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:  Abstracts by Author H-O




Laura Hapke, Pace University, Sweating Out a Canon: Issues in Sweatshop Studies

The paper addresses the 1) relations and possible divisions between working-class studies and sweatshop studies; 2) the unresolved tensions in working-class studies, heightened by the examination of the sweatshop and its plentiful representations in U.S. literature; 3) the stance of the scholar: the difficulties between, say, activist scholarship and theorizing the sweatshop; and 4) the perennial question of authority over texts. Who decides whether a transcribed interview with an undocumented Latina in a Los Angeles sweatshop or factory is a text for the field of Sweatshop Studies? What about the tapestry of wary-worker and professional-organizer voices, say, at a strike rally in Chinatown?

Conversely can the elitist, misogynist Melville's "Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids," an American sweatshop classic, be given preference for its more "universal" exposure of labor inhumanity? And is the website for Students Against Sweatshops any more or less valid than the mediated representations of sweated labor mentioned above? In sum, with the workers themselves imprisoned, their voices largely silenced, what constitute a sweatshop art and canon?


Ciara Healy, independent scholar, Active Exploitation

In my paper on activism, I argue that power struggles in one activist workplace "Peace Action Wisconsin" arose over fundamental ideological differences between what it meant to be an activist.  Relevant aspects of this ideological divide include gendered labor, memories of activism form the 60's and 70's and the goals of social-change activism.  At Peace Action the divide is both external and internal. Externally, the effectiveness of Peace Action as an agent for social change was almost never addressed by the organization. The activist community that was Peace Action concentrated mostly on feeling good about "getting the message out" and supporting each other in the face of apathy and resistance. Effectively evaluating and meeting goals was not a part of any program or activity of the organization. Internally, while Peace Action passionately lamented the lack of workers rights and realistic health benefits, it did not offer employees either consistent benefits or a living wage. Workers, especially in the office-manager position, were expected to subordinate their financial needs to those of the organization while sacrifice and volunteerism were praised as key virtues of that woman-held position.

My argument centers on the connections between conceptions of activism and the reality of the activist workplace. I claim that while Peace Action's workplace was exploitative, it was so because of the community's ideological commitments, notions of gender and passive resistance in the face of change. I think that there are direct connections between the ideals held by the activist community of Peace Action and the exploitative and ineffectual nature of their workplace and work. I aim to explore the rich irony of organizations that commit themselves to radical social change while remaining deeply resistant to change on any other level. I conclude with an update on the workplace since their organizational overhaul and my continued involvement as a member of Peace Action's Steering Committee.


Anne Herzog, West Chester University, "What the Tenement Girl Could See": The Poetry of Linda McCarriston

Poet Linda McCarriston spent the first 26 years of her life in the city of Lynn, MA.  I grew up near Lynn, and the only thing I remember about Lynn was the following ditty I heard whenever Lynn was mentioned in casual conversation: Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin.  You never come out the way you went in.  As a child, I thought nothing of what it might mean to call Lynn one's home, but Linda McCarriston, of necessity, faced this burden.  Much of her work grapples with what she calls the "nameless stain" of growing up in Lynn.  Lynn's stain was its poverty, its tenements, its fundamentally working-class, immigrant identity.  There was not then, nor is there now, any local movement for reframing and valuing Lynn's identity.  My presentation will consider McCarriston's 1991 Terrence Des Pres Prize winning collection, Eva-Mary, and more recent poems from her selected collection, Little River (2000), within the context of her autobiographical reflections (From Weed).  I wish to examine McCarriston's poetic response to what she calls the "nameless stain"--her struggle to respond to both the beauty and the pain of what the tenement girl could see.


Faith S. Holsaert, Martha P. Norman, and Hellen O'Neal McCray, Community Researchers, "Women in the Civil Rights Movement/ Women in a Working-Class Movement"

The southern civil rights movement of the 1960s was rooted in workers� history and involved tens of thousands of workers. An interracial collective of six women in their 50s and 60s, former members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) have compiled memories of women who worked with SNCC. The proposed volume is entitled Hands on the Freedom Plow, reflecting both the leadership of women in the struggle and the historically agricultural work of many black people. The memories, by their nature explore gender, race, and class.  This project has taken the writing of history out of the hands of academics and placed it in the hands of participants. It is not an oral history but a project in which the participants wrote their own pieces, a narrative in many voices. The narratives speak of a political community that defies the passage of time; they offer a case study of creating social change and show women in critical roles at times of decision-making and action.

