American Labor Struggles 1877-1934 by Samuel Yellen

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Pathfinder edition 1974, 7th printing 1998

Ch. 1—The Railroad Strikes of 1877

What was new about the railroad strikes of 1877?

Explain the origin of the railroad strikes.

What factors contributed to the railroad companies’ financial crisis?

How was the financial burden of the crisis divided among the railroad stockowners (dividends), workers (wages), and farmers (freight prices)?

What issue besides low wages concerned the railroad workers?

Characterize the Brotherhoods that some of the railroad workers had recently formed. Were they effective at fighting for the workers?

When the strike broke out on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, what was public opinion?

What role did women play?

What happened when the governor of West Virginia ordered the state militia to keep the trains running?

What new tactic did the employers and the government use to try to break the strike? What was the result?

Why did some business support the strikers?

Why do you think the Pennsylvania Railroad was willing to lose over $5,000,000 (due to strike and related damage) rather than pay a few tens of thousands more in wages?

What tactics were used by the Pennsylvania Railroad to suppress the strikes?

What triggered the strike in New York?

What role did The New York Times play?

What new tactic(s) did strikers employ to stop freight trains in New York?

What new tactic did the bosses use to increase the penalties for strikers who stopped trains?

What was William Vanderbilt’s rationale for ignoring strikers’ demands for a wage increase?

How did Vanderbilt defeat the New York Central strike?

How were the railroad strikes transformed as they spread west to Chicago and St. Louis?

What “deviation” in the strikes occurred in San Francisco, and why?

Explain Yellen’s statement that the railroad strike demonstrated a “more mature stage” of capitalism.

What lessons did the government draw from the 1877 strikes? The employers?

How were the strikers attacked as “un-American”?

What did the working class gain from the 1877 strikes?

Ch. 2—Haymarket

What two currents in the labor movement converged at the rally at Haymarket Square?

Why was seeking legislative reform an ineffective way to win the 8-hour day?

Characterize the state of the labor movement after the 1977 railroad strikes.

What changes in the demographics of the working class took place in the 1880s? What were the effects?

What triggered the demand for the 8-hour day growing into a mass movement in 1886?

What was the Knights of Labor? What triggered its rapid growth in 1885-6?

What did the Knights of Labor leadership do as the May 1, 1886 deadline approached? What was the result?

What impact did the financial crisis of 1873 have on the socialist movement?

What was the Socialist labor Party?

What basic schism existed in the socialist movement at this time? How was this affected by the results of the 1880 elections? by events in Germany?

Who was Johann Most, and what impact did he have on the socialist movement?

What was the “Chicago Idea”?

Summarize Parson’s rationale for the use of force by the workers’ movement.

What was the Central Labor Union? What were its basic principles?

How successful was the early stage of the strike for the 8-hour day on May 1? How did the factory owners respond?

What role did the police play?

What happened at the McCormick Harvester Works on May 3? What was the workers’ response?

What tactic did the police employ as the May 4 Haymarket rally? What was the result?

What was the police response to the bomb?

How were the Haymarket defendants selected? How was the trial “fixed” against them?

For what were the defendants really on trial?

How did the Haymarket martyrs conduct their defense?

What impact did the persecutions against Haymarket have on the 8-hour movement? on the anarchists?

How was “science” brought into the attack on the Left?

What did Governor Altgeld do about the Haymarket convictions? What were the results?

What role did the Knights of Labor play in the Haymarket events? What was the result for this organization?

Ch. 3—The Homestead Lockout

What arrangement regarding wages did the workers for Carnegie Steel have from 1889 to 1892? How had this come about?

Why did the steelworkers think of Carnegie as a friend? What changed this?

What explanation is offered for Carnegie’s support for a national trade union? Why did he then set out to make his company non-union?

What demands did the company put forth when the old contract was to expire? Summarize their rationale.

What position did the investigating committee of congress take on the company’s contract negotiations?

What tactic did the company use to put the workers on the defensive?

Describe the work of the advisory committee after the lockout began.

Why did the locked out workers refuse to let company officials back into the mills?

Why did the company’s plan to take control of the mill with a group of deputies fail?

To what did Frick resort when the sheriff and his deputies failed?

What happened when the Pinkertons were brought into the mill?

Why did some politicians blame President McKinley’s policies of protectionism for the Carnegie Steel dispute?

What tactics did the workers use when the National Guard arrived? What happened?

What tactics did the company use after the National Guard was in place?

How did the company use the legal system against the workers?

Who was Alexander Berkman, and what did he do?

What was the outcome of the struggle for the Homestead workers? for other workers around the country?

What was the outcome for Carnegie Steel?

Chapter 4—Strike at Pullman

What lessons had unions learned in the 17 years following the national railroad strikes of 1877?

What triggered Pullman workers to again begin organized protests in 1894?

How did the Pullman workers initiate a protest, and what was their demand? How did the company respond?

What did the Pullman company claim was the reason it kept its shops running? What was the truth?

What actions did the Pullman company take the day after meeting with the workers’ grievance committee? How did the workers respond?

What was the American Railway Union? In what way(s) did it differ from other unions of the period?

