the hopes and dreams of labor leaders of Irish ancestry on both sides of the Atlantic. Connolly’s execution at the hands of the British inspired a spirit of transatlantic labor solidarity among trade unionists of Irish ancestry far greater than the Russian Revolution.
The papers in this panel will explore both the American and the diasporic factors that shaped the leadership visions of Irish-American labor leaders. Rosemary Feurer will consider the iconic figure of Irish immigrant and labor leader Mother Jones; Elizabeth McKillen will explore how three Irish-American women labor activists with significant transatlantic ties to Ireland responded to the Easter Rebellion; and David Brundage will investigate the “residual Irish nationalism” that persisted among leaders of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1930s. Preeminent historian James Barrett will chair and provide comment.
Chair and Commentator: James Barrett, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- “I was born in revolution”: Mother Jones and the transnational creation of “new unionism.” Rosemary Feurer, Northern Illinois University
- Divided Loyalties? Irish-American Women Labor Leaders and the Irish Easter Rebellion of 1916. Elizabeth McKillen, University of Maine
- “Missionaries of Industrial Unionism”: Residual Irish Nationalism and the Irish American Leadership of the CIO. David Brundage, University of California, Santa Cruz
Raiders, Traders, and Slaves in Constructing the Spectrum of Unfreedom in the Americas: Thursday, April 7, 1:45-3:15pm.
Despite the depth of scholarship devoted to slavery in the Americas, and the revitalization of indigenous history since the ascendance of the “New Indian History,” only during the last decade have scholars stepped beyond the familiar “black-white” story to engage the continent’s deeper history of human bondage. The proposed panel seeks to bridge the substantial divide between the historiographies of Native America and New World slavery by exploring the clash and confluence of slaveries across several geographic areas between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.
From the Caribbean archipelago to coastal chiefdoms and the continental interior of North America, European colonizers had to reckon with existing customs of bondage, practices that were themselves in flux following the spread of horses, firearms, and Afro-European diseases. No colonizers could ignore these pre-existing practices, and many realized that their alliances with Native peoples, so crucial to the success or failure of the imperial project, entailed regular and violent renegotiation. Captives and slaves were at the heart of this process, and their fates could alternatively divide and connect societies that otherwise lacked cultural cohesion or mutual interests. Across a vast contact zone, indigenous nations and European empires forged new systems of unfree labour, drawing on conceptions of captivity rooted in the indigenous past and the Atlantic world’s fixation on race and profits. In addressing the conference theme of leadership, the proposed papers will pay close attention to the roles of the raiders and merchants whose networks of violence drew slaves and slavers into a cruel embrace.
Chair and Commentator: Tiya Miles, University of Michigan
- Raiders and Dealers: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in Texarkana, 1758-1790. Max Flomen, University of California, Los Angeles
- A Confluence of Slave Trades: The Impact of the Growing Transatlantic African Slave Trade on the Indian Caciques of the Circum-Caribbean, 1521-1550. Erin Stone, University of West Florida
- From Indian to African? Slavery, Servitude, and the Spectrum of Unfreedom in New England After King Philip’s War. Linford Fisher, Brown University
New Directions in the Study of Paid Domestic Work: Race, State, and Struggle: Thursday, April 7, 1:45-3:15pm
A new generation of scholarship is probing the centrality of paid household work for understanding racialization, state policy, and social struggle, connecting the intimate labors of cooking, cleaning, and caring to structures of power and authority globally as well as within nation states. It challenges old shibboleths that domestic workers could not be organized, and that their labor was ancillary to more important modes of capitalist production. This roundtable introduces new players and topics in the history of domestic work through presentations of case studies followed by a conversation among panelists and audience members on assessing structure and agency, market forces and state policy, and the applicability of the past to present struggles.
Emma Amador discusses the experiences of Puerto Rican women migrants who sought assistance in the offices of the Migration Division, a branch of the Puerto Rican Government’s Department of Labor in the U.S, and found themselves placed in occupations as care and domestic workers, often in state subsidized positions. She illuminates the central role that Puerto Rican social workers played in managing and regulating the caring labor needed to sustain the migrant community as poverty and unemployment deepened after the 1960.
