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Dec. 5, 2022

The Rise of the Labor Movement & Employer Resistance in the Late 19th Century

After the Civil War, the simultaneous shift in the labor economy of the Southern United States and the second industrial revolution led to a growing interest in labor organizing. Newly formed labor organizations led a combined 23,000 strikes between 1881 and 1900. Employers noticed, and fought back, sometimes literally, employing Pinkerton agents to break strikes, rounding up and imprisoning or deporting union employees, and using various forms of intimidation against workers. 

Joining me to help us learn much more about the story of employers and elites resisting labor rights is Dr. Chad. Pearson, a lecturer at the University of North Texas and author of Capital’s Terrorists: Klansmen, Lawmen, and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-episode audio is “Labor Day” by Dick Wright & The Wright Trio, in the Public domain and available via the Internet Archive.

The episode image is: “The labor troubles at Homestead, Pa. - Attack of the strikers and their sympathizers on the surrendered Pinkerton men,”  drawn by Miss G.A. Davis, from a sketch by C. Upham. Pennsylvania Homestead, 1892, available via the Library of Congress with no known restrictions on publication.


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Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.

Today's story is about the US labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the forces that resisted it. In the United States, two major factors changed the nature of labor significantly in the late 19th century. One of those factors was the Civil War and the 13th Amendment, the eventual result of which was the emancipation of approximately 4 million slaves. This mass emancipation created an enormous economic shift in the south, and many plantation owners resented the loss of absolute control over their labor force. The other major factor was rapid industrialization during the Second Industrial Revolution, also called the technological revolution, which was marked by the mechanization of manufacturing, expansion of railroads, iron and steel production, and the beginnings of electrification. With these changes came increased interest in labor organizing. In August, 1866, the first national labor group in the United States was formed, called the National Labor Union. After meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, the Union made a list of resolutions, which included a resolution for an eight hour workday, over seven decades before the Fair Labor Standards Act mandated overtime pay for work over 40 hours a week. The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor was founded in 1869, and it grew after the National Labor Union collapsed in 1873. By 1880, the Knights of Labor had 28,000 members, and it grew to over 700,000 members by 1886, after leading several important strikes. Membership collapsed in 1886, though, following the Haymarket Square riot in Chicago on May 4, 1886. Several thousand people had gathered there to protest violence by the Chicago police during a strike at the McCormick Reaper works, in which several workers were killed and wounded. The Haymarket Square protests started peacefully, but someone whose identity is still unknown, threw a bomb. The police opened fire, and in the resulting chaos, seven Chicago police officers and four other people were killed. The Knights of Labor were blamed for the violence and workers fled the organization. Many of those fleeing workers joined the newly formed American Federation of Labor, AFL, an umbrella organization of craft unions led by Samuel Gompers. The AFL boasted 500,000 members by 1900. These newly formed labor organizations were active, leading a combined 23,000 strikes between 1881 and 1900. Employers noticed and fought back, sometimes literally. Workers at steel mills in Homestead, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, had bargained as members of the Amalgamated Association and Iron and Steel Workers for a favorable contract with good wages. But millionaire Andrew Carnegie, who owned Homestead Steel Works, and its manager Henry Frick wanted to break the union. When the contract was up in 1892, management demanded pay cuts and provoked a strike. Frick hired agents from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, well known for their union busting activities, including infiltrating unions and breaking strikes. Frick had planned to sneak 300 of the agents into town on river barges, but the information leaked and thousands of workers and others from the town gathered to keep them out. Gunfire and physical fighting broke out, killing seven workers and three Pinkerton agents. Frick requested the presence of the National Guard, and 8500 National Guardsmen took control of the town. Carnegie and Frick refused to negotiate any further with the Amalgamated Association, which collapsed. Despite enormous profits for the Carnegie Steel Company in the ensuing years, employee wages were slashed, and work shifts increased. Union organizing among steel workers didn't recover until World War I.

