The Fifth Biennial Conference of the Center for Working Class Studies

May 16-19, 2001, Youngstown, Ohio

Working-Class Studies: Memory, Community, and Activism

Proceedings: Keynotes and Abstracts by Author A-G


Keynote Speakers:


Jennifer Gordon is the founder and former executive director of the Workplace Project in New York, a nationally recognized grassroots workers center that organizes low-wage Latino immigrants to fight for just treatment on the job.  The Project uses a combination of organizing, community education, and legal and legislative advocacy strategies and is led by an all-immigrant-worker board of directors.  Gordon is writing a book examining the relationship between law and organizing in the context of low-wage work.  Her previous publications include Immigrants Fight the Power, (The Nation, January 3, 2000) and We Make the Road by Walking:  Immigrant Workers and the Struggle for Social Change, (Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (1995).  A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard/Radcliff College and Harvard Law School, Gordon was chosen in 1995 as one of National Law Journal's 40 leading lawyers in the United States under the age of 40.  In 1998 she was named Outstanding Public Interest Advocate of the Year by the National Association for Public Interest Law and in 1999 was awarded a MacArthur Prize Fellowship.



Alessandro Portelli teaches American Literature at the University of Rome La Sapienza and is the author of a number of essays and books on oral cultures and oral history.  His work published in English includes The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories, Form and Meaning in Oral History, Albany, SUNY Press, (1991); The Text and the Voice, Speaking, Writing, and Democracy in American Literature, Columbia U.P., (1994); The Battle of Valle Giulia, Oral History and the Art of Dialogue, Wisconsin U.P., (1997).  His book, L'ordine e gia stato eseguito, Roma, le Fosse Ardeatine, la memoria, an oral history of a Nazi war crime in the context of the history of Rome, has received the Viareggio Book Prize and is due to appear in English shortly.

Russ Marshall's compelling black-and-white photographs of factory workers and industrial scenes dates back from the 19702 to the early 1990s.  His more recent studies of smoky factories and foundries, industrial stacks, and water towers are examples of an ongoing project.  They work well with the moody in-plant portraits of workers at their jobs, an angry Zug Island striker, the tight huddle of night-shifters approaching a wintry plant gate, an old woman tending a grave near a factory, and the frustrated faces of workers unemployed.  All are beautifully composed and exquisitely printed.  Marshall's body of work in this exhibit represents the best of labor documentary/photo-journalism.  His photographs have appeared in such publications as Amerika Illustrated (Soviet Union), Frau Im Spiegel (Germany), and The Economist (England), The New York Times, Mother Jones, The Detroit Sunday Journal, Outtakes, Hour, and several trade union publications.  Exhibits of his work have been in Detroit, Flint, Washington D.C., and Mexico.

Jimmy Santiago Baca has earned a variety of prizes (the Pushcart Prize, the Vogelstein Award, and the American Book Award, among others), fellowships, and endowed chairs.  He has published books, won poetry contests, and has written and produced films; however, behind all of Baca's accomplishments, his writing tells a different story.  It is the story of growing up in a divided and violent family in rural New Mexico, of years spent in an orphanage and on streets of Albuquerque's barrio, of being sent up to the Florence, Arizona, penitentiary for six years on a dubious drug charge, of beginning to discover his voice and his self in the pit of humiliation into which he was shoved in jail.

In prison he began to read poetry---first in English and then, as he taught himself the language, in Spanish.  He began to write and eventually sent three of his poems to Denise Levertov, the poetry editor of the magazine Mother Jones.  She helped him find a publisher for his first collection of poems, Immigrants in Our Own Land, which was published in 1979, the year of his release from prison.  Baca's earlier poems focus on his prison experience, his struggle to sustain a sense of his own value in the face of his jailers' efforts to reduce him to a non-entity.

Subsequently, he has written more broadly about the experiences of brown and black people in late twentieth-century America, about his father and others whose oppressive conditions of life kept them from raiding him, about his own recent life on Black Mesa, parenting two sons, and running a small farm.  His own new volumes include Martin and Mediations on the South Valley (1987), a moving version autobiography, and Black Mesa Poems (1989).  He has also written a play, Los tres hijos de Julia, produced in 1991, as well as scripts for films (Bound and Honor) and video productions in which he has acted.

Abstracts:Alexander, Learning to Be a Proper Fag, or, Mz. Manner's Guide to Queer Desire and the Class Closet

Jonathan Alexander, University of Cincinnati, Learning to Be a Proper Fag, or, Mz. Manner's Guide to Queer Desire and the Class Closet

In contemporary American culture, gay identity is most often associated with middle to upper-middle class tastes, styles, attitudes, and purchasing power.  The image of the gay connoisseur or "'smart shopper' with a penchant for Calvin Klein and Volkswagen products"remains ubiquitous.  Even the gay press, with its glossy magazines and lifestyle guides, perpetuates representations equating gayness with the upwardly mobile.  Such images, however, driven by market forces seeking out the final frontiers of capitalist possibility, never prompt us to consider the lives of working-class queers of the many gays and lesbians who grow up in the lower economic strata and who mostly have only images of the gay 'smart shopper' as representative of queerness.

Certainly, images of the good shopping queer abound to further the assimilation of gays into consumerist culture.  At the same time, though, such assimilative thinking has produced a sub-cultural climate that can, on one hand, freely eroticize the working class (remember the Village People?) but, on the other hand, insist that one's working-class background remain closeted.  Moreover, the conflation of queerness with consumerism overlooks how working class gays might configure both their own identities and their desires.