Ranging from the late nineteenth century to the present, Eileen Boris analyzes the perils and promises of the employment agency as a space for organizing the market in domestic labor and as a site for worker organizing, now proposed by the National Domestic Worker Alliance. She considers the struggle against for-profit agencies as conduits for exploitation and trafficking; the creation of employment societies by women reformers – as at Hull House – as alternatives that nonetheless reinforced class and race divisions among women; and the channeling of African American women into domestic service by the U.S. Employment Service.
Through the case study of the activism of black women household workers and the Women’s Division of the Urban League in St. Louis, Keona Katrice Ervin marks shifts in domestic employment at the local level that came not by way of protest politics but rather through the gritty work of negotiation and collective mobilization. Drawing from deep traditions of working-class resistance, racial uplift, and a black feminist consciousness that placed a premium on community and women’s care, domestic workers and leaders of the Women’s Division formed a cross-class alliance that anticipated and complicated labor reform campaigns.
Andrew Urban examines the development of markets for paid domestic work during the period of 1850 to 1924, and the political and social debates that surrounded how the household consumption of foreign labor power, and the corresponding production of domesticity, was to be governed. He argues that the history of American domesticity is inseparable from the histories of immigration restriction and regulation, and that domestic service was central to the comparative racialization and race management of Irish, Chinese, and African American laborers forged during a period of settler colonialism and overseas expansion.
Premilla Nadasen, a specialist in black women’s grassroots activism and in the history of domestic labor, will chair and guide the discussion.
Chair: Wendy Gamber, Indiana University
- Andrew Urban, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
- Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara
- Keona Ervin, University of Missouri
- Emma Amador, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Thriving in the Doldrums: Complicating Women’s Political, Social, and Labor Organizing: Friday, April 8, 9-10:30am.
This panel joins the ranks of recent scholarship that reconsiders the “waves” metaphor in women’s rights and feminist history as it broadly addresses the questions of what women bring to positions of authority and how women redefine leadership. With four papers focused on women’s local activism from the 1930s to the 1950s, it also crosses the boundary of World War II in U.S. women’s history in a way that de-emphasizes before and after depictions of women’s workforce participation, as women continued to struggle for the needs of their communities and families throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
Lisa Jackson’s “‘I Wasn’t and Never Considered Myself to Be a Political Leader or Marxist Theoretician:’ The Trouble With Communist Women Leaders,” sets the stage for a discussion of women’s, at times hesitant, leadership as she explores the contributions of female members of the Communist Party in the Bay Area in the 1930s. Focusing on female teachers in a workers’ school, Jackson illustrates the complexity of defining and researching women’s leadership when women themselves denied their own importance in guiding others.
Following Jackson, Tiffany Baugh-Helton’s essay brings attention to scholars’ past neglect of women’s contributions to union organizing after strikes as she recounts the history of women’s auxiliaries to the United Auto Workers union in 1930s Detroit. Arguing that women “unionized” families, Baugh-Helton highlights the significance of women’s auxiliaries to evolving ideas of the needs of laborers and their dependents.
Continuing to speak to women’s contributions to community and labor organizing, Jessica Frazier’s essay complicates assumptions about which women—namely mothers, wives, and sisters—supported and led efforts to help male laborers. Telling the story of two women who were “life partners,” but who nonetheless organized for the communal needs of lobster fishermen in 1940s Maine, Frazier’s paper provides a juxtaposition to Baugh-Helton’s findings.
Allison Hepler’s “Gender and American Anti-Communism in Cold War Suburbia” closes out the session in a thought-provoking way as she analyzes the leadership roles of women on all sides of a 1950s red scare episode. With women as the accusers, victim, and defenders, Hepler’s piece dares scholars to assume that women inherently fit on one side of a political debate as it also points out the very public activism of women during a time when women were supposedly focused on hearth and home.