Meanwhile, in Shoshone County, Idaho, miners had begun to organize into unions in the 1880s. In response, the mine owners formed a mine owners' association. Mine owners introduced machines that replaced some of the workers and they followed up by reducing pay to the mine workers while increasing their work hours. With these and other grievances, the mine workers went on strike, leading the mine owners to advertise for new workers, strike breakers, in Michigan. When the replacement workers arrived by train, armed strikers would meet them and threaten them. Like Frick, the mine owners hired private detectives from both the Pinkerton Agency and the Field Detective Agency to infiltrate the union and report back. In the early morning hours of July 11, strikers opened fire on one of the mill buildings. The guards, having been warned by Pinkerton agents, were prepared and returned fire. The fighting continued at other mines, with several deaths and mass injury. After the governor declared martial law, the Idaho National Guard and federal troops arrived. 600 miners were confined in bullpens, large stockades, where they were kept without hearings, or even formal charges, many for as long as two months, and some for longer. Surprisingly, the Supreme Court in March, 1893, determined that the authorities had overreached in their mass arrests and freed the men who had been convicted and imprisoned. At the end of April, 1899, violence again broke out in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, when union workers seized a train and dynamited a mine during a labor dispute. President William McKinley sent the army to Idaho at the request of the governor. The army indiscriminately rounded up around 1000 men and incarcerated them in bullpens, even chasing fleeing men into Montana and dragging them back to Idaho. The conditions of the bullpens were so miserable, that three prisoners died. Although many who had been arrested were freed within a couple of weeks, the last of the prisoners were not released until December. These examples demonstrate only some of the many violent techniques used to quell labor organizing. Joining me now to help us learn much more about the story of employers and elites resisting labor organizing, is Dr. Chad Pearson, a lecturer at the University of North Texas, and the author of, "Capital's Terrorists: Klansmen, Lawmen, and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century."

Music  9:59  
What makes my heart beat with pride with a joy I can't hide, as they work side by side? Labor! Who never fails to come through for the red, white and blue with the work they can do? Labor! Who hears the morning call and starts out on the run? Who doesn't rest at all until the job is done? Who doesn't shirk any honest work? L A B O R! Who always fought tyranny through the world's history, suffered poor liberty? Labor! That's why my heart beats with pride with a joy I can't hide as they marched side by side. Labor!

Kelly Therese Pollock  10:54  
Hi, Chad. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining me today. 

Dr. Chad Pearson  10:57  
 Thanks for having me.

Kelly Therese Pollock  10:59  
Yeah, so I want to start by asking how you got started on this topic. I know this is a topic you've been working on for a while in various formats. You know how you sort of got into looking at labor and labor struggles from the point of view of the sort of anti-labor side of things?

Dr. Chad Pearson  11:19  
Certainly, my family's from Worcester, Massachusetts, and Worcester is the second largest city second or third in all of New England, but is known for not having unions or not having strong unions and that kind of thing. And so, back when I was in, really, as an undergrad, I kind of wanted to understand what was going on there. And so that led me to a case study, a series of case studies of Worcester and the employers in Worcester, who were really, I don't want to say they were pioneers in the anti-union open shop movement, but they were certainly very big. They were nationally recognized. And so that interest led me to look at other cities. And I wrote a book, my first book called "Reformer Repression," looked at a number of different cities and the anti-union employers in those cities. And and so that sort of got me started. And I identify as a labor historian, but I really, I do enjoy studying elites and their acts of thuggery and anti-unionism. And it's such a rich area, and somewhat under explored. So I after I finished that book, I was I discovered a fair amount of violence that was inflicted by these employers and their agents. And I wanted to look more broadly at that. And so my second book, the topic primarily of today's show, is about the different forms of anti- labor violence unleashed by by employers.

Kelly Therese Pollock  12:45  
Yeah, you, you mentioned the term open shop. So I want to make sure people sort of understand that, so this sort of what is open shop, closed shop? Could you talk a little bit about that terminology?