To explore this, my presentation will unfold as a performance piece, combining theories of queerness and class, analyses of the personal and the political, the occasional bout of poetry, and personal narration to set in motion a set of contradictions about how one negotiates oneself as both queer and a member of the working class.  Specifically, I'm interested in examining how contemporary American bourgeois-identified queerness calls one out of the working class at the same time that one's working class background may indeed inform one's erotic fantasies and investments.  In other words, the working-class queer can often find him- or herself in a double bind of desire with erotic interests shaped by a working class background at the same time that he/she is asked to negotiate an urban queer culture that has set itself up as the gay community.  I wish to explore the meeting ground between the two--a nexus that troubles stable and normalizing notions of both gay identity and class identity.


Kevin Ball, Youngstown State University, "I'm not Working Class, but I Know Someone Who Is": Composing Working-Class Communities

The university composition class represents a powerful site for the exploration of issues of class through reading and writing.  As part of an interactive session titled "Composition and Working-Class Studies: Memory, Community, and Activism (A Dialogue)," this speaker will discuss his experiences exploring working-class communities in his honors composition courses at Youngstown State University.  In addition to reading Janet Zandy's Liberating Memory: Our Work and Our Working-Class Consciousness, a collection of nonfiction writing about working-class identity, consciousness, and self-determination, students in this speaker's first-year composition course were encouraged to write their own nonfiction inquiries into working-class consciousness.  This speaker will describe the integral role of community inquiry in prompting cultural critique and reflection upon individual identity in relation to working-class issues.


DeAnna E. Beachley, Community College of Southern Nevada, Hands: The Image of Workers in the Art of Ben Shahn

Hands: large, beefy, with gnarled knuckles, slightly out-of-proportion with the bodies portrayed, are distinct features that mark the work of the American Jewish artist, Ben Shahn.  Shahn effectively created an iconography with his hands.  Also, in examining the same images, faces are also telling features.  This paper will use Ben Shahn's hands and faces as a microcosm to understand the larger body of his work and its place in 20th century labor history.  His workers were never placed in demeaning or belittling settings.  He treated his workers with respect.  His images tried to humanize the worker whose individuality had been stripped away by mechanization.  Shahn hoped to restore humanism and revitalize dignity in society with his artistic efforts.

For much of his career, Ben Shahn crafted many images of workers.  Shahn's paintings, murals, photographs, and posters not only reveal his interest in the worker as an image, but also provide another way to examine the problems that workers in this country faced.  Starting with a series of paintings on the wrongly prosecuted Tom Mooney in 1933, Ben Shahn spent the next twenty years providing a glimpse into the world of the worker.  Shahn was also an activist.  He worked for the Congress of Industrial Organization - Political Action Committee, producing posters and pamphlets to get the workers out to vote in the election campaigns of 1944 and 1946.  In the 1930s, his formal relations with labor included participation in the Artists' Union as well as the American Artists' Congress.  Both groups advocated improved financial and social conditions for the artist.

Shahn's pictorial references to the proletariat reveal his class-consciousness.  Shahn's subjects were blue-collar workers who depended on physical labor to survive.  He believed in protecting American democracy by making demands on the system, changes that would fulfill the sentiments in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Thus, Shahn was able to draw a connection between his art and his political convictions without one subsuming the other.  His work also draws links between the New Deal and the increase of active labor to the loss of some union power with the conservative turn in the later 1940s, and the attempts of labor to deal with the political turn of events.


Ben Blake, Western Reserve Historical Society, Little Steel, Big Struggle: The Little Steel Strike in Youngstown, 1937

Centered in Youngstown, the 1937 Little Steel strike marked a turning point in the Congress of Industrial Organization's drive to unionize workers in America's industry. At the time, the critical question was whether or not the CIO could sustain the momentum gained by the autoworkers in their victorious sit-down strikes. This presentation aims to tell the story of the strike in a lively way and will include video clips, photographs, cartoons and news headlines. In the course of this narrative, a number of key questions will be examined, including the following: In facing militantly anti-union employers, what strategies and tactics were successful or unsuccessful? What was the role of the Communist Party? Was the CIO able to overcome racial and ethnic divisions? What was the role of women in the strike? As a whole, did the community of Youngstown support or oppose the strikers? The goal of this talk is to present history in way that is both interesting and useful to rank and file workers and union activists, who face similar struggles at LTV and AK steel today.


Susan E. Borrego, Claremont Graduate University, Expanding the Diversity Conversation: The Emergence of Working-Class Culture

Largely unexamined are the ways that class consciousness and class-based experiences continue to shape American universities, including teaching styles, research foci, organizational structure, and curriculum. Class is an aspect of difference that must be incorporated in the definitions of diversity and multiculturalism in higher education.  In what ways is working-class culture emerging as a consideration in institutional practices and programs, diversity initiatives, and curriculum in higher education? How have class issues emerged as an aspect for consideration, who has initiated this work, and how? This qualitative study draws on working-class academics, experts in the field, and site visits at three four-year colleges to examine the ways in which specific institutions have begun to address class culture as an aspect of diversity and multiculturalism.  This study demonstrates the ways that institutions are defining new curricular and programmatic initiatives regarding class culture. Themes are identified at each site and in a cross-site analysis, including the importance of individual efforts and institutional support and the limited inclusion of class in campus diversity initiatives.  Class has emerged uniquely at these three sites: Youngstown State from an industrial/first-generation student perspective, UMass/Boston through immigrant/first-generation student issues, and Goucher College highlights awareness of privilege. This study demonstrates that much of the current work addressing class culture is being undertaken by individual faculty motivated through scholarly or personal interests. Implications of the study include 1) the potential of class culture awareness to empower students to critique and analyze institutional and societal structures, 2) the potential of collaboration between faculty and student affairs practitioners, and 3) a need for additional research on class culture in higher education.