Through these four essays, this panel will elicit conversation about what constitutes women’s rights and “feminist” activism; when, where, and how women have led political, social, and labor movements; and which women have invested themselves in the needs of the community. With U.S. women’s historian Jennifer Scanlon as commentator and civil rights historian Mary Corey as chair, this panel will attract scholars interested in complicating, contributing to, and challenging knowledge about women’s community leadership.
Chair: Mary E. Corey, The College at Brockport, Brockport, NY
Commentator: Jennifer Scanlon, Bowdoin College, Bowdoin College
- “I Wasn’t and Never Considered Myself to Be a Political Leader or Marxist Theoretician:” The Trouble With Communist Women Leaders. Lisa M. Jackson, University of California, Santa Cruz
- Organized Families: The UAW Women’s Auxiliaries and Leadership during the Great Depression. Tiffany Baugh-Helton, Binghamton University (SUNY)
- Community Solutions: Women Inside and Outside the Government. Jessica Frazier, University of Rhode Island
- Gender and American Anti-Communism in Cold War Suburbia. Allison Hepler, University of Maine at Farmington
Early American Labor History: Future Directions: Friday, April 8, 9-10:30am.
The last decade has seen no lack of research on working people in colonial North America and the new United States. However, the relationship of this scholarship to the field of labor history is not always clear. Increasingly, scholars are coming at labor processes, working-class cultures, and the social relations of class from other methodological approaches and historiographical traditions. The next generation of labor history may emerge not from scholars self-identified as labor historians, but rather from historians primarily invested in questions of empire, law, migration, and infrastructure, or from the theoretical insights of gender and sexuality studies and the histories of science, technology, and medicine. This roundtable asks five emerging scholars to project the future of early American labor history.
Chair: Seth Rockman, Brown University
- Allison Madar, California State University, Chico
- Jared Hardesty, Western Washington University
- Katie Hemphill, University of Arizona
- David Unger, Restless Device Podcast
- Angela Hawk, California State University, Long Beach
Latino Power Brokers: Group Image and the Politics of Coalitions: Friday, April 8, 10:50am-12:20pm.
If “demography is destiny,” as pundits like to claim, the “Latino Vote” is poised to decide many a future U.S. election. This electorate is, however, neither uniform nor monolithic. The complex terrain of U.S. Latino/a politics developed over decades, and was heavily influenced by local context. This panel examines the careers of three individuals pivotal in the making of Latino/a politics in the post-World War II era. It explores their approaches to coalition building across class and ethnoracial lines and it analyzes the types of structures they favored to empower their ethnic constituents. In his paper on the career of San Antonio political activist Albert Peña, Max Krochmal emphasizes the building of independent ethnic political power in a Jim Crow state. He shows how, despite the restrictive climate of 1950s and 1960s Texas, Peña was able to assemble an interracial coalition that propelled local Mexican Americans to statewide—and eventually national—influence. Crucially, while Peña’s labor-backed coalition was concerned with class issues, it nonetheless found a way to validate Mexican-American ethnic distinctiveness as a legitimate basis for political solidarity, well in advance of the Chicano movement of the later 1960s. While Krochmal engages questions of local political ascent, Benjamin Francis-Fallon shows a politician confronting his own ethnic constituents’ declining significance in Latino politics and national affairs. His paper explores how Joseph Monserrat transformed himself from Puerto Rican government bureaucrat into spokesperson for pan-Hispanic politics on the mainland. Seeking a path to continued relevance for mainland Puerto Ricans during the urban crisis, the passing of a generation of pro-Democratic island leaders, and the challenge of radical Puerto Rican nationalism, Monserrat was creative. He drew heavily upon the Puerto Rican migrant experience to develop a pan-Latino historical vision he hoped would motivate Latinos of all national origins to unite for political power. Monserrat’s career thus shows the transnational (or imperial, if one likes) currents that informed the forging of multiple Latino constituencies into a single American minority group, as well as the absorption of Puerto Rican community narratives into the larger Latino political story. Mauricio Castro takes us out of a leadership class wrestling with decline, and into the glimmering world of Miami in the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike Peña or Monserrat, Jorge Mas Canosa and the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) were primarily focused on foreign policy lobbying. Castro’s paper, however, also explores Mas Canosa’s self-appointed role in healing or suppressing internal factionalism, and controlling the golden image of Cuban Americans at a time when their numbers were swelling with poor migrants. Indeed, through Mas Canosa, he shows the ways in which conservation and concentration of power were far more important than broad coalition building. Scholars of immigration, ethnicity, politics, the Sunbelt, and the post-World War II United States generally, will find this panel useful for understanding the contours of Latino politics so typically overlooked in the popular debate on the subject.