Dr. Chad Pearson  12:56  
Certainly. So labor unions' members believe that everybody should be a member of the union, pay dues, enjoy the benefits, maybe go on strike together. It's fundamentally about solidarity. Employers, meanwhile, do not like any kind of huge opposition from below. And so when workers talk about, you know, coming together in in a workplace, they often referred to as a closed shop, that is, as a precondition to work in a particular location, you must hold a union membership. And so employers look at that and say, "No, we should have an open shop," that is, one should be able to work in a particular workplace, irrespective of their union status. Okay. It's a promotion of individualism over collectivism. And so rather than, you know, they would put it be some slave to the union, you should be an individual and have the right to work in a particular worksite. And so, rhetorically, employers will talk about, it doesn't matter if you're a union member or not, but they preferred non-union members, right. And and they wanted to unions negotiate things like pay and benefits. Employers want to manage unilaterally for the most part, and an open shop allows them the flexibility to hire and fire at will, to give benefits or not give benefits. And so rhetorically, it's a very powerful, powerful tool on the employers' side, open shop. I asked my students, "What sounds better: closed shop or open shop?" And if you don't know, right, open shop sounds much better.

Kelly Therese Pollock  14:29  
Yes, the employers, as we'll continue to discuss are very good at rhetoric.

Dr. Chad Pearson  14:34  
No doubt, no doubt.

Kelly Therese Pollock  14:35  
You mentioned that this is kind of under explored, this idea of looking at the employers at the elites and the violence. And part of that, of course, is because some of them were secretive in what they were doing. They weren't keeping records. So can you talk some about what how you go about researching groups that are trying to keep secret what they are doing or who they are, what their membership is?

Dr. Chad Pearson  14:58  
Right? Right. I It's certainly very challenging because of the hyper secrecy. And so I start with the Ku Klux Klan, who I argue were an employers' association, and anybody who looks at the Klan knows they are by definition, secretive. They wore masks, and they had secret rituals. And their documentation highlights that, you know, they will not reveal to anyone. But there is enough evidence from from primarily from letters written by former Klansmen, from victims of the Klan. And you can see similar things as we look at some of the other groups I explore. So I look at law and order leagues. These were businessmen's associations who promoted, you know, who are involved in anti-union causes. They, too, were very secretive. But there are some, you know, newspaper accounts and labor accounts of their their hooligan behavior. I look at citizens'alliances, and they had their own propaganda that they put out. But also, we can find, again, newspaper accounts, some letters. It's challenging, it's challenging work. But you know, there's, I think enough there to to identify some of the thuggish acts actions that they took.

Kelly Therese Pollock  16:10  
Yeah, so you just mentioned the KKK. I think that the context, the historical context of being just after the Civil War, and the decades that you write about, are sort of all, just following the Civil War is so important. There's so much that goes back to sort of how people who they were in the Civil War, what they were doing in the Civil War, what their relationship with the war and the outcomes of the war was. Can you sort of place us in that historical context? What what's going on just after the Civil War throughout the country, and how does that lead to some of this rise in violence on the part of employers and elites?

Dr. Chad Pearson  16:49  
Certainly. So I began around the period of the Civil War. And I take from Dubois, WEB Dubois, I take seriously this idea of the general strike, that is the 4 million slaves played a part, that is they were involved in this self emancipation project of freeing themselves, shutting down this this form of of labor. And so of course, it's a military conflict, but it was also a labor conflict. And so then the question becomes what happened to the planners, the elites after they lost their labor? And so many of them joined vigilante organizations including most prominently, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Ku Klux Klan was involved in trying to force these former slaves back onto the plantations, whipping them for demonstrating disrespectful behavior, and seeking to keep out any of the so called carpetbaggers, that is the northerners who would go down to teach schools and whatnot. And so I don't believe that they, they hated per se, the former slaves. They wanted their labor. And so I focused there mostly on exploitation, not hate, right? They wanted folks to shut up and work. That was the bottom line. And so I start with them, and I look at some of their techniques. And throughout the book, I talk about what I call hard, soft and hybrid forms of violence. And a hard form might be whippings, kidnappings, murder, shooting people. A soft form might be book burning or blacklisting. And then a hybrid form or what I call these drive out campaigns. And these were events where Klansmen, law and order leagues, and citizens' alliances would target who they considered outside agitators. And they would this would involve generally a four step process, you know, isolate, intimidate, expel and then blacklist, right; find them, intimidate them, force them out. And if they didn't behave, physically force them out, maybe even killing them. And so I start with the Klan, and then I follow this into the Midwest. And I look at some more traditional labor strikes, like the 1886 Southwest Rail Strike staged primarily by the the Knights of Labor. And here we have Jay Gould, this enormously powerful capitalist, really pissed off about the shutdown of his rail operation. And we have all these upper middle class folks from towns like Sedalia, Missouri, and Parsons, Kansas as well as big cities like St. Louis and Little Rock coming together and forming businessmen militias, what they artfully called law and order leagues. And they physically fought strikers, they helped strikebreakers get to their their worksites. And then they blacklisted activists. And then there are other events. I talk about different strikes, involving coal miners, lead miners, and in here too, you have the involvement of businessmen actively getting their hands dirty and punishing these people through, you know, various forms of violence, kidnapping, incarcerations, and even killing.

