Event—Scholarly Seminars

Ashley Johnson Bavery, Mellon/Chabraja Fellow, Northwestern University

Closing the Border, Demonizing the Foreigner: Unions, Radicals and Fear in Depression Era Detroit.

During the 1920s, immigration restrictions launched an era of policing and profiling that excluded America's foreign born from the benefits of citizenship into the 1930s. This piece, which forms part of a larger book project on 1920s industrial Detroit, explores the consequences of demonizing particular immigrant groups for labor relations across the Detroit-Windsor border. Taking up the controversial issue of Canadian commuters, the piece reveals how unions, employers and two governments negotiated border crossing as an Anglo-Canadian privilege, making the border between "desirable" Anglo-Saxon North Americans and "undesirable" ethnic Europeans more important than the international boundary. After 1924, the Detroit Federation of Labor (DFL) capitalized on a growing anxiety over foreignness and border crossing to launch a campaign against the twenty thousand Canadian commuters who crossed into Detroit daily for work. Union efforts not only angered American employers and Canadian business interests, but they outraged Canada's Foreign Office. Eager to avoid a clash with its northern neighbor, the U.S. Department of State negotiated an agreement with Canada that allowed Anglo Canadians and British nationals to keep commuter cards, yet restricted commuters of foreign origin regardless of their Canadian citizenship. The result, which mollified the DFL and the Canadian state, set a precedent for excluding individuals on the basis of ethnicity in the borderland region.

Respondents: Colleen Doody, DePaul University and Alison Efford, Marquette University