Chair and Commentator: Aldo Lauria Santiago, Rutgers University
- “Other Civilized Ways to Struggle:” Jorge Mas Canosa, the Cuban American National Foundation, and the Projection of Local Power. Mauricio Castro, Purdue University
- “Dean Emeritus of Chicano Politics”: The Electoral and Civil Rights Machine of San Antonio’s Albert Peña. Max Krochmal, Texas Christian University
- From Puerto Rican Migrants to “Hispanics U.S.A.”: Joseph Monserrat and the Making of a Pan-Latino Activist Intellectual. Benjamin Francis-Fallon, Western Carolina University
Organizing in the Heartland: Interracial Coalitions in the Urban Midwest During the Twentieth Century: Friday, April 8, 1:50-3:20pm.
Though often represented as white and homogenous, by 1930 the Midwest displayed some of the nation’s most racially segregated cities. Throughout the century, social and political groups formed interracial coalitions to confront the problems that developed out of these Midwestern cities. These organizations faced questions of how and when to organize, whose interests to represent, and what methods to employ. Some groups were leaderless while other groups look to white males as their leaders. In other instances, African Americans and whites enjoyed equal leadership positions as they dealt with a variety of issues. This paper session examines the leadership and membership in interracial coalitions in Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis from the 1930s to the 1970s and how they dealt with the challenges of race in the city during the twentieth century.
Melissa Ford’s paper, “‘Fight!- Don’t Starve’: The Unemployed Councils and Interracial Organizing in Depression-Era Midwest’ examines how many African Americans latched onto the promises of American Communists in the 1930s, and how, led by white radicals, they found their own methods of organizing and protesting economic and racial injustice. This sort of interracial organizing would later be seen again after World War II with the Civil Rights Movement and the creation of interracial coalitions, political organizations, and social groups aimed to alleviate the woes of the post-war Midwestern cities. These coalitions of black and white citizens did not always agree- in fact, they sometimes represented diametric opposites. In “Unlikely Allies: Integrationists, Segregationists, and the Push for Metropolitan School Integration in the Urban North,” Michael Savage explains how the Citizens’ Committee for Better Education (CCBE) went from opposing school integration to siding with the NAACP in 1971 for a desegregation plan for Detroit’s city schools. Devin Hunter’s paper, “Coalition and Calypso: Harry Belafonte Visit Chicago’s ‘Interracial Movement of the Poor'” examines how the predominantly white group Jobs or Income Now (JOIN) dealt with competing ideas of organizing the poor, and how Harry Belafonte made an interesting, and telling, visit to the organization. Meanwhile, Michael Stauch’s “Policing the Wildcat: Liberal Law and Order in 1970s Detroit,” explores how the interracial political leadership of 1970s Detroit struggled to represent the interests of both the laboring class as well as unemployed African American youth.
In these cases, social organizations, social activists, and political figures sought to reach across the racial boundaries that often defined mid-century Midwestern cities. Sometimes the coalitions were leaderless, like JOIN, or propelled by a political figure, like Detroit’s first African American mayor, Coleman Young, or represented by a group of concerned citizens, like CCBE or the Unemployed Councils. Regardless, each coalition faced its own set of challenges brought about by political, social, racial, and regional realities of these Midwestern cities. How their leaders, or lack of leaders, responded to these challenges shaped social activism during the twentieth century, influenced how other cities outside the Midwest dealt with integration, and laid the foundation for addressing modern urban problems.