Kelly Therese Pollock  19:54  
Yeah, and these hard forms of violence are just kind of shocking and it's not difficult to imagine in today's world, employers trying to shut down a union. That certainly still happens extensively. But the idea of actually kidnapping, deploying out of the country even, or locking up in bullpens for you know, months like that, that is just kind of a shocking level of violence. Did that seem shocking at the time? Like, you know, is this sort of part and parcel of what life was like at the in the late 19th century? Or is it shocking even then?

Dr. Chad Pearson  20:33  
I think it was shocking even then, I mean, these are extreme examples. But then there's the question of accountability. Was there any accountability for these ruling class thugs? And the answer is largely "No." Right? And I talk about what I call the enablers, that is the politicians, the judges, the cops. These folks mostly sided with employers. Now we can point to exceptions. But I'm not one of these folks who believes in this autonomy, this state stuff, there's some sociologists Oh, you know, gotta win, you know, support now, no nonsense. These, you know, the state really served the interests of the of the ruling class. And, you know, I know this sounds like, you know, crude Marxism, but I think the historical record, backs that that up, right. And so, at the same time, the victims found these, these events, and sober minded observers found them horrendous. So for example, in Florida, in Tampa, we have a case in 1901, where members of a citizens' committee kidnap, about 100 of them, kidnap 13 members of the leaders of the Cigar Workers Union, they put them on a boat, and they bring them to Honduras, and they leave them there. Right. They leave them there. And then the press learns about this is a this is great. Unfortunately, it's illegal. But this is great stuff. And then these these employers in Colorado, they do it they don't they don't kidnap folks and force them out of the country. But they kidnap them. They put them on trains, and they tell them don't come back. Okay. This is from the vantage point of of union fighting employers. This is a really innovative technique to deal with the so called labor problem. The bullpens, right? One source said this is the introduction, this is the first case of the concentration camp. I don't know if that's true, but one person said that. There are historians who look to Cuba and the Spaniards as the first case. This predates that, right? The the Spanish cases were 1896, 1897. This was 1892. Okay, in Idaho, mass arrest people, throw them in these makeshift prisons, and let them linger there for a while. And then you know, do it do it again in 1899. Right. And it worked. It worked. If we look, if we look at the kidnap case in in Tampa, this they busted the union, cigar manufacturing went up, it worked. If we look at the lead and silver mining in northern Idaho, they lock these people up, they scared them. Right. Some people died. But the union went away. Right or at least for a while. Right. It went away for a while and they were able to increase profits. And they got backing from President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, and then McKinley in 1899. America.

Kelly Therese Pollock  23:29  
That's sort of the, it's all shocking, but that the idea that you know, it's not just like a corrupt mayor, governor who's maybe in on it. Like, uh, no, all the way up to the President of the United States, several presidents.

Dr. Chad Pearson  23:40  
That's right. That's right.

