Alternatives In Labor Organizing 1865-1948

This course will examine forms of labor organizing and the means of advancing the interests of working people put forward by movements which had sharply different approaches to those of the "mainstream" unions of the American Federation of Labor (AF of L), the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and their merged successor the AFL/CIO. We will study in detail the two movements which proposed alternatives to the mainstream and employed solidarity as the workers’ chief weapon, the Knights of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). We will also consider pivotal events in labor history and analyze the functioning and aims of both the mainstream and alternative unions. Finally we will try to figure out where we are now in terms of organizing and making effective use of our strengths and what we can do about it.

Five Sessions

  1. Traditional organization of work in pre-capitalist times; the rise of the wage system and how it was perceived by contemporaries; the organized trades after the Civil War and the National Labor Union (NLU); the Depression of 1873 and the insurrectionary general strikes of 1877; the rôle of the 1st International and the Workingmen's Party of the US (WPUS) and of the State.
  2. The Knights of Labor, its structure, goals, and history; the Homestead Strike of 1892; the America Railway Union (ARU) and the Pullman Strike of 1893; and the continuing rôle of the State. Alexander Berkman.
  3. The AF of L and the rôle of Samuel Gompers; Craft Unionism; relations with the Knights; how AF of L job control operated; the Labor Contract system; Union Democracy and the AF of L.
  4. The IWW – Origins, structure, goals, and history to 1948; Industrial Unionism; critique of business unionism; opposition to capitalism; decentralization and rank-and-file democracy; how IWW job control operated; strengths and shortcomings of the IWW. Postscript: The CIO – structure, advantages and drawbacks, and union democracy.
  5. How we got to the deplorable state we are now in, what we can do about it, and prospects for the future.

Schedule: tbd
Location: tbd
Cost: tbd
Teacher: Steve Kellerman
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