Eric Breitbart, Independent Scholar/Filmmaker, and Raymon Elozua, Visual Artist, Lost Labor: Images of Vanished American Workers 1900-1980

LOST LABOR: Images of Vanished American Workers 1900-1980 is a selection from a book project consisting of 150 photographs selected from the author's collection of more than 1200 company histories, technical manuals, pamphlets, and brochures. The concept of LOST LABOR is twofold: 1) a visual history of industrial work in America in the 20th century and 2) a critique of business-oriented representations of labor. The term "lost labor" has multiple meanings: the loss of labor in the changeover from hand labor to machine, or from machine-assisted labor to computer automation, or due to advances in technology and materials or from corporate takeovers, downsizing and globalization. Since many of the images document companies, factories and jobs that no longer exist. The images themselves can also be considered "lost."

Photographs of workers were often included in these books to illustrate industrial processes or provide human reference points for machinery.   Since factories are usually accessible only to photographers approved or employed by the company, these images provide an intimate, behind-the-scenes portrait of the American workplace. These photographs have no pretense to objectivity, or of being "pro-labor."  It is this point of view that differentiates this project from other labor photographs, most of which only show workers on the picket line or at meetings outside the plant.  While some of these books may be found in various library collections, they have never been studied or appreciated as visual history.


Ron Briley, Sandia Preparatory School, Hollywood and the Working-Class Woman: Norma Rae (1979), Silkwood (1983), and Erin Brockovich (2000)

This paper will examine how mainstream Hollywood cinema has treated working class women in three film texts that achieved commercial and critical success.  Director Martin Ritt (Norma Rae), Mike Nichols (Silkwood), and Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich) depicted courageous women who challenged corporate greed and corruption with a mixed degree of success.

Norma Rae (Sally Field) loses her job in a textile mill but becomes a union organizer, presenting a sense of class solidarity.  Karen Silkwood's (Meryl Streep) efforts to expose contamination at a plutonium processing plant leads to her death under mysterious circumstances, but her legacy is a successful law suit against Kerr-McGee.  On the other hand, Erin Brockovich's (Julia Roberts) battle against corporate poisoning of a water supply results in a legal victory which makes her wealthy, providing an Horatio Alger element to the film.

All three texts are based upon true stories, although in the case of Norma Rae the protagonist's name has been changed.  While grounded in reality, the films, nevertheless, present Hollywood stereotypes of the working class.  The films consider the intersection between gender and class, but tend to ignore the role played by race.  The assumed promiscuity of the leading characters also tends to distract from issues of class and perpetuates stereotypes.  And the focus upon individual heroic action tends to blur issues of class solidarity, and in the case of Erin Brockovich, the American dream of escaping from the working class appears to be alive and well.


Jeanne Bryner, Forum Health, Trumbull Memorial Hospital, Blind Horse: An Appalachian Migration

This performance art piece will encompass a piece of history concerning the migration of Appalachians to the industrial north in the 40s and 50s.  As a writer and daughter of a coal-miner turned steelworker, I search for ways to connect the worlds of struggle, language and healing.  Hungry for a steady paycheck, thousands of Appalachian families migrated to northern industrial communities.  My family was one link in that long chain of hopeful travelers.  Using memory and research, I've documented their leap and landing in a book of poems, Blind Horse.  Our Ohio town was a one-industry community, and when the steel mill closed in 1976, the town never recovered.  Through poetry and music, song and movement, these voices share the old story of famine and feast and famine.


James Cebula, University of Cincinnati, Creating an Interracial Community in Post-World War II Cincinnati: The Case of Kennedy Heights

The post-World War II reconstruction in the United States led to efforts to resolve the contradictions in American life presented by the issue of race relations.  Cincinnatians completed a new metropolitan master plan at the end of 1947.  The plan led to the deconstruction of the city's overwhelmingly African-American West End residential area and led to the relocation of West End residents to various parts of the city.  In Kennedy Heights, an overwhelmingly white middle and working class neighborhood, residents created an interracial community council.  They worked with the Mayor's Friendly Relations Committee, civil rights organizations, churches, and the media to prevent white flight to outlying suburbs and to create a culture that celebrated interracial cooperation.


Rita Chadha, Community Historian for the Hackney Society, Building Blocs of the Past, Stepping Stones to the Future

This paper explores the dynamics between urban regeneration and the development of heritage services for local communities in the UK. The London Borough of Hackney is an inner city east London borough and contains some of the most deprived areas in Britain.

Drawing on national examples, and the Hackney Society's innovative Building Blocs programme, the talk offers a fresh look at the relationship between the built, natural environment and civic participation. The presentation explore the nature of  'social exclusion' in Britain and crucially the role of community and oral history as a powerful tool for collective organising.