The more than 50 contributors include women who were public school or college students at the time as well as women who were health care workers, domestic workers, teachers, or independent entrepreneurs. In addition to stories of 1960s activism and courage, many pieces portray life under U.S. apartheid and document black family and community oral histories of resistance to racism as long ago as slavery. Though they have been largely written out of the academic history of this movement, when invited to speak in their own voices, women proudly take the places they have earned beside their brothers in the struggle.


William M. Hunter, Geographer, Heberling Associates, Seeing Traces: Representing Working-Class History in Publicly Funded Cultural Resource Assessment

The failure of the historic preservation movement to understand and protect significant working class resources is well known. The under-representation of labor in the practice of historic preservation serves to create a geographic knowledge that denies the link between landscape production and landscape representation. The over emphases on style rather than form, time rather than space, and results rather than processes prevent most preservationists from recognizing the place of the working class in the production of the cultural landscape. Yet the practice of historic preservation within the context of federally mandated Cultural Resource Assessment offers an opportunity to insert a critically informed reading of the cultural landscape into the institutional discourse. Geographers may illuminate the traces of working-class history that have escaped not only the effacement of creative destruction, but the gaze of the architectural historian as well. The insertion of the critical approach allows us to reveal the links between the appearance of the landscape and the historical forces responsible for its production. We may then write a more honest, accurate, and democratic public histories that are subtlety reflected in and through the resulting public works. We offer examples of publicly funded Cultural Resource Assessments that allowed the practice of human geography to illuminate the place of the working class in Ohio.



Daniel Kerr, Case Western Reserve University; Robert Jackson, Robert Molchan, and Clarence Dailey, The Low Wage Workers Union, Industrial Day Labor and the LWWU: Bringing the Homeless Back into the Working Class

In October 2000, a group of twenty homeless workers gathered at the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter in Cleveland, Ohio and officially christened the Low Wage Workers Union (LWWU).  The organization, consisting primarily of industrial temp laborers, evolved out of a larger successful struggle to pass a living wage ordinance in the city of Cleveland.  Many homeless workers recognized the shortcomings of the ordinance, which failed to address the needs of a large number of laborers.  They rightfully realized that the only way in which these workers could win a living wage would be through their own collective organization.

The proposed panel will include one historian of homelessness and contingent labor, Daniel Kerr, and three homeless members of the LWWU, Robert Molchan, Clarence Dailey and Robert Jackson, who will discuss the realities, based on their personal experiences, which workers face within the field of temporary industrial labor on an everyday basis.  Attention will be placed on the specific types of work that homeless laborers are engaged in and how that work relates to the larger process of industrial production.  An important topic of interest for the panel will be the temporary day labor agencies, including a discussion of their historical development and the ongoing abuses that they inflict upon the workers that are dependent on them for jobs.  In conclusion, members of the panel will emphasize the development of the LWWU and the specific ways that the union has sought to redress the economic injustices that its members are confronted with.  They will make the argument that the fate of the low-wage worker is inextricably intertwined with fate of the larger working-class.



Stephanie Kuduk, Wesleyan University, "The Poet's Hope":  Allen Davenport, Visionary Poetics, and Working-Class Radicalism in Mid-19th Century Britain

In 1846, the last year of his life, the working-class radical poet and activist Allen Davenport published a series of visionary, utopian poems in the pro-democracy periodical the Northern Star.  There, he claimed for poetry the political function of nurturing and conveying to the people the radical utopian vision of the future---"the new world," as it was often called.  This new world was, as the title of one of these poems put it, "The Poet's Hope," the special realm of the poetic imagination.  In this poem, Davenport peers through the "dark vista of futurity" to glimpse the "shadowy twilight of a brighter day" in which "nations shall join heart and hand to drive the proud usurpers from the land."  The idea that poetry was uniquely able to convey utopian vision was widespread among British radical poets and critics in the 19th century and represents one of the central ways they imagined poetry participating in politics.  Allen Davenport was one of these poets.  In this talk, I ask why visions of the utopian future were "the poet's hope."  What understanding of the political effects of poetry propelled authors like Davenport -- who wrote all sorts of poetry as well as prose -- to write explicitly visionary poems?  How did he explain the political efficacy of visionary poetry?