Chair and Commentator: Heidi Ardizzone, Saint Louis University
- Policing the Wildcat: Liberal Law and Order in 1970s Detroit. Michael Stauch, Jr, University of Michigan
- “Fight!- Don’t Starve”: The Unemployed Councils and Interracial Organizing in Depression-Era Midwest. Melissa Ford, Saint Louis University
- “Unlikely Allies: Integrationists, Segregationists, and the push for Metropolitan School Integration in the Urban North.” Michael Savage, University of Toronto
- Coalition and Calypso: Harry Belafonte Visits Chicago’s ‘Interracial Movement of the Poor. Devin Hunter
Labor, Class, and Poverty: Friday, April 8, 1:50-3:20pm
Chair: Kathryn Silva, Utica College
- Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara
- Keona Ervin, University of Missouri
- Laurie Green, University of Texas at Austin
- Annelise Orleck, Dartmouth
- Premillan Nadesen, Barnard College
State of the Field on Interactions between Labor and Environmental History: Friday, April 8, 1:50-3:20pm
This panel will be a roundtable on the present state of the growing literature bridging labor and environmental history. Both fields have increasingly engaged with the other in the past fifteen years, creating a growing and influential literature, including Thomas Andrews’ Bancroft Prize winning Killing for Coal. Yet the potential for cross-fertilization remains nascent, as in many cases the labor historians and environmental historians are still often talking to their own fields rather than each other. This panel will seek to suggest paths to move the literature forward in ways that merge the insights of both labor and environmental history. The panel consists of two labor historians (Fine and Lipin) and two environmental historians (Montrie and Andrews) who all bring different methodologies to the subject and disparate perspectives to the conversation.
Chair and Commentator: Erik Loomis, University of Rhode Island , University of Rhode Island
- Lisa Fine, Michigan State University
- Lawrence M. Lipin, Pacific University
- Thomas Andrews, University of Colorado Boulder
- Chad Montrie, University of Massachusetts Lowell
Governing Bodies of Evidence: Labor, Citizenship, and Sensory Knowledge in the Gilded Age: Saturday, April 9, 9-10:30am
In recent years, scholars have revealed physical bodies as important sites of inquiry and subjects for research. Human and animal bodies, their senses, emotions, and comportment have long been critical sources of natural and social knowledge, and are now legible as subjects and actors in historical change themselves. In the postbellum decades, both the expanding nation-state and new corporate entities allied themselves to forms of expertise that constructed bodily evidence as “messy,” inchoate, and inconsistent. Such evidence, however, has presented an opportunity for historians eager to disrupt neat narratives and develop analyses revealing the historical continuity of the messiness of everyday life.
This panel will engage the larger scholarship on sensory and bodily history by considering the varied uses of evidence from bodies in the later nineteenth century. Our papers ask how would-be leaders (from private employers to public authorities) attempted to use and govern bodies—both corporeal and sensory bodies—as sources of evidence, as well as the aggregate bodies of knowledge that they created. What techniques controlled those bodies? How did these followers—employees, citizens, lay persons—subvert and circumvent dictates for their bodies? How did national and international standardization efforts come to define bodily experience as illegitimate? To what ends have the “evidence of bodies” been put to use? This bodily approach sheds new light on older subjects: reform, purity, nature, conservation, labor, immigration, and urbanization.
Benjamin Cohen considers these issues through the pure food campaigns’ efforts to police individual and household bodies. He takes us to 1880s debates in grocers’ papers between domestic economists, pubic analysts, and grocers themselves who argued over the best way to manage urban households and their food. Taste, smell, and sight had theretofore formed a collective framework for adjudicating food purity, organoleptic metrics of the body built from agrarian experience. Resisting the loss of such evidence, pure food advocates sought to maintain bodily metrics as a way to challenge the problems of manufactured food and the incursion of instrumental, analytical evidence.