Kelly Therese Pollock  23:42  
 I think the thing that I come back to again, and again, when I'm looking at labor and how far employers will go to stop unionization and labor rights, is how much money they must be spending on some of this. Like, it's not cheap to kidnap people and ship them off to Honduras. And they didn't leave him with very much. But still, they left him with a little bit, you know, like, how much were people really asking for that it's cheaper and more efficient to to do this?

Dr. Chad Pearson  24:10  
Sure. I think it's a great question. And I think when we think about unions, sometimes we our automatic inclination is to think this is about wages, but really, it's about dignity and power, above all else, right. And so if you look, you know,at union busting activities in any period, it's really about not giving power to workers and fighting tooth and nail to maintain that unilateral managerial position, right. And so, so this was, you know, we're not going to allow some union to dictate to us right that that creates a slippery slope.  If we give in here then we're going to continue to give in and before you know it, we're gonna have we're gonna have no power and so I think when we reframe it, right, we take away we rather than think about wages and benefits and think about power relationships in the workplace, some of it kind of makes sense, even though it's completely outlandish the techniques that they employed.

Kelly Therese Pollock  25:05  
Yeah. So I want to talk some about rhetoric. You mentioned earlier law and order, and that, you know, it is ironically, these people who are breaking the law by doing things like kidnapping, who are saying that what they are doing is keeping law and order, that they are in fact promoting the law and are going to get in the way of anyone who wants to take the law into their own hands. So can you talk some about that, that sort of rhetorical spin, what is going on here and how it is that they're successful in using this kind of rhetoric?

Dr. Chad Pearson  25:39  
Right, right. Well, I think it's vigilantism, right? I mean, the definition of vigilantism is to break the law to uphold the law or a certain type of law. Right. And, and, and unionists know this. Unionists and socialists, who are victims, who were victims of their their thuggery understood this, but you know, it's it's about the question of the golden rule, "Those with  the gold make the rule," right. And so we have, you know, the folks at the top of society are going to look the other way and meaning, you know, politicians and judges, not always, not always, but in general, they allow this to sort of happen. And again, there's a question of who who's able to frame the story, right. And so I talk about what I call the narrative creators. So there's plenty of newspaper writers, and magazine writers, church leaders, who were able to shape the narrative in a way that served the interests of the those at the top of society. So when those at the top of society broke the law, to enforce the law, well, the newspapers are going to focus on the righteousness of their campaigns, right, as opposed to point out the, you know, the law breaking.

Kelly Therese Pollock  26:53  
Yeah. And it's not just in the law and order that they're using this rhetoric, either. They're also playing with this idea of scabs as being, you know, sort of the hard working people that we should be supporting, you know, what, what else is going on here with this language and the way that they are talking about sort of unions as bad guys and everybody else are  good, guys?

Dr. Chad Pearson  27:18  
Sure, sure. There's so much involved in it. Right. So we talked about the open shop versus a closed shop and rhetorically clearly open shop sounds better. But it's not only that. It's, you know, unions were able, I think, and arguably are continued to be able to point to strike breakers as that's a very stigmatizing thing, right? The word "scab," okay, employers, generally employers, and their spokespersons generally would refer to these people as free laborers or free workers, as opposed to some slave to the union, right? So when we think about language free, right union is constraining you the unions are undermining one's you know, independence and independence is good. So you have free worker, the language right to work, of course, we have 28, Right to Work states. That language is rooted in this period that I write about. And then there's a lot of flag waving, a lot of patriotism, a lot of Americanization that is anti-unionism is fundamentally American, from the perspective of some of these folks. And so some of the union busting organizations, paradoxically called and, you know, these anti union unions talk about, you know, the the Americanness of it and the importance of respecting the institutions of this country, and how unions constitute a threat to all of that.

Kelly Therese Pollock  28:38  
Yeah, and then they're even sort of acting like they're the ones who are progressive like they're the the employers are the ones who are on the side of the the working common man, you know. Were people buying this? Was this working?