Focusing on Davenport's 1827 collection of lyrics, The Muse's Wreath, and his later poems published in the Chartist newspaper The Northern Star, I reconstruct three interconnected theories of how poetry could act as an agent of social change.  These theories demonstrate the inextricably political and aesthetic intentions that motivated visionary poetics in this period.  First of all, like many radicals Davenport believed that visionary poetry offered an imaginative experience of the future, an experience that actually constituted writ small the larger social transformation toward which radicals were working.  Second, he explained poetry of all sorts as both the record and the agent of working-class education.  It is in visionary poetry in particular, however, that he articulated the utopian impulses driving education, which he saw as a practice by which the people would slowly achieve social transformation, a "march of intellect."  Third, he believed that visionary poetry functioned as a bulwark against despair.  For though radicals insisted that the "new world" was realizable in their lifetimes, they often wrote utopian poetry when the new world seemed unattainable rather than imminent, illusory rather than visionary.

In the years between 1827 and 1846, between The Muse's Wreath and "The Poet's Hope," the greatest mass movement for democratic reform in British history, Chartism, rose and fell, a historical sea-change that one would expect to see reflected in the poetic practices and aesthetic theories of radical writers.  Instead, what stands out is the persistence and stability of visionary poetry.  This persistence arises from extremely complicated historical factors that this paper can only sketch; I focus instead on its effects.  Ultimately, visionary poetry created and sustained a shared vision of the future that radicals could rally around despite ideological and tactical differences, despite political defeat, and even despite a receding horizon of change.  At the most fundamental level, visionary poems established a democratic future vision, the necessary corollary to a critical practice in the present.  The "new world" of radical poetry constructed the collective dream without which social change movements dissolve into rage or resignation., arguing that it enabled plebeian radicals to unite across philosophical and strategic divides, to move with seeming effortlessness from one radical camp to another.  The paper thus attempts to reconstruct in historical and literary detail one instance in which poetry shaped the course of radical politics.



Christie Launius, University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee, Class, Gender, and Radical Politics in The Great Midland

The title of Alexander Saxton's 1948 novel, The Great Midland, refers to the railroad company around which the lives of its protagonists revolve.  This novel, set in pre-WWII Chicago, chronicles the lives of three working-class families, but most closely follows singular members of each (Pledger McAdams, Dave Spaas, and his wife, Stephanie Koviak), all of whom are active members of the Communist Party.

My presentation will focus on the character of Stephanie Koviak, who has risen from her working-class background to attend the University of Chicago, where she is a graduate student of biological science.  In doing so, I'm following the path begun by Constance Coiner in her introductory essay to the 1997 edition of the novel (an essay which she was working on but had not completed at the time of her tragic death).  After reading Saxton's novel for the first time, Coiner wondered "what had contributed to the consciousness of a male writer to enable him to fashion a female character in what would now be termed 'cross-gendered' writing as conflicted, depression-prone, ambitious and independent as Stephanie Koviak?" (xii).

My presentation will take into account the undeniable remarkable-ness of Saxton's accomplishment while also considering the limitations of locating the novel's conflicts and neuroses in the psyche of its main female character.  Ironically, while Saxton portrays and validates Stephanie's existential concerns about pursuing social mobility through education and paying the emotional price of involvement in the Communist Party, he offers her no framework through which to understand how her material and psychological circumstances as a wife, as a daughter of working-class parents, as a student, as a job-seeker, and as a Communist Party member, are affected by her gender.