Why were the leaders of the American Railway Union, including Eugene V. Debs, reluctant to call a strike and boycott?

Why was the railroad workers refusal to handle Pullman cars to effective?

Why did the General Managers Association engage in an intrigue to avoid having Governor Altgeld call out the state militia?

What was Governor Altgeld’s response to President Cleveland sending in federal troops? How was Altgeld portrayed in the national media, and why?

What was the reaction to the Pullman strike of officials of the four Brotherhoods of railroad workers? of the rank and file?

What relatively new weapon had its first important anti-labor use against the railway workers? How what this later justified by the U.S. Supreme Court?

What tactics did Debs propose to build the strike? How did the American Federation of Labor respond?

How did the Pullman strike end?

What conclusions did President Cleveland’s Strike Commission reach after analyzing the Pullman strike? What became of their recommendations?

What came of Debs and Clarence Darrow’s attempt to prove in court that the railway companies conspired against the workers?

Why is the injunction such a powerful weapon against strikes?

Ch. 5—Anthracite

Why does Yellen say anthracite constitutes a “natural monopoly”?

How did the anthracite coal industry change in the last half of the 19th century?

What other industry moved in on anthracite coal, and why?

How did the anthracite-owning corporation get the capital to consolidate their monopolies?

Where did the anthracite operators recruit workers, and why?

How were operators and miners at odds over job accidents?

What impact did the low wages have on the miners’ families?

What other grievances did the miners have?

In 1897, what barriers confronted United Mine Workers (UMW) organizers sent to the anthracite region?

How was it possible for a union of only 8000 members to lead a strike of 130,000?

What was accomplished by the 1900 strike? What was not achieved?

What objections did the operators make against the union? How did the miners answer these?

What actions did UMW President Mitchell undertake to try to avoid a strike?

How did the coal companies respond to proposals for arbitration?

When the 1902 strike began, what steps did the coal companies take?

What did the miners and their families do about the small number of workers who didn’t join the strike?

How did Mitchell sabotage the strike?

What was the outcome of the July UMW convention? What didn’t the anthracite strikers get?

What was the state of the strike in its 10th week? What forces were mobilized against it?

How did President Roosevelt attempt to end the strike? Why did this fail?

As the strike wore on, what action was taken in early October to try to reopen the collieries?

How was the strike brought to an end?

What was positive about the outcome of the strike? What was negative?

Ch. 6—The Lawrence Strike

What was significant about the Lawrence textile mills strike?

Why did a low shortening the workweek to 54 hours trigger the strike?

Was Judge Lowell correct that the situation of working people in Lawrence was particularly good? Explain your answer.

Who did Judge Lowell seem to blame for the strike?

Explain how the textile mill owners implemented a speed-up system. How did this affect workers?

How did the textile strike begin?

To whom did the workers appeal for help?

How was the Strike Committee formed, and how did it operate?

What were the workers demands?

Why was there a division among the textile workers from the beginning of the strike?

What is a craft union? an industrial union?

What was the IWW’s approach to organizing workers?

How did the IWW differ from the Haymarket anarchists?

What, according to the IWW, is the limitation with craft strikes? What’s the solution?

How did President Wood of the American Woolen Company respond to the strike? What did the major do? The courts?

What sensational finding was used to try to discredit the strikers?

What proposal for negotiations did the commander of the militia make? Why did strikers reject it? What was the mill owners’ response?

What action did the Governor propose? Why do you think the Strike Committee rejected it?

What management stratagem was used after the Strike Committee’s second trip to Boston at which their demands were denied)? How did the Strike Committee prevent this from succeeding?

What charges against the strike leaders were trumped up?

What major development occurred in the third week of the strike? Why was the Strike Committee suspicious of this?

How did the AFL use strike relief funds against the strike?

How did the Massachusetts legislature try to end the strike? What was the result?

Why were children of strikers sent to other cities? What was the owners’ response? The government’s? What was the result?

What was the first sign of victory for the strikers? Why wasn’t this seen as enough to go back to work?

How were demands regarding pay scale settled? Why was this especially important for youth, women and the least skilled workers?

What other gains were made by the strike?

What grew out of the IWW’s leadership of the strike?

In what ways did the chargers against IWW leaders Ettor and Giovannitti parallel the Haymarket case?

What eventually cam to light regarding the dynamite stashes, the finding of which has been used to discredit and harass strikers?

What action was taken on September 30, the opening day of the trial of Ettor and Giovannitti? Why was this so significant?

How did the mill owners attempt to retaliate? How was this thwarted?

What was the final step to the Lawrence strike victory?

Ch. 7—Bloody Ludlow

Why is the first section of this chapter entitled “feudalism in Colorado”?

What did the Colorado miners say was the cause of their 1913 strike?

When the UMW began to organize in Colorado, what demands were given to the mine owners? Why should it have been unnecessary to include some of these demands?

Why did workers have to demand the right to buy groceries and choose their own home and doctors where they wished?

What was the mine operators’ essential opposition to the UMW?

How far were the coal operators willing to go to prevent unionization?

What steps did the union take to ensure strikers could defend themselves against the “detective” hired by the operators?