Renny Christopher, California State University, Stanislaus, Work is a War: The Battlefield of the Job: Machines, Bodies and Blood

"Work! Sure! For America beautiful will eat you and spit your bones into the earth's hole! Work!"
 Pietro di Donato, Christ in Concrete  (3)

One of the challenges to working-class literature is the depiction of work-related accidents and injuries. As with all depictions of violence, the challenge to the writer is to depict horrific events and their physical consequences in such a way as to make an impact on a reader, and yet not to create a sensationalized or pornographic portrait through the writing.

Working-class writing contains incidents of death and mutilation through industrial accidents, agricultural processing plant accidents, and long-term exposure to debilitating conditions. This level of violence and gore does not appear in any other (realist) genre than the war novel and yet the toll of working-class labor and the challenge of representing that toll in literary terms has never been adequately addressed in criticism. During the Second World War, more Americans died on the job than in battle. Both the reality of death and mutilation on the job, and the attempts of working-class writers to portray these incidents, need to be foregrounded.

This paper will look at depictions of death, injury and disability incurred on the job in works of both poetry and prose, with special attention to the ways in which writers handle the depiction of violence and physical injury. Works to be considered will include Bell's Out of This Furnace, DiDonato's Christ in Concrete, Rivera's and the earth did not devour him, and poetry by B.H. Fairchild, Jeff Tagami, Will Watson, and Jean Bryner.


Lisa A. Cooper, Texas Christian University, The Reunion of Gender and Radicalism: Working-Class Women and Authenticity in the Writings of Meridel Le Sueur

While the American socialist movement of the 1930s addressed many issues facing the working class, problems that working women had to endure were largely ignored. There were, however, many activists and writers who sought to bring attention to the plight of women and their specific problems. Meridel Le Sueur is one such writer who wanted to give voice to those women workers who were so often silenced.

Le Sueur used her writing as both a literary and social directive. She recognized the need for not only authentic working-class texts, but also the exigency for these writings to contain a message of social activism. Le Sueur herself worked for many years in low wage jobs and, while doing so, became acquainted with a community of working-class women. Thus, her works of fiction, such as The Girl and Salute to Spring, contain a validity that can be gained only through first-hand experience. Furthermore, in these works, Le Sueur seeks to address some of the issues that were specific to women workers and were largely ignored by the Communist Party. The marriage between communism and women's issues was often an uneasy one; many of those in the communist movement feared that concentration on strictly "women's" issues would result in a schism of goals and purposes between genders in the communist movement.

Le Sueur, however, recognized the specific hardships that working women had to endure and sought to give this community of women voice by acting as both witness and participant in her writings. Her writings also reflect political and social ideologies of the American socialist movement. Yet what is perhaps the dominant feature in Le Sueur's works is the authenticity that she achieves due to her first-hand experience, language, and reliance upon the words of actual working-class women. It is this verity and loyalty to those voices of working women who had long been silenced that provides merit to Le Sueur's The Girl and Salute to Spring.


Margaret Costello, Ampere Electrical Contracting, A Murky Shadow between the Spirit and the Letter of the Law: The Intersection of Gender and Class

Nowhere is the discrepancy between the spirit and the letter of the law more obvious than in the building trades where, despite over twenty years of supposed integration, women still only account for roughly two percent of the work force. Presuming opportunities exist and women simply choose not to take advantage of them, we evade the real issue: implementation of organizational acceptance of women workers in the trades.

From graduate school years desperately searching for information about female tradesworkers and a master electrician by trade, my history straddles the boundaries between academia and the building trades. I see first hand the dichotomy between theory and practice, viewing on a daily basis the dynamic between the dominant group, 98% male, and token workers, 2% female. The failure of integration speaks through these numbers.

A lack of academic interest in penetrating the world of the trades to gather data perpetuates the status quo, reinforcing the isolation of token workers. Why have the building trade organizations, where spirit often severely diverges from letter of the law, been virtually ignored by academics? What is the role of class in this seeming lack of attention? Are class issues a deterrent to productive scrutiny of the status quo?


John F. Crawford, University of New Mexico, Valencia Campus, Anthologizing Working-Class Culture

Working class culture has found its way into college anthologies designed for a variety of purposes as well as those devoted specifically to the working class. Its influence is likely to be felt especially in readers for first-year composition students, to a lesser extent in anthologies for literature surveys. Often this literature appeals to students whose parents or grandparents identify with a specific kind of labor, such as agricultural workers, coal miners, or factory workers; or those who recall specific hardships such as racism or the Great Depression. Sometimes it will awaken repressed memories of circumstances not identical to, but parallel with, the literature in question, such as border issues and immigration. I will examine several anthologies with which I am familiar to show the potential effect of stories, poems, and dramas of working-class experience on the students who read them.


Jeff Crump, Housing Studies Program, University of Minnesota, Contested Landscapes of Labor: Rival Unionism in the Farm Implement

On February 10, 1949 a pitched battle between members of Local 104 of the Farm Equipment and Metal Workers Union (FE) and recruiters of the rival United Auto Workers (UAW) broke out at the gates of the International Harvester (IH) Works in East Moline, Illinois.  As UAW organizers challenged the legitimacy of FE members coming off shift with cries of "Reds", "Commies" and "Go back to Moscow!", 200 loyal FE workers organized themselves into a powerful phalanx and engaged the UAW organizers in a wild melee (Chicago Daily Tribune 1949).  As the battle between the rival union members escalated, the verbal jousts turned into brutal fistfights and by the end of the day one FE member and twelve UAW organizers were in local hospitals with a variety of injuries (Gilpin 1992: 241).

As the larger and nationally influential UAW sought to depose the FE by raiding its membership and by forcing representation elections in plants represented by the FE, rival unionism forced farm implement workers throughout the Midwest to choose between two radically different philosophies of trade unionism.  At the same time the FE and UAW fought over the right to represent workers in the farm implement industry, the FE and IH engaged in a brutal struggle over who would control the shop floor: the company or the union.  Workers were not only faced with a contest between two rival unions, they were also confronted by a global corporation determined to roll back the gains of organized labor.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the spatial and scalar strategies of the FE, UAW, the International Harvester Corporation, and the U.S. federal government, in the struggle over who would represent workers in the farm implement industry.  Although it was often disguised in the material and rhetorical battles between the participants, the critical nexus of the contest was whether workers would exert control over decisions at the scale of the shop floor.  According to the FE, union power resided at the level of the shop floor.  From the perspective of the UAW, IH and the federal government, control of the shop floor was the prerogative of management and any union challenging this power structure was overstepping its bounds.  At the root of the UAW's business unionism was a reliance on national scale clout and a restriction on local scale actions.

My overall intention is to show that geographic scale is a contested material and ideological construction and that political power rests not only on the material control over particular places, but on the legitimacy that accrues to those actors who are able to control the discursive construction of scale (Herod 1991, 1997; Mitchell, 1998; Smith 1992; Swyngedouw 1997, 2000).


Melissa Dabakis, Kenyon College, Civic Statuary, the Work Ethic, and the Paradoxes of Labor Commemoration: George Gray Barnard's Sculptural Program for the Pennsylvania Statehouse

In 1911, George Gray Barnard completed a series of didactic and moralizing sculptures for the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg that presented labor as a sacred and noble endeavor, removed from the exigencies of actual worker's lives.  Both biblical and classical traditions under-girded this sculptural program and enhanced the moral authority of its message:  a celebration of the American work ethic.  This sculptural project formed  part of Harrisburg's City Beautiful Movement and intended to inspire civic loyalty among Pennsylvania residents while affirming labor as the core of moral life.  Its message was largely addressed to the "foreign" elements of the Pennsylvania workforce, specifically those "uncontrolled masses" who populated modern factories, steel mills, and coal mines, and led violent strikes against the state's leading industries.

Barnard's sculptural program, titled "The Apotheosis of Labor," with its environmental civic message and dedication to the principles of the work ethic (which by 1900 had become synonymous in middle-class parlance with the idea of social control), hoped to effect social relations by encouraging workers to conscientious labor from which they would benefit in spiritual and moral ways, rather than from rectifying the material conditions of their oppression.  This paper shall address the contradictions that riddled the notion of the work ethic and its attendant representations at the turn of the twentieth century.  Indeed, the circumstances of a pre-industrial order, which equated work and virtue, had rapidly faded.  Not surprisingly, industrial capitalism, with its practical alienation of contemporary labor, could no longer sustain the language of work pride, the self-esteem produced by independent labor, inherent in the work ethic ideology.  This paper shall also explore the diverse ways that elite and middle-class interests and labor leaders alike deployed this ideology at the turn of the last century.


Anthony Dawahare, California State University, Northridge, 'Diversity' and the Legacy of Anticommunism in the Academic Workplace

This paper will address some of the ways in which the institutionalization of 'diversity' represents one of the political forms of the class struggle between labor and capital in and outside of academia.  Through an analysis of  'diversity' statements published by governmental agencies (such as the CIA), corporations (such as Exxon Mobil), and academic think tanks, I will argue that the institutionalization of 'diversity' functions to direct progressive political energies of many workers into modes of thought and action that usually do not challenge the class basis of the social problems (such as racism and sexism) "diversity" aims to repair.  On the contrary, "diversity" promotes racial and gender identities and differences and attempts to erase the class content of racism and sexism in modern America, as well as all traces of the conflicting class interests that characterize capitalism.  Moreover, it is tied to an attempt to rejuvenate an American nationalism in crisis by promoting an image of American democracy in universities, colleges, and other workplaces.  As a legacy of the Cold War, the institutionalization of 'diversity' functions as a co-optation and a check to the inroads of the class-based politics of the protests of the 1960s.  A critique of the history and limitations of diversity ideology can strengthen labor struggles both within and outside of academia.


Anthony Dawahare, California State University, Northridge, Countersong to Nationalism: Pedro Mir and Caribbean Working-Class History

Pedro Mir, one of the most important working-class poets of the Dominican Republic, published his poetry in defense of Dominican workers exploited and oppressed under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961) and successive U.S. occupations.  I am particularly interested in discussing how his epic poems, especially "There is a Country in the World," "If Anybody Wants to Know Which is My Country," and "Countersong to Walt Whitman," subvert the conventional nationalist narratives that posit a "Dominican" essence definitive of the country's history.  On the contrary, Mir envisions a history composed of class struggle and working-class agency that bears more resemblance to working-class struggles worldwide (and particularly in the Americas) than to anything uniquely "Dominican."  He condemns the profit system that holds the island in subjection to primarily U.S. interests and looks forward to the day "[w]hen the thread of all the borders / weaves together all countries into a single rug."  In a poetic style similar to both Whitman and Ernesto Cardenal, Mir powerfully states his case against nationalism and for an internationalist poetry and politics.