Dr. Chad Pearson  28:53  
It's difficult to know, you know, if the the message that they articulated, that they disseminated was bought by ordinary people. But this is an excellent point. Because what we see at the turn of the century, the so called Progressive Era, what I call "the misnamed Progressive Era," is some of these employers who are who have roots in the fights of the late 19th century, formed these citizens' alliances. Now let's just pause for a moment consider that citizens' alliances, okay, these are bosses, but you're they're drawing attention, they drew attention away from their own class privileges, and talk broadly about being members of a citizens' alliance. Okay. And nationally, they came together in the Citizens Industrial Association of America. And we have former Klansmen. We have former law and order league folks. We have folks from the Montana vigilantes, they're all part of this massive anti union organization. And so in the late 19th century, much of the language was about fighting the dangerous classes. When we turn when we come into the early 20th century, it's about protecting the common people. Right, meaning that you're going to protect the non-union, folks, right? These are the guardians of non-unionists protecting their interests from these tyrannical unions. That's pretty powerful language. Right? So free labor, right? This is, you know, we want to protect the free labor of these people.

Kelly Therese Pollock  30:17  
So we've been talking a lot about class for obvious reasons. But in this country, you can't ever totally separate out class and race and what that looks like. And certainly you talk about that some in the book. And we started off talking about the the KKK, and you know that your argument that this is an employer organization, but it's obviously also about race and looking at race. So can you talk some about in, in this sort of time period, post Civil War, reconstruction, what this relationship between race and class and how it's playing out and how that sort of intersects with the employer violence that you're looking at?

Dr. Chad Pearson  30:58  
So I want to be clear I am, there's, there's a tendency that some people say labor historians might be class reductionists, and everything is about class. And I don't believe that. But having said that, I'm looking at elites, and I'm looking at their relationship to workers across racial racial lines. So racism, of course, crosses class class lines. And there's lots of examples of white workers seeking to keep African Americans and Asian Americans out of their unions. That history is very well established. And I think, you know, we can talk about hate, right. We can talk about the hate that many white workers, not all, had for African Americans. But my focus is more on exploitation. That is, I'm looking at employers and those in positions of power, and looking at how they can exploit, use racism to their advantage, right. And so I look at this sort of classic divide and conquer of these classic divide and conquer techniques, that that that find expression throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. So when I talk about the Klan, I talk about how, you know, these these folks in leadership, most of whom were privileged, I think most historians would agree with that. They saw African Americans as serving primarily one function, that is to work for them. Okay. When we get into later periods, late 19th, early 20th century, there are a number of strikes, and there are cases of white employers collaborating with those in the south, including Black elites, securing the services of Black workers as strikebreakers. Okay. And so the introduction of Black workers into struck workplaces or into these settings produced lots of additional conflict. And I think there's a fair amount of evidence to show that employers, those who called the shots, were well aware of the racial divisions within the working class, and that this was a way to generate tension below and to deflect some tension that would be directed toward them. So I see, I, again, I do not deny the racism embraced by white workers. But I'm looking at how employers from again, the Klan, up through the turn of the century, really viewed Black workers and saw them as an asset.

Kelly Therese Pollock  33:20  
Yeah. Another thing you talk about in the book is this idea of continuity, that, you know, this, this is sort of really one story. So there's a lot of sort of disparate events, and there's different people involved, but but there is a continuation here of the the kind of violence that is happening and other people see it, there's some players that are sort of, in all of these moments, or coming back in different moments in different combinations together. Can you talk about that and why it's important to sort of look at that overall picture?

Dr. Chad Pearson  33:52  
Certainly, certainly. So I think a lot of folks who write about management, broadly defined, are are fixated on professionalization, and modernity, and looking at people like Frederick Taylor, who organized workplaces in a very efficient, methodical way. Historians might look at new benefits and how workplaces became more humane and more inviting, and, and modern and all of that. And I say, Sure, that's true. But let's look at the continuation of violent employer generated thuggery. Right. And so I look at the Klan again, you know, start there, and look at their their managerial practices, and see the drydock campaigns, the kidnappings, the whippings, and the book burnings continue into the misnamed Progressive Era. Right. And so, so a lot of these employers, you know, they might see themselves as as modern and progressive, right? But there's also that dark side, and when they went to their conferences, and they talked about, say, a kidnapping escapade, or they talked about bringing out guns and intimidating strikers, these are the stories that got the most play. These are the stories that excited the membership, more so than the latest, you know, I don't know, time clock study that, you know, increased efficiency in you know, one section of a factory. And so I think it's important to be mindful of those, those sorts of events that, in today's business schools, when they teach business history, probably omit that part of the story.

