Institutions of Working-Class Power in Pittsburgh, Sheffield, Baltimore and Liverpool: Mass Consumption, Mass Unions, and Labor Bureaucrats, 1880-1930
This paper re-examines exceptionalist and declensionist interpretative frames that have shaped US labor history through a comparative study of four cities in the US and UK. In the mid-nineteenth century, workers in all four cities organized informally through crowds and claimed power in very direct repertoires of rioutous collective action. By the 1920s formally organized, bureaucratic, centralized trade unions came to shape and discipline working-class collective action, but this process was uneven, with unions in the US remaining fractured due to highly segmented labor markets and racism among workers. The project also aims to recover a more positive assessment the trajectory of organized labor in this era, pushing against a powerful strand of scholarship that has lamented the "Fall of the House of Labor," the rise of consumerism, and a reorientation towards bread-and-butter, bureaucratic unionism.
Respondents: James Sparrow, University of Chicago and Kathryn Oberdeck, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign