Essay: American Labor Movement

Pages: 4 (1431 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Race  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] A virulent form of early union racism and xenophobia was aimed at Chinese immigrants. Early proponents of the "labor question(s)" believed that "Chinese immigrants threatened to overtake American workers" (Currarino 45). Consequently, white workers distinguished themselves not only from African-Americans, but also from the Chinese (Currarino 49), and in the 1880's, "many Americans had no trouble directly blaming the Chinese for willfully injuring the American economy" (Currarino 53). Indeed, Samuel Gompers, the first and longest-serving president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), "objected to the Chinese laborer because he was unnatural and unlike any other man; he had no wants" (Currarino 57). Considering the history of American society, the sexism of the American Labor Movement is no surprise, either. In fact, sexism and racism were useful. For example, according to the Economic History Association, "both racism and sexism were constructed ideologies that provided grounds for collective action and won essential allies from state authorities" (Economic History Association). Racism and sexism were also politically vital because the Brotherhoods "used racism and sexism to build a new Americanism that united the 'people' in defense of good working conditions and decent wages, the 'people' defined as white men" (Economic History Association). At least some vestiges of racism and sexism continue to this day: "Union representation differs by gender and race, allowing some groups to benefit more from union employment than others" (Oxford Companion to American Politics 4); in addition, "[a] higher percentage of men than women are in unions" (Oxford Companion to American Politics 5); also, women and racial minorities are sometimes considered "marginalized members" (Levi, Olson and Agnone 206).

Scholars suggest some methods of overcoming racism, sexism and xenophobia. Levi et al. mention the idea "that a truly democratic union is one that encourages marginalized members such as women and sexual minorities to exercise more political voice" (Levi, Olson and Agnone 206). In addition, the Economic History Association states that the very racism and sexism that helped union leaders forge union-building alliances eventually made it "impossible for American unions to campaign as champions of democracy and solidarity, ultimately denying labor critical allies and the tools to build a social movement" (Economic History Association). Recognizing the "Faustian bargain" made by former union movements, the Economic History Association states that the only grounds capable of giving legitimacy to the Labor Movement are true democracy and equality (Economic History Association). Researchers have noted some gains: the gap between male and female union membership has decreased in the past 3 decades (Oxford Companion to American Politics); in addition, "Black workers have the highest union representation at 14.9%" (Oxford Companion to American Politics). Finally, the pervasive forces of our global economy are forcing unions that were formerly proudly xenophobic to reassess their positions, concluding that they must globally promote decent work as a way out of poverty and toward universal human rights (International Workers' Symposium 13).

Works Cited

AFL-CIO. Samuel Gompers (1850-1924). 2012. Web. 7 February 2012.

Currarino, Rosanne. The Labor Question in America: Economic Democracy in the Gilded Age. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2011. Print.

D.C. Shouter and RAKEN Services. "The Gilded Age - Industrial Revolution in America." 2011. Web site. Web. 7 February 2012., LLC. Xenophobia. 2012. Web. 7 February 2012.

Economic History Association. Good, Reliable, White Men: Railroad Brotherhoods, 1877-1917. 10 May 2010. Web. 7 February 2012.

Fantasia, Rick and Kim Voss. Hard work: Remaking the American Labor Movement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004. Print.

Greenhouse, Steven. The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., 2008. Print.

Grimes, William. "Looking Back in Anger at the Gilded Age's Excesses." 18 April 2007. New York Times Web site. Web. 7 February 2012.

International Workers' Symposium. "The Role of Trade Unions in the Global Economy and the Fight Against Poverty." International Labour Office. Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Organization, 2005. 1-54. Print.

Levi, Margaret, et al. "Union Democracy Reexamined." Politics & Society 37.2 (2009): 203-228. Print.

Mintz, S. The Gilded Age | Digital History. 2007. Web. 7 February 2012.

"Oxford Companion to American Politics." Oxford University Press… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

American Labor Movement.  (2012, February 8).  Retrieved June 16, 2019, from

MLA Format

"American Labor Movement."  8 February 2012.  Web.  16 June 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"American Labor Movement."  February 8, 2012.  Accessed June 16, 2019.