William DeGenaro, The University of Arizona, Historical Narrative and Class Consciousness: Writing the Junior College Movement

Perhaps no movement in American education remains more riddled with contradiction than the junior college movement, the birth and rapid spread of two-year colleges during the early twentieth century.  Junior colleges welcomed the working-class and provided affordable education at convenient locations (Cohen and Brawer, Dougherty, Ratcliff).  The new and democratic institutions largely failed to deliver, though, on their promise of transfer to four-year colleges and universities, instead creating a lower-prestige campus where guidance counselors and vocational programs micro-managed the ambitions of blue-collar students (Brint and Karabel, Clark, Karabel, Shor).  Despite these rich contradictions, critical scholars in rhetoric and composition have largely overlooked the junior college movement as a site for historical narrative.  Those interested in the gatekeeping functions of higher education, the ways colleges and universities transmit hegemonic values to students, and the problematic allegiance between education and corporate America have much to learn from the history of the two-year college.  I am firstly suggesting that historians of rhetoric and composition turn their attention to sites of contradiction, diversity, and class conflict, sites such as the junior college movement.  Secondly, I am proposing we create historical narratives that vigilantly and ruthlessly ascribe agency to the individuals and collectives who hold the cultural power to shape institutions and movements.  I want us to be not only archivists with an attitude, but also archivists with a consciousness.

The junior college movement, spearheaded by elite scholars of education, coincided with philosophical movements like scientization and education for social efficiency.  The term "elite" denotes the affiliation of these scholars with institutions of exclusion and prestige, and their attitude of superiority over the student-worker, who was becoming ethnically diverse and agitated by poor working conditions.  Junior college movement leaders saw students as undisciplined bodies who needed to be taught taste and subjectivity but also to assume their positions within industrial capitalism.  Movement leaders sought to construct individuals who saw themselves not as part of a collective but rather as solely responsible for any success or failure the future might hold.  Through disciplinary devices such as assessment, junior college students learned the meritocratic cultural myths of individualism and capitalism.  In this paper, I analyze archival materials such as curriculum guides and other published accounts written by the founders and boosters of early junior colleges in the attempt to redirect the gaze of historians of rhetoric and composition away from familiar, homogenous institutions such as Harvard and toward domains where class conflict played out among various agents.


Marianne DiPalermo/McCauley, Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College, The City University of New York, Memory of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: After the Fact

In preparing this documentary about an event that took place approximately one hundred years ago,  two dominant thoughts influenced my research.  The first was to understand the fact that this documentary was being created long after the fact.  The second thought was that it was my responsibility  to reconstruct the time, the place, the people and the emotional setting of that time.  I remembered my upset  at  seeing the way the plaque, firmly anchored on the building on which the event took place, was worded.  It seemed to be empty of human substance.  To me, it was written as though those who had died were objects to be commemorated rather than human beings.  That thought was not acceptable to me.

As a story-teller, I chose to use the Agatha Christie detective approach.  This approach implied that I could be creative in uncovering details not previously  known.  According to a psychologist, Bolen (1979) the Agatha Christie approach is intuitive and asks, "What is the meaning of this event?   What are the circumstances in which it arose?  What are the possibilities inherent in it?" The questions differ from the usual "what, when, where, what happened" approach. These questions  place the event in the middle of  industry and migrating populations, in the city of New York.  Those who worked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company were non-English speaking people, foreign to our way of life at that time, in that place.  This is the story as it revealed itself, and life was restored into sterile words.

Terry Easton, Emory University, Day Laboring in Atlanta

In the last quarter of the twentieth century citizens of Atlanta have witnessed an economic boom.  Suburbanization is currently extending the borders of the Atlanta metropolitan region and some inner-city residents are experiencing revitalization in their neighborhoods.  Construction cranes dot the landscape reminding residents and tourists alike that the real and imagined changes in Atlanta are synonymous with the phrase "The New South" and the terms "globalization" and "development."  But Atlanta's economic boom has not reached everyone.  Creeping in the shadows of recently developed office towers, parking decks, and shopping malls lurks the underside of economic growth.  Despite the increase in the circulation of money in Atlanta's construction industry, day laborers continue to work for low wages in unsafe conditions.

I am currently in the early stages of conducting research for my dissertation on day laborers in Atlanta's construction industry.  In the dissertation, I intend to situate Atlanta's day labor force in an international context while examining the lives of African American, Latino, and white day laborers.  I intend to use evidence from oral history interviews and archival materials to reconstruct the history of Atlanta's day labor pools while examining the working lives of day laborers.  In this presentation, I will discuss the scope and goals of my project.  Because I am at the early stages of research and writing, I welcome and encourage your comments, feedback, and ideas.

Anthony Esposito, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, The Culture of Steel and Memory: A rhetorical analysis of the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor


The past three decades have seen America's industrial towns transformed from towns of rich production into towns that now only produce high unemployment and crime rates.  As a consequence, these transformations, including the loss of jobs, have impacted once productive ethnic and cultural communities.  Towns such as Youngstown, Ohio; Gary, Indiana; and, Flint, Michigan have seen their once proud traditions of producing either steel or automobiles relocated to foreign countries.  No town has been more effected by the closing of steel mills than Youngstown, Ohio.  When mentioned in the news, it seems that Youngstown is known only for high crime, unemployment, numerous prisons, and controversial U.S. Congressman, James Traficant.  These variables only escalate the town's negative image to the rest of the nation.  Therefore, how does a town such as Youngstown construct the memory of steel in a place where all of the steel mills have been closed?  Youngstown has enacted a steel museum named The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor to pay homage to the once proud commodity of this community.  Understanding the rhetoric of individuals who worked at the mill and the paramount nature of steel's impact upon the community are just two examples of how steel museums can act as true indicators of how memory is constructed to say that reality once happened in Youngstown.

By studying this rhetorical artifact, one can begin to grasp a deeper understanding of how Youngstown's past has greatly influenced its present and future.  In the first section of the speech/paper, I will employ vernacular memory to the study of museums, providing a thorough analysis of the pertinent literature that has been studied on the topic.  In the second section, I will give a history of the Youngstown community, and also discuss the current state of the city.  I will then narrow my focus to the museum site and show how the rhetorical artifact displays how steel was made.  Included in this analysis will be a detailed description of safety in the mill, and through taped interviews available at the museum, the voices of individual workers who once were employed in the steel making business in the Youngstown community.  In the third section, I will study the impact of steel upon this community by studying discursive artifacts.  These include the enactment of a locker room and ethnic community, paychecks, and available taped interviews to show how memory is constructed in these environments.  Finally, I will show through tapes and individual interviews, how the closing of the mills impacted this once productive community.  Studying this museum through the concept of vernacular memory can show the rhetorical potential of critiquing an important contributor to this cultural community.


Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, West Virginia University, Labor Speaks to the Community: Union Radio Programs in the Post-War Era

After World War II, organized labor faced an increasingly hostile economic and political atmosphere.  Events during and immediately after the war had raised the business community's anxiety about the apparent growing influence of unions on American communities.  Worried about its ability to shape the postwar reconstruction, the business community mobilized to shape social and economic policy and to win the loyalty and political support of the American public.  To accomplish this, corporate leaders relied on the mass media and infiltrated every important institution of American life from the work site to the classroom to the church in an effort to reorient Americans from their newfound loyalties to labor and the government. Business leaders attempted to sell Americans on the virtues of individualism as opposed to collectivism, freedom as opposed to state control and the centrality of the free enterprise system to the American way of life.

Some labor leaders recognized the danger this ideological onslaught posed to organized labor and the working class.  Despite limited resources, elements of organized labor, particularly attempted to complete for worker loyalty and for the political support of the public.  Unions sought to support the notion that worker success and security as well as America's future depended on the collective power of organized labor and the continued ability of the state to regulate business.

The mass media was an important battleground between business and labor.  In most cases, however, unions did not have the means to offset biased newspapers nor could they compete with business groups in purchasing extensive newspaper advertising.  Consequently, for the labor movement, radio was an important key to contesting business domination of political discourse.

This paper focuses on how organized labor used radio broadcasting in an effort to reach the community with the union message and to build a pro-labor political climate between 1945 and 1960.  During this period, unions pursued two radio strategies: one focused on operating non-profit FM stations committed to providing "propaganda free news" and public interest programming; the other centered on purchasing programming on commercial AM stations.  By the fifties, labor's voice was widely heard on the airwaves.  The AFL and CIO both sponsored nationally broadcast network news and commentary programs that promoted labor's political and economic vision.  National unions, city central bodies, and local unions also broadcast labor programs.  The CIO in Michigan, for instance, covered the state with fifteen different local radio programs supported by state and local radio advisory councils.  I would like to conclude this presentation by playing for the audience some recordings of labor programs from the fifties.


Steven Garabedian, University of Minnesota, A Conversation on Working-Class Studies and American Studies Today
Presented by members of the Working-Class Studies Caucus of the American Studies Association

Over the years, the field of American Studies has been at times more and less open to the aims and advances of working-class studies.  Despite its stated interdisciplinarity and diversity, many feel that the study of working-class culture, history, and politics has languished in American Studies in recent decades.  Such critics from within and outside of American Studies are optimistic--yet, perhaps cautiously so--about the appearance of late of a reverse trend.  As we witness a revival of working-class studies in American Studies scholarship and teaching, old and new proponents of class analysis must take time out to reflect on the promise and problems attendant to forging such a new partnership.  What might the future hold, and what do practitioners of each field have to gain and lose from such a contemporary synthesis?

This roundtable panel is meant to stimulate discussion among and between panelists and audience members in the fields of working-class studies and American Studies. The panel features members who comprise the Steering Committee of the Working-Class Studies Caucus of the national American Studies Association.  Organized two years ago under the aegis of the Center for Working-Class Studies, the Caucus seeks to promote and develop the field of working-class studies in American Studies.  Over the past two years, Steering Committee members have seen firsthand the "return of class" in American Studies, and they have worked to stimulate such a revival through Caucus-sponsored panels, roundtables, meetings, and activities at the ASA annual meetings.  The panelists envision this as an open and informal conference session.  We hope for and will encourage suggestions, frank dialogue, difficult questions, and constructive criticism from all interested parties on a variety of topics involving teaching, learning, politics, and activism inside and outside of the formal confines of academia.