Harmon Lisnow, Institute for Career Development, What Steelworkers Taught Us About Writing Literature of and by the Working Class

"I guess everybody likes to think they've got a story to tell," steelworker Paul Woodring told the Baltimore Sun in March, shortly after he became a published author for the first time. Unfortunately, few blue-collar workers ever get the chance to tell their stories to anyone, save a few close friends and relatives. But as Woodring and a few fellow steelworkers recently proved, some stories deserve to be told to a wide audience.  Woodring is one of 15 steelworkers living near Baltimore and Gary, Ind., who contributed stories and poems to "The Heat: Steelworker Lives & Legends." The 156-page anthology describes the rigors of life in and around America's steel mills.  Some of the themes are familiar: plant closing, discontinued product lines, layoffs, occupational hazards and economic realities. But the stories delve deeper than the job conditions to reveal the quiet dignity of a caring, tight-knit culture America rarely sees - or worse yet - doesn't care to understand.

Jimmy Santiago Baca notes in his introduction to the book: "Certainly, what secrets the steelworkers kept in their hearts were part of the American experience, and yet, after reading thousands of books over the past 25 years, I had never read anything written by a steelworker."  The Institute for Career Development set out to change that. We invited Jimmy Baca to teach a series of intensive writing workshops to steelworkers with the idea of publishing their stories and poems in a book. We had a couple of reasons for doing so. A book, we surmised, would be an effective hammer to shatter the prevailing stereotype of the American steelworker as all brawn and no brain. What better way to show that steelworkers are hard-working, sensitive people with sharp intellects than to have them demonstrate those qualities by virtue of their own words?

We also wanted to use the book as an entree to the mainstream media to discuss other issues, like federal support for lifelong learning initiatives, the important role of continuous adult education in the workplace, the effectiveness of joint labor-management training programs such as ours, and the foresight of the USWA and other unions in negotiating educational benefits for their members.

Just as important as pursuing these goals were the things we learned along the way. For example, we learned how writing workshops can capture the culture and history of an industrial workplace. In many respects, getting workers to write about their own experiences can be as fruitful as turning an oral historian loose on the shop floor. The writing submissions will vary in tone and detail and the contributors will focus on different events and characters. The result is a diverse body of work unfettered by an outsider's subjective interpretations of what is and isn't important to the workers' sense of history.

Many of the writers found this to be the most important aspect of the workshops. Contributor Joe E. Gutierrez said that, more than anything else, he hopes children of steelworkers read the book to better understand their parents' jobs. Gutierrez, who has been invited on various occasions to talk about the union to young students, says he was struck by the number of children who have no idea what their parents do. "They just say, 'they work in the mills,'" Gutierrez said.
We also learned that choosing the right facilitator is crucial to the success of the writing workshop. Based on our experience, working adults don't want a "teacher" to lecture them about story construction and grammar. Instead, they want an engaging and dynamic leader to inspire them to share their stories; to encourage them to overcome their fears about writing; and to tell them their experiences are worthy of artistic treatment. Jimmy Baca did this intuitively, but the effect was not lost on the writers.

So now we have this book. What are we going to do with it? Our goal is to make it available in bookstores and libraries across the country, especially in steel communities. We also hope to convince some labor studies departments to add it to their reading lists or use it as a text. We're using it ourselves to teach writing classes and language skills to steelworkers in our Career Development Program. We'd also like to raise consciousness about the tough road that lies ahead for America's steelworkers, as the rising tide of layoffs and bankruptcies pushes the domestic steel industry to the brink of collapse.  As contributor Gary Markley puts it: "I may not have a job tomorrow, but at least my grandkids will know what my life was all about. If this book does one thing, I hope it makes Americans think about where washing machines and cars and bridges come from, and that there's a human cost to making steel."



Jeff Manuel, Northwestern University, "This Place of Desolation Calls": Music and Youth in Postindustrial Youngstown

The de-industrialization of Youngstown, Ohio in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s brought sweeping changes to the life and culture of young people in the Mahoning Valley. Heavy manufacturing's exit from the community forced all Youngstown residents, in one way or another, to reinvent and re-conceptualize their role in the world. Since youth were often the community members who had to face the long-run consequences of de-industrialization most directly, their experience provides important insights into the human costs of de-industrialization in America's industrial cities.  This research uses several genres of popular music from the late 1970s to the late 1980s as a lens to examine the ways various Youngstown youth reacted and responded to de-industrialization. The research highlights a distinct process of reaction against de-industrialization, adoption of the postindustrial future, and fight against stagnation and marginalization that characterized youths' responses to Youngstown in the late 1970s and 1980s.  Each of these processes was informed in part by various forms of local music, from the Dead Boys to DEVO to the Infidels.