Kelly Therese Pollock  35:33  
So we've made a couple allusions to the sort of current day, certainly with Right to Work states and things like that. We're seeing what appears to be sort of a rise in unionization after a long period of it sort of declining, that the people are once again interested in in unions and organizing, labor organizing. So what if there are, you know, what sort of lessons do you think we might be able to draw from this earlier period about what the reaction of management might be? What sorts of things hopefully not kidnapping and murder, but what sorts of things might we see if labor organizing is on the rise, you know, on the management side?

Dr. Chad Pearson  36:14  
Well, I think very broadly, the ruthlessness of employers is something that was very present in the late 19th, early 20th century and remains present today. Okay, including by you know, Starbucks, especially maybe Starbucks or Amazon, folks who might identify as being progressive employers really good on on issues of gender and race and LGBTQ issues. Right. But when it comes to unions, no way, right. So we have these 200 Plus Starbucks that organized, but there's no contract yet. I don't know. I think there might be some negotiations going on somewhere, but incredible, ruthlessness. And and, you know, we don't see a lot in the way of thuggery. But, you know, I think Chris Smalls of Amazon's gotten arrested. You know, they'll send in their private security, they'll send in cops, you know. Biden wants all these more, you know, more cops on the street. I don't think there's any question what side police are on when when things escalate, and there's a strike. I think that's, that's very clear. Will we get Jeff Bezos going out there with you know, baseball bat? I don't think so. But, you know, who knows, you know. I have a student a few years back, who worked at a very popular restaurant bar, and was the bartender there. And he made a mistake on his drink. And his boss came in the owner, like punched him. And he called the cops. He called the cops and they did nothing. They did they did nothing, right. And he lost his job, right. And there's other anecdotes like that. I don't want to overstate it, but I think some of these people, right, they feel, you know, that they obviously most important, is not going to punch their employees, I realized that but, you know, when these these things happen, you know, there's that, that that that power relationship there. So, you know, it still happens. They're still there's still aggressive, aggressive employers out there.

Kelly Therese Pollock  38:03  
Yeah. So hopefully, people are now very interested in this story. How can people get a copy of your book?

Dr. Chad Pearson  38:10  
 Certainly. It's University of North Carolina Press. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  38:14  
And I have sung the praises of UNC press on this show many times.

Dr. Chad Pearson  38:18  
Oh, fantastic. So wonderful. You know, if it's 40% off, which is a good deal, I think. Its code is 01DAH40, again, that's 01DAH40, and they will get 40% off at checkout. And so I would be honored if people would read it, debate it, discuss it, argue with me. And hopefully, we will, I want to play my small part in rescuing the word terrorism from the Islamophobes. And I think, you know, hopefully, I can get one of these fellowships at Brookings or Rand and I can talk about, you know, the problem of employer terrorism, but I doubt it.

Kelly Therese Pollock  39:04  
Well, thank you, Chad. This was fun. And I always enjoy learning things that I hadn't realized. Some of those are a little horrifying, but it was good to learn.

Dr. Chad Pearson  39:14  
Wonderful. Well, thank you. I really appreciate your interest in this. This is a great, great, great thrill for me.

Teddy  39:18  
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Transcribed by

Chad PearsonProfile Photo

Chad Pearson

I am a labor historian primarily interested in ruling class organizations and violence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I have authored two books: Capital's Terrorists: Klansmen, Lawmen, and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2022) and Reform or Repression: Organizing America's Anti-Union Movement (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). Additionally, I am co-editor of Against Labor: How US Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism (with Rosemary Feurer; University of Illinois Press, 2017). Finally, I have published essays in Counterpunch, History Compass, Jacobin, Journal of Labor and Society, Labor History, Labour/Le Travail, and Monthly Review.