Fred Gardaphe, SUNY-Stony Brook, A Class Act: Understanding the Italian/American Gangster

Beginning with the late Mario Puzo's 1969 novel, The Godfather, and continuing to the latest novels of Don DeLillo, the gangster in literature, theater, and film, has been more often than not been the product of Italian America's own sons.  The gangster produced by these artists provides a means of transgressing the social boundaries set up by traditional definitions of class.  Fredric Jameson sees the gangster as a key player in Mafia movies that project a solution to social contradictions incorruptibility, honesty, crime fighting, and finally law-and-order itself,which is evidently a very different proposition from the diagnosis of the American misery whose prescription would be social revolution (Signatures of the Visible 32).  While Mafia movies may keep us from thinking about revolution, they are focusing our attention in other directions.

It would be in the 1960s, when slogans like "Power to the People" surfaced to shake up a working-class complacency, that Italian Americans would gain their share of power in a society that only a generation earlier had exploited them as workers.  The gangster became the symbol of the transformation of the Italian American male from worker to power broker.  The gangster took power and became an accepted figure for that task.  Unlike Rachel Rubin's revolutionary take on the Jewish Gangster, in Jewish Gangsters in Modern Literature,  becoming the Italian American gangster is a reactionary act.

As the real gangsters of yesterday recede into the history books, their figures loom larger than ever as they are resurrected by the arts.  If we see the gangster as a trickster figure we can begin to explain the American fascination with gangsters.  The trickster figure serves as a model of improper behavior.  Societies need to have a figure, which can represent fringe behavior against which the center of society can formulate its values and identity.  The Mafia myth has thus served an important function in American society by helping to define what is and what is not American.  It is not American to speak a language other than English; it is not American to use violence to guarantee business deals; it is not American to have mistresses and a happy family.  The Mafia myth also demonstrates what happens to those who don't play ball with the system.   Until the Italian American artist got hold of the figure; the gangster did just that. Robinson's Rico Bandello was a one-dimensional deviate who died like a dog, alone and without any family.  It was the likes of Puzo, Coppola, and Scorsese, who humanized the figure of the gangster by using the him as a twisted metaphor for their own culture's struggle for power and place in a new world.

In this paper I explore the gangster as a collection of the traits that the dominant culture represses.  I use the figure of the gangster to gain some insights into the past, present, and future of American notions of class.  I see the gangster figure in film and literature as a trope for signifying the gain of cultural power that comes through class mobility.

Ben Gordon, Siena College, When it's Not a "Hot" Shop: What the Industrial Areas Foundation Community Organizing Model has to Offer Union Organizing

Are workers' decisions about forming labor unions really only about management?  That is, is union organizing just a referendum on pay, benefits and worker perceptions of management fairness?  Is worker interest in organizing, then, completely a function of management mistakes or miscalculation?  If not, why do most union organizers campaign as if all these questions are properly answered in the affirmative?

How can labor unions organize the unorganized in an environment characterized by economic uncertainty, union decline, lax enforcement of weak labor laws, and aggressive anti-union tactics and supposedly progressive human resource management practices by employers?  How do workers form a union when most or many of their co-workers are substantially satisfied with their wages, benefits and other conditions of employment?

To begin answering these questions, this paper argues for applying some lessons taken from the Industrial Areas Foundation community organizing model to union organizing. The paper suggests that through rethinking traditional methods of industrial targeting, organizer training, housecalling and campaigning (i.e., issue identification, individual contact, and the typical short-term focus on grievances), unions can organize in this new environment.  For example, the paper argues that a focus on identifying, recruiting, and developing relationships with leaders should replace the current campaign housecall goals of generating and measuring union sympathy and inoculation.

Thorsten Gresser, Center for Interdisciplinary Research on the Ruhr Area (ZEFIR), Ruhr-University Bochum, Pittsburgh and the Ruhr Area: Common Patterns in Urban Conflict Situations during the Decline of Steel

During the 1980s the regions of Pittsburgh and the Ruhr Area experienced a severe loss of jobs in the steel industry. In both regions the steelworkers, in alliance with local activists and the general population of the affected communities, waged a militant and highly publicized struggle against the shutdowns. Other industries also go through drastic rationalizations, lay-offs and the dismissal of masses of workers but militancy and active struggle seems to be the exception. The leading question is therefore: Is there a typical, a common pattern of labor struggles against shutdowns in old-industrialized areas during the decline of steel in the 1980s in the United States and (West-)Germany? Thorsten Gresser identifies four types of protagonists, that are represented in both cases and all four were not just currents in a broader stream dominated by one strategy or form of protest, but were active at the same time during the struggle and in conflict with each other.

The fight against shutdowns is fundamentally different from other labor conflicts, especially in an old-industrialized region: Its economic, political and cultural aspects are heavily interwoven and generate a background that is receptive for the mobilization of the community in alliance with labor. It differs also from other labor conflicts because the consequences are greater: The fate of the region and the future of the people living there are at stake. This creates a deeper and more pronounced need among the workers to find the right method in the struggle for the common cause and to define the common cause.

This overall common pattern of the struggle over the right mode of thinking and acting, over strategy and tactics of the struggle, is only the first step to explain fights against shutdowns in old-industrialized areas. There are still other questions (concerning cultural aspects, identification and self-identification of the workers, the sequence of steps of the struggle itself) which have to be addressed in Mr. Gresser's Ph.D.-thesis, which will be finished in 2002.