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"1500 Doomed":  People's Press  Reports on the Gauley Bridge Disaster
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The deadly lung disease silicosis is caused when miners, sandblasters, and foundry and tunnel workers inhale fine particles of silica dust--a mineral found in sand, quartz, and granite. In 1935, approximately 1,500 workers--largely African Americans who had come north to find work--were killed by exposure to silica dust while building a tunnel in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. Ordinarily, silicosis takes a several years to develop, but these West Virginia tunnel workers were falling ill in a matter of months because of exposure to unusually high concentrations of silica dust. The crisis over silicosis suddenly became a national issue, as seen in this article in the radical newspaper Peoples' Press . In 1936 congressional hearings on the Gauley Bridge disaster, it was revealed that company officials and engineers wore masks to protect themselves when they visited the tunnel, but they failed to provide masks for the tunnelers themselves, even when the workers requested them.

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U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
A. F. of L. Delegates.
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Faced with stiff business opposition, a conservative political climate, hostile courts, and declining membership, leaders of the American Federeration of Labor (AFL) grew increasingly cautious during the 1920s. Labor radicals viewed AFL leaders as overpaid, self-interested functionaries uninterested in organizing unorganized workers into unions. A cartoon by William Gropper published in the Communist Yiddish newspaper Freiheit (and reprinted in English in the New Masses ) caricatures delegates to a 1926 AFL convention in Atlantic City. Well

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U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
Altared States: Marriage Ends an Organizer's Career
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In 1889, Knights of Labor General Investigator Leonora Barry surprised the union by recommending that the Woman's Department, which she headed, be disbanded. "There can be no separation or distinction of wage workers on account of sex," she argued, "and a separate department for the interests of women is a direct contradiction of this." The Knights rejected her recommendations, and Barry continued her organizing work. What finally halted Barry's organizing efforts--and the work of the union's Woman's Department--was her marriage in 1890 to Obadiah Read Lake, a St. Louis Knight and printer. Terrence V. Powderly, the head of the Knights, had not always fully supported Barry's efforts and his readiness to see her marriage as the equivalent of her death (as this letter to a fellow Knight revealed) showed the limitations of the Knights' commitment to women's full participation. Although Barry's labor organizing ended, she remained active in temperance, women's suffrage, and other progressive causes.

Subject:
U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
"Among the Most Exploited": Fair Labor Standards Act and Laundry Workers
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Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) on June 25, 1938, the last major piece of New Deal legislation. The act outlawed child labor and guaranteed a minimum wage of 40 cents an hour and a maximum work week of 40 hours, benefiting more than 22 million workers. Although the law helped establish a precedent for the Federal regulation of work conditions, conservative forces in Congress effectively exempted many workers, such as waiters, cooks, janitors, farm workers, and domestics, from its coverage. In October 1949, President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1949, raising the minimum wage to 75 cents hour and extending coverage, but still leaving many workers unprotected. In the following statement to the 1949 Senate subcommittee on FLSA amendments, members of the laundry workers' union detailed the working conditions of laundry workers, argued that fair wages would not bankrupt commercial laundries, and called upon Congress to extend protection to laundry workers. The questioner, Senator Claude Pepper (D-Florida), a key advocate for the 1938 legislation, chaired the 1949 hearings and pushed the amendments through Senate and conference committees.

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U.S. History
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04/25/2013
An Anarchist by Any Other Name: Albert Parsons and Anarchist Socialism
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Few terms have been surrounded with as much myth and misunderstanding as "anarchism." Part of the difficulty is that there are many kinds of anarchists. The high point of American anarchism surely came in the 1880s in the movement led by Chicago "Social Revolutionaries," such as Lucy and Albert Parsons. Contrary to the stereotype, anarchists like the Parsons did not object to order itself but to the oppressive forms of order imposed by the capitalist state. Albert Parsons also frankly acknowledged the belief shared by other anarchists in his circle that social transformation would only come through revolution, "through bloodshed and violence." What is perhaps less clear from the statement is Parsons's simultaneous commitment to trade unionism as the primary agency of social change. In this 1887 essay, "What Is Anarchism?" social revolutionary Parsons explained how his strain of anarchist socialism derived its name and purpose from the Greek words for "no" and "government."

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U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
Andrew Carnegie's Ode to Steelmaking
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Known best by his knack for moneymaking, turn-of-the-century steel magnate Andrew Carnegie nonetheless found a moment to pen a one-sided poetic tribute to the "eighth wonder" of the world--steel manufacturing in his Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, plant. This brief poem reflected how he (and other contemporaries) viewed the monumental process of steelmaking. The poem was notable for its use of passive voice and the absence of workers--miners, railroad men, or blast furnace crews--from the process by which "one pound of solid steel" came to be.