Melanie Kiechle explores how people constructed bodily experience as legal evidence before newly regulatory governments in the 1870s. When the question of a commonly known nuisance came before the Massachusetts State Board of Health—not a court or a jury—both complaining citizens and the slaughterhouse owner testified to olfactory experiences, which they corroborated through visible environmental changes, chemical analyses, and economic concerns. As they evaluated daily life, board members implicitly decided whose bodies, if any, were legally reliable.
David Singerman’s paper asks how the owners and managers of sugar factories across the American sugar empire tried to capture and control the bodily practices of their skilled workers. Planters in the Caribbean had long complained of their inability to understand the sugar-making practices of enslaved artisans. In Hawaii, however, sugar factories only began to appear in the last third of the century, and the designers of its highly centralized and chemically-supervised industry looked to labor practices in Cuba and Puerto Rico precisely for lessons in what to avoid.
Chair and Commentator: Kristin Hoganson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (visiting at Oxford)
- “An Inherent Right to Breathe Pure Air”: How to Validate a Stench in the Nineteenth Century City. Melanie Kiechle, Virginia tech
- Sugar work and scientific control in Puerto Rico and Hawaii, 1875-1920. David Singerman, Harvard Business School
- Policing that which nourishes the home and body: a Gilded Age struggle to control purity amidst manufactured foods and global trade. Benjamin Cohen
Christianity and Capitalism in the Modern US: Historians respond to Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God. Saturday, April 9, 9-10:30am
In the last decade historians have taken up with renewed vigor the complicated relationship between Christianity and capitalism in the modern United States. Some have been especially interested in the ways that faith, work, and labor politics have intersected in the lives of ordinary people, as can be seen in recent and/or forthcoming books by Jarod Roll, Chip Callahan, Alison Greene, Heath W. Carter, and Elizabeth and Ken Fones-Wolf, among others. Another group of scholars has begun to excavate the ties between religious and corporate leaders, producing important studies such as Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt, Bethany Moreton’s Serving God and Wal-Mart, and now Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.
This panel will bring together a variety of historians from both sides of the new scholarship to discuss and evaluate Kruse’s book. The session will entail three comments, each of which considers the book in the larger context of these emerging fields, followed by a response by Kruse. At that point the discussion will be thrown open to the audience.
Chair: Heath Carter, Valparaiso University
- Alison Greene, Mississippi State University
- Kathryn Lofton, Yale University
- Jarod Roll, University of Mississippi
- Kevin Kruse, Princeton University
Organizing the 1970s: Saturday, April 9, 10:50am-12:20pm
Chair: Jennifer Klein, Yale University
Commentator: Jefferson Cowie, Cornell University
- Blue Strike Wave: The Rise and Reverberations of 1970s Police Unionism. Dan Gilbert, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
- The Atlanta Project & the Origins of Community-Oriented Southern Radical Social Movements in the 1960s. Andrew Pope, Harvard University
- “Building Power for Other:” Afro-Asian worker Solidarity during Seattle Black Power Era. Michael Schulze-Oechtering, UC Berkeley, Ethnic Studies
- Union Leadership in a Post-Labor Age: Jerry Wurf and the Rise of the Public Sector. Joseph E. Hower, Southwestern University
Leading Roles: Sex, Violence, and Labor Power in Hollywood Film-Making: Saturday, April 9, 1:50-3:20pm
Between the 1920s and World War II, Hollywood drove some of the key cultural, political, and economic transformations that helped to reshape modern America. Invented in the late nineteenth century, motion pictures quickly matured into one of the largest and most culturally significant industries in the United States. By 1930, nearly 80 million people went to the movies every week. In this era, the American film business opened up professional opportunities for women, introduced new technologies, cultivated new professions, and reshaped social expectations and codes. But historians too often leave Hollywood’s study to film scholars and journalists who typically focus only on the content of films and their stars. As a result, the American film industry’s broader historical significance often gets lost. Embracing the mission of “taking Hollywood seriously,” this panel will explore three ways in which the production of movies played a leading role in reshaping American society, capitalism, and culture.
