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The Voice of the People: Primary Sources on the History of American Labor, Industrial Relations, and Working-Class Culture

ISBN: 978-0-88295-225-3
246 pages
January 2004, ©2004, Wiley-Blackwell
The Voice of the People: Primary Sources on the History of American Labor, Industrial Relations, and Working-Class Culture (0882952250) cover image


The first all-primary source reader in labor history published in nearly one hundred years, The Voice of the People presents excerpts from fifty-four primary sources to blend labor history’s traditional focus on the growth of a union movement with windows into all aspects of workers lives—their workplaces, their unions, their home lives and their culture—the engaging selections mirroring the great diversity of the American workforce from the colonial era to the present.

Arranged into four parts, each of which begins with an original overview of the corresponding period in American history, this unique compilation of edited documents—each of which is preceded by a contextual introduction—offers students the opportunity to explore for themselves how specific events as well as general trends in American labor history affected real people, whether farm laborers, slaves, servants, mill hands, prostitutes, assembly-line workers, office temps, fast-food employees, or union leaders.

While its organization and diverse range make it an excellent companion to Harlan Davidson’s popular Labor in America,* The Voice of the People can also stand alone or be used as an engaging supplement for any course in labor or United States history.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments IX

Introduction XI

Part I: To 1877 1

Work and Labor / Management Relations 5

1. William Bradford Recounts the Social Development of Plymouth Plantation, ca. 1647 7

2. Hugh Jones on White Identical Servitude in Virginia 1724 10

3. Charles Ball Describes a Typical Day on a Slave Plantation 13

4. Harriet Farley, “Letter from Susan,” 1844 16

5. Mark Twain on the Chinese Population of Virginia City, Nevada, 1872 21

The Union Movement 25

6. William Other Recalls His Unsuccessful Career as an Apprentice, 1885 26

7. William Manning’s Plan for a “Labouring Society” 1798 30

8. Recruiting Song of the Journeymen Cordwainers, ca. 1790 33

9. Wendell Phillip Compares Northern Workers and Slaves, 1865 36

10. “Address of the National Labor Union to the People of the United States,” 1870 39

Working-Class Culture 43

11. Anonymous Account of the Astor Place Riot, 1849 44

12. Samuel Gompers Describes Cigar Rolling in His Autobiography 49

13. Elizabeth Keckley Explains Why She Fought Back 53

14. James Burn on Work, Community, and Mobility in Civil War America 58

Part II: 1877-1914 63

Work and Labor/ Management Relations 67

15. Clarence Darrow Considers the labor Question, 1898 69

16. John Spargo Examines Child Labor in the Glassmaking Industry, 1906 73

17. Grace Potter Reports on Industrial Accidents in Niagara Falls, New York, 1913 78

18. Machinist Orrin Cheney Testifies to Congress on the Taylor System if Shop Management, 1911 83

The Union Movement 87

19. Initiation Ceremony of the Knights of Labor, ca. 1880 88

20. Anonymous, “Lines on the Homestead Riots: Wednesday, July 6th, 1892” 92

21. “Junius” Opposes American Imperialism, ca. 1898 96

22. Pearl Jolly Recalls the Ludlow Massacre, 1916 100

Working-Class Culture 105

23. An Agent for the United States Immigration Commission Describes the Working Life of Prostitutes, ca. 1909 106

24. Margaret Byington Studies the Diet of Steelworkers and Their Families, 1910 110

25. Werner Sombart Analyzes “The Democratic Style of Public Life in America,” 1906 114

26. Joe Hill, “The Preacher and the Slave,” 1911 117

27. Francis H. McClean Reports on the Amusements of the Bowery, 1899 119

Part III: 1914-1945 123

Work and Labor / Management Relations 127

28. Mrs. L. L. Ray Outlines Welfare Capitalism in a New York Department Store, 1911 129

29. Whiting Williams Endures Long Hours Working in a Steel Mill, 1921 132

30. Paul Taylor on the “American-Mexican Frontier” 136

31. Evelyn Gotzion Recalls Factory Work during World War II 139

32. Mervyn Rathbone Testifies in Defense of the National Labor Relations Act, 1939 143

The Union Movement 147

33. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Justifies Sabotage, 1916 148

34. Harvey O’Connor Remembers the Seattle General Strike, 1919 151

35. A. J. Muste Mourns Slain Textile Workers, 1929 157

36. Howard Kester on the Rout of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, 1935 160

37. Louis Adamic Lists the Virtues and Advantages of a Sitdown Strike, 1936 164

Working-Class Culture 169

38. Lester Hunter, “I’d Rather Not Be on Relief,” 1938 170

39. Vivian Morris Interviews an Unemployed Domestic Worker at the “Bronx Slave Market,” 1938 173

40. Leadbelly, Songs of Depression and War, 1938 and 1944 177

41. Joseph Mitchell on McSorkey’s Saloon, 1940 180

Part IV: 1945-Present 185

Work and Labor / Management Relations 189

42. Roberto Acuna Recalls Life Growing Up as an Itinerant Farm Worker 191

43. William Whyte Defines The Organization Man, 1957 195

44. Robin Leidner Works at McDonalds, 1980s 199

45. Jeremy Rifkin Explains the Reasons for Technological Unemployment in the Information Age, 1995 203

The Union Movement 207

46. James Lerner Remembers How McCarthyism Affected the United Electrical Workers 208

47. John F. Kennedy Questions Jimmy Hoffa about Union Ethics, 1957 212

48. George Meany Testifies in Favor of Civil Rights Bills, 1963 216

49. Mike Hamlin on Black Workers’ Disputes with the United Auto Workers, 1970 220

Working-Class Culture 225

50. “Judith Ann” on Life in “The Secretarial Proletariat” 226

51. Fred Cook Reports on Hardhats vs. Hippies, 1970 230

52. Ben Hamper on Coping with Life in an Automobile Factory 235

53. “Keffo” Lays Out Patterns of Temp Worker Solidarity, ca. 1997 239

54. William Greider, from “One World, Ready or Not,” 1997 242

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Author Information

Jonathan Rees earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught at Whitman College, Southwest Missouri State University and is currently Associate professor of History at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He is the author of Managing the Mills: Labor Policy in the American Steel Industry During the Nonunion Era.

Jonathan Z. S. Pollack received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin and is currently instructor of History at Madison Area Technical College. A specialist in the history of white-collar workers, his Prosperity and Transience: Madison’s Jewish Community. 1850-2000, is forthcoming from the University of Wisconsin Press.

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