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U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
"Are We Nothing But Living Machines?" A New York Sewing Woman Protests Wages and Working Conditions, 1863
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Since at least the 1830s, New York working women endured low pay, long hours, and difficult working conditions. Concerned observers noted that some were even forced to turn to prostitution to supplement their meager incomes. During the Civil War, poor men flocked to the army (wealthier men could purchase substitutes for $300). The women left behind were now responsible for supporting families on their own. While wartime production created additional opportunities for women to work, it also led to even greater exploitation as factory owners pushed their workers to turn out more goods. Under these conditions, some women, such as this one, suggested that collective action might provide a solution.

Subject:
U.S. History
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04/25/2013
"An Awful Battle at Homestead, Pa."
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In 1892, owner Andrew Carnegie and his plant manager Henry Clay Frick decided to break the steelworkers union at the Carnegie Steel Company plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Frick locked out the steelworkers and hired 300 armed guards from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to protect non-union strikebreakers. When the Pinkertons arrived on barges, armed steelworkers defeated them in a bloody pitched battle. Later, however, the state militia supported Carnegie, and the strike along with the union was broken. The National Police Gazette portrayed the July 6, 1892, fight between striking workers and Pinkerton strike-breakers on the Monongahela River. A national weekly directed to male readers, many of whom were workers, the Police Gazette occasionally covered labor conflict, expressing sympathy toward strikers while also exploiting the more sensational aspects of the events.

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U.S. History
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American Social History Project / Center for History Media and Learning
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
"The Baby Was Made 'Delegate No. 800'": Frances Willard Meets Elizabeth Rodgers in the 1880s
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The commitment of the Knights of Labor to equality for women was more than rhetorical, as seen in the career of Elizabeth Rodgers, the Master Workman, or head, of the organization's giant Chicago District No. 24. This 1889 portrait of Rodgers, offered by leading national anti-liquor activist Frances Willard, underscored the desire on the part of many Knights, both men and women, to connect the struggle for labor reform with a broader vision that included vehement opposition to liquor. It also showed the complex ways in which the Knights managed to simultaneously advocate equal rights for women at the same time they upheld the Victorian ideal of domesticity for women. Thus, although Rodgers presided over a Local Assembly with 50,000 male and female members, she was still listed as a "housewife" when she attended the 1886 Richmond convention.

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U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
"The Bad News From Chicago": Labor Organizer Oscar Ameringer Describes the Effect of the Haymarket Bombing on the Knights of Labor
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The Haymarket bombing in 1886 marked a major turning point in the history of nineteenth-century labor. Used by capitalists as an excuse for a crackdown on labor organizations, the bombing also splintered what up had been until then the strongest labor organization in the United States--the Knights of Labor. The anti-labor reaction that followed in the wake of the bombing helped precipitate a rapid decline in membership in the Knights which was eventually supplanted by the American Federation of Labor. In this excerpt from his autobiography, Oscar Ameringer, a Knight himself in 1886, recalled receiving the news about the Haymarket bombing while on strike in Cincinnati.

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U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
Beginning of the End: Chapter One of Sinclair's The Jungle
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In 1904, socialist writer Upton Sinclair spent two months in Chicago's "Packingtown" observing a bitter stockyard strike. He turned the wealth of material he found there into his best-selling 1905 novel, The Jungle. The book is best known for revealing the unsanitary process by which animals became meat products, and its revelations were an important factor in the 1906 passage of the federal Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection Act. Yet Sinclair's primary concern was not with the goods that were produced but with the workers who produced them. He described, with great accuracy, the horrifying physical conditions under which immigrant packing plant workers and their families worked and lived, portraying the collapse of immigrant culture under the relentless pressure of industrial capitalism. Despite his sympathies, as a middle-class reformer Sinclair was oblivious to the vibrancy of immigrant communities beyond the reach of bosses, where immigrants found solidarity and hope. In the opening chapter of The Jungle, the immigrant hero and heroine, Juris and Ona Rudkus, celebrate their nuptials and the start of their new lives in Chicago.

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Date Added:
04/25/2013
"Bell-Time."
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A cross-section of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, workforce as presented to the readers of Harper's Weekly in 1868. Winslow Homer sketched women, men, and children as they emerged from the city's textile factories at the end of a workday.

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04/25/2013
The Big Strike : A Journalist Describes the 1934 San Francisco Strike
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On May 9, 1934, International Labor Association (ILA) leaders called a strike of all dockworkers on the West Coast who were joined a few days later by seamen and teamsters, effectively stopping all shipping from San Diego to Seattle. San Francisco would become the scene of the strike's most dramatic and widely known incidents, aptly described in one headline as "War in San Francisco!" On Bloody Thursday, July 5, 1934, two strikers were killed by the San Francisco police. A mass funeral march of tens of thousands of strikers and sympathizers four days later and the general strike that followed effectively shut down both San Francisco and Oakland (across the bay). Mike Quin, a self-described "rank-and-file journalist," offered a sympathetic picture of the striking workers actions in The Big Strike, a collection of his published articles. Here, Quin described the events leading up to Bloody Thursday, and what happened in its aftermath.