The first paper examines the work of the British writer and producer Elinor Glyn in order to demonstrate how women used early Hollywood to challenge conventional ideas about “female” aesthetics and lust. The second paper will consider the experiences of film projectionists during the transition from silent to sound motion pictures in the late 1920s, analyzing how technological change, organized labor, and organized crime all contributed to this fundamental transformation of the industry. The third paper explores how, during the 1920s and 1940s, the film studios institutionalized the creative work of actors, directors, and writers, turning creativity into a modern form of labor. Taken together these studies establish Hollywood as a central character in United States history, both on and off the screen.
Chair and Commentator: Steven J. Ross, University of Southern California
- Sex Matters: Writing Women into Early Hollywood. Hilary Hallett
- Gangster Movies: Technological Change, Organized Labor, and Organized Crime in the Projection of American Films, 1926-1933. Emily Thompson, Princeton University
- Hollywood Works: How the Studio System Turned Creativity into Modern Labor. Ronny Regev, Princeton University
The Road Not Taken: The War on Poverty & Public Employment: Saturday, April 9, 1:50-3:20pm
When Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty” six weeks after becoming President, he signaled to the nation that the Great Society would be a return to the New Deal, directly echoing his idol Franklin B. Roosevelt’s famous “one-third of a nation” speech by promising to lift up the “one-fifth of all American families with incomes too small to even meet their basic needs.” Yet, while the two reform periods are seen as bookends to modern liberalism, they approached poverty and unemployment very differently. Amid depression and record-high unemployment, Democrats in the 1930’s directly created jobs for millions through various government projects. By contrast, at the height of the postwar boom, with official joblessness momentarily low, the party instead relied on modest job training, community organizing, and most of all a neo-Keynesian tax cut, assuming that skill development mixed with aggregate economic growth would “soak up” the poor. The New Deal used government as the employer of last resort. The Great Society depended mainly on a stimulus to the free market.
This shift reflected not just the starkly alternate circumstances of the periods, but a policy debate that went back to the mid-1940s. At the end of WWII, New Deal liberals proposed a full employment program on the model of England’s Beveridge Report, a policy many industrial democracies embraced. Although the inflated Dixie-GOP power in Congress essentially killed this legislation, advocates kept the struggle alive, pursuing their objective in various forms. By the early 1960s, recession, automation, union decline, and civil rights had arguably made jobs a more pressing issue than at any time since the 1930s—perhaps the first, and last, real moment when “guaranteed employment” seemed possible. As a decentralized medium for empowering grassroots activism, the idea appealed to all levels of government and involved voices beyond formal politics itself.
This panel will investigate this debate in the 1960’s as well as the War on Poverty’s job creation record. Beneath the high-profile controversies of “community action” were high-level policymakers in the federal Department of Labor and suburban government officials calling for New Deal style alternatives. And even though there was no full-employment component, War on Poverty programs were nonetheless sources for public jobs, particularly for urban African American women. These federally-funded jobs and the calls for more robust public employment programs represented a crossroads in the history of liberalism, when the idea and possibility of a demand-side employment policy was once again circulating in Washington and local communities nationwide. What happened to this movement – and to the jobs opportunities created during the period – is relevant to understanding both the fortunes of the Great Society and why large-scale jobs programs have been absent in the policy responses to the “Great Divergence” and the 2008 financial collapse.
Chair and Commentator: Eric Arnesen, George Washington University
- The Last New Dealer? Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Surprising Vision for the War on Poverty. Peter-Christian Aigner
- Another Road Not Taken: Race, Sex, Jobs and the War on Poverty. Jane Berger, Moravian College
- ‘Guaranteed Employment’ & the Suburban War on Poverty. Tim Keogh, Queensborough Community College/CUNY