When the governor tried to end the strike, what demands did the UMW offer to give up? What was the operators’ response?

What instructions were state troops given when they were sent in? What concession was demanded of the strikers?

In the negotiations that took place at the end of November, what offer was made by the coal companies and rejected unanimously by the strikers?

What stipulation did operators make regarding the constitution of a conciliation board for future arbitration?

After failure of negotiations and under extreme pressure, how did Governor Ammons change his order to the state troops?

The militia was supposed to be impartial. What evidence was there that it was not?

By April, how had the character of the Colorado National Guard changed?

What happened at the Ludlow massacre? How did strikers retaliate?

What impact did the Ludlow events have across the country?

How did Rockefeller attempt to defend himself against criticism over the bloodshed at Ludlow?

What retaliation was made against the strikers who defended themselves after the Ludlow massacre?

Summarize President Wilson’s proposal for ending the strike. How did the coal operators respond, and why?

How did the strike end?

What is the essence of a company union? What was the UMW response to its creation for the coal miners? What was the federal government’s response?

What was the outcome of the Colorado struggle for the miners?

Chapter 8—Steel, 1919

What was the labor policy of the Steel Corporation formed by a merger in 1901?

What was the primary consequence of the 1909 steel strike?

What arguments did the steel owners make for putting most workers on a 12-hour day?

How did some Senators argue that a 12-hour day was “an un-American policy”?

Describe the findings of the Commission of Inquiry of the Interchurch World Movement with regard to steelworkers’ wages.

What was the purposed of the welfare policy of the Steel Corporation? How did it work?

What new tactic did William Z. Foster propose for a drive to unionize steel? In what way(s) did the campaign get off to a poor start?

When the National Committee decided to start organizing in Pittsburgh early in 1919, what was the first stop of the campaign, and why was this necessary?

What was the Flying Squadron?

How did the National Committee respond to President Wilson’s request for them to delay the strike, and why?

What tactics were used to discredit the strikers in public opinion?

What was Sherman Service, Inc., and what was its role in the strike?

How did the steel owners use racism and ethnic prejudice?

When red-baiting, denial of civil liberties and physical assault failed, what other tactic was used to break striker morale?

To what was the ultimate defeat of the strike due?

In what ways was the Steel Corporation hurt by the strike? What did it gain?

What lessons did Labor learn from the strike?

What positive stops grew out of the lessons learned?

Ch. 9—The Southern Textile Strikes and Gastonia

Why was there a migration of the textile industry from North to South in the 1920s?

What was the Southern mill owners’ rationale for justifying paying lower wages? Was it true?

What were “wage equivalents”?

What did promoters mean when they touted the “quality of southern labor”?

What factors were contributing to a developing crisis in the textile industry during the ‘20s?

What was the “stretch out” and how did it affect workers?

What factors prevented a union forming to link northern and southern workers and eliminate differences in their wages?

What caused the southern textile mills strike in early 1929?

What were troops sent in to the Elizabethton strike?

What was the National Textile Workers’ Union attacked especially vehemently?
What was the outcome of the U.S. Dept. of Labor arbitration of the Elizabethton strike?

Why did some mill owners indicate they’d be willing to negotiate with the United Textile Workers’ Union? What was the effect of this?

What steps did the organizers of the Gastonia strike take?

What precipitated violence at the Gastonia tent colony? What action was taken by the state?

How did the mill owners use terrorism to attack the union?

What was the court’s rationale for allowing the state to present evidence of the defendants’ political views in the Gastonia trial? Why did the judge impeach the testimony of some of the defendants?

What was the outcome of the trial of the Gastonia strikers and union organizers? What happened in the trial of the men who kidnapped and beat union organizers? the trial of the men who killed Mrs. Wiggins?

What happened to the 7 men convicted of police chief Aderholt’s murder? Do you agree with their actions?

Some mill owners had said they would rather deal with the more conservative United Textile Workers. How did the UTW fare when the union set out to organize workers at Marion?

Explain the statement that as a result of the strikes and unionizing campaign, through most were soundly defeated, southern textile owners began to realize “they were in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg”?

In addition to the mill owners’ opposition to unionism, what other factors hindered organizing southern labor?

What was the significance of the 1929 upsurge among textile workers in the Carolinas and Tennessee?

Ch. 10—Longshoremen on the West Coast

Explain the key issue behind the longshoremen’s strike of 1934.

Why did the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) members distrust their leadership? What action did they take?

Explain Yellen’s comment that in Los Angeles “…the traditional open-shop policy prevented the development of a complete strike.”

How did other marine workers respond to the longshoremen’s strike?

Why did strike leaders have difficulty maintaining unity among the different workers? How did they handle this?

How were strikebreakers recruited?

What happened on Rinson Hill in San Francisco?

What propagandistic weapon was used by the bosses against the strike? How did officials of the ILA play into this?

How did the demand for a general strike develop? What did the San Francisco Central Labor Council do about it?

How was a “red scare” generated against the general strike? What was the result?

What was the defect in the General Strike Committee that Yellen says was most to blame for the ultimate defeat of the general strike?

How did the Longshoremen’s strike end? What did it achieve?

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