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U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
Black Comedy: Racial Controversy at the Richmond Convention
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The annual convention of the Knights of Labor convened in Richmond, Virginia, a region divided by racial and political conflict, on October 4, 1886. In the 1880s, Southern politics was split between southern Democrats who sought to "redeem" the old order and a progressive (and in some places interracial) political movement that sought to extend the gains won by ordinary black and white southerners during the Reconstruction era. As more than one thousand delegates gathered from across the country in the former capital of the Confederacy, the labor and political reform movements hoped the convention would be a launching pad for their message of racial peace and political reform. But the convention and the Knights of Labor were quickly plunged into conflict over the organization's attitude toward the question of social equality between the races. The white citizens of Richmond and elsewhere in the country were fascinated and horrified by repeated reports of "race mixing" in press accounts about the Knights of Labor convention, typified by these three items from the Richmond Dispatch of October 6, 1886.

Subject:
U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
Boycott Fever
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A developing sense of working-class community paved the way for a string of boycotts in the mid-1880s. Boycotts were a way to win concessions from an employer by convincing other workers not to patronize his business. The movement peaked in 1886 with campaigns across the country; that year, there were 150 boycotts in New York State alone. This 1887 cartoon in the satirical weekly Life commented on the ubiquity of the boycott. "Whereas," reads one boy, representing a committee of disgruntled candy-cart customers, "we find we don't git red color enough in our strawberry cream, nor enough yaller in our wanilla, . . . to say nothin' o' the small measure of peanuts we gits for a cent; therefore, be it resolved . . . that all the stands in the city is boycotted until these things is righted."

Subject:
U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
Broken Spirits: Letters on the Pullman Strike
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The American Railway Union's unsuccessful strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1894 left many workers without jobs. Not only did the company take on hundreds of new workers in place of the strikers, but total employment in the shops dropped. On August 17, 1894, the desperate and destitute strikers appealed to Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld. The sympathetic governor wrote George Pullman a total of three times, asking him to do something about the "great distress" among his former workers. Typically, Pullman blamed the workers for their problems, arguing that if they had not struck they would not be suffering. He rejected the solutions proposed by Altgeld. The strikers' appeal to Altgeld and the governor's three letters to Pullman are included here. The public was more sympathetic with the plight of the Pullman workers. Contributions of food eased the distress and many Pullman residents eventually moved to find work elsewhere.

Subject:
U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
"The Brotherhood of Man": A Unionist Uses the Bible
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Religious concepts and metaphors suffused the words and ideas of many late nineteenth-century American workers. The New and Old Testaments provided not only personal succor to many working people but also a set of allusions and parables they applied directly to their lives and struggles in industrial America. Working-class ideas and writing often were cast in stark millenarian terms, with prophesies of imminent doom predicted for capitalists who worshiped at Mammon's temple and imminent redemption for hard-working, long-suffering, and God-fearing laboring men and women. Christ was uniformly depicted in workers' writing as a poor workingman put on Earth to teach the simple principles of brotherhood and unionism. Trade unionist William D. Mahon chastised organized religion for ignoring its "true mission" to "establish the brotherhood of man" in this 1899 speech espousing a strong church role in helping the labor movement.

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U.S. History
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Date Added:
04/25/2013
"The Business of a Factory": A Journalist's Portrait
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In 1897, Scribner's published a series of articles on "The Conduct of Great Business." This article by Philip Hubert on a New England textile mill conveyed some of the sense of wonder that Americans felt at the enormous new factories suddenly emerging in what had been primarily an agricultural nation. Although other contemporaries--both agrarian radicals and trade unionists--viewed the new industrial behemoths with skepticism or even horror, middle-class observers like Hubert celebrated the achievements of the capitalists who organized and managed these vast and complex enterprises. Hubert had little interest in or sympathy for the thousands of workers who toiled in the textile mill that he visited, echoing the view that the "character of the machinery" was more important than "the character of the hands." But his account, including a vivid description of the mill at quitting time, captured the sheer size and dehumanizing impact on workers of the new industrial enterprises.

Subject:
U.S. History
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04/25/2013
Cain and Abel Revisited: A Case for Keeping thy Brother
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In order to challenge the emphasis on extreme economic individualism espoused by Gilded Age industrialists and laissez-faire theorists, labor writers drew on diverse historical and religious traditions. Jose Gros, writing in The Carpenter in 1895, turned to religious traditions, specifically the biblical parable of Cain and Abel. Gros used the parable's central question--"Am I my brother's keeper?"--to criticize economic individualism and make the case for cooperation and brotherhood.

Subject:
U.S. History
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Primary Source
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Provider:
American Social History Project / Center for History Media and Learning
Provider Set:
Many Pasts (CHNM/ASHP)
Author:
Center for History and New Media/American Social History Project
Date Added:
04/25/2013