Delia Maria, Tilak University, In Feudal Bondage--A Case Study of Quarry Miners in Pune, India

This paper is a curtain-raiser to the semi-feudal and semi-capitalist quarry mining industry on the outskirts of Pune city. The anarchic, capitalist development of mega-cities has increased the demand for gravel for public infrastructure like roads and other construction. Pune has grown two and a half times in the last two decades, which has resulted in the mushrooming of quarries. This paper traces the history of this quarry mining, the use of old-fashioned technology and the occupational hazards associated with the unsafe and backward mode of production.

Landless workers, unemployed stone-cutters displaced by disasters and rural unemployment have migrated to the city and have got employed as casual on daily wage rates in quarry mining. This paper exposes the feudal relationships between owners and labourers, the parasitic middlement and transporters, the misuse of female and child labour, and the low remuneration system. There is also a nexus between the quarry owners, government inspectors, the local government officials and elected representatives. All this disallows the implementation of labour legislation fought and won by the mainstream labour movement. The other fall-out of this industry is the hazardous effect on the environment and the city's health thereby.

This paper further goes on to investigate quarry mining as part of "feudal industrialism" in a developing country. It studies the relationship between capitalist underdevelopment and the unorganisation of small scale industry labour. While labour in other industries have struggled and enjoyed 75 years of organisation, labour in quarry mining still remains unorganised and unprotected. The nature of the industry precludes trade union organisation. The transitory nature of production denies housing and other civic amenities to the migratory labour. The local government bodies and representatives largely neglected the areas in which production takes place and workers colonies attached to them.

This presentation makes a case for modernisation of the industry and the need to update labour legislation to allow the benefits of unionisation to its workers. An appeal is made to NGOs and left trade unions to get involved in this sector; NGOs and trade unions in the city have largely avoided working in such areas due to the hardships involved. The government needs to wake up to this feudal and exploitative production in its professed new role of globilising and modernising the economy.

Finally, this paper places such backward industries as quarry mining within the entire realm of Indian capitalism and joins the struggles of labour in small scale production with the struggles against monopoly capitalism of the Indian bourgeoisie and multinationals.



John Marsh, University of Illinois, Whose Public Sphere?  What Graduate Employee Unions Have Taught Us about Higher Education

The successful (and failed, and in either case agonizing) efforts to organize graduate student unions is an all-too familiar narrative.  Rather than concentrate on the specific history of on-going attempts to win collective bargaining rights for graduate employees at the University of Illinois, then, I would like to ask what the responses to the prospect of graduate student unions by the state and the university reveal about the perception of academic labor, the job system, and the contested purpose of higher education.  Much is made even by those on the academic left critical of the growing corporatization of higher education of the university as a Habermasian public sphere, as a space outside of government and capital in which to discuss and critique the social, economic, and political realm.  Such rhetoric, though, rather disturbingly resembles that of the University of Illinois, which resists graduate student unions on the grounds that such unions would replace the academic model of labor relations with an inappropriate industrial one, thus disrupting "academic congeniality." Both arguments, academic congeniality and the university as public sphere, abstract the university from its participation in the reproduction of social relations, including class.  My purpose, then, following the work of Nancy Frasier, is to ask what conditions would need to be met before higher education could actually fulfill the criteria of a public sphere.  And failing those conditions, we would be better served to abandon (or at the very least to use more self-consciously) the language of public sphere as, at once, an impossibility and, given that impossibility, complicit in the de-politicization and de-classing of that very real political and classed institution, the university.



Floatinfred Mass, writer/artist, Working-Class Poetry

 After being introduced, I'll be reading a selection of original Working Class Poetry from my up and coming book of poetry tentatively entitled "Pentium Poetry."  Here are two short examples of my work:

--- Time Cards ---

Four punches in a day, morning, noon, noon and night
To mark the days time to make sure that it is right

Pounding sound of the time clock like the beat of your heart
Punch the time card the day ends, punch the time card the day starts

--- Smoke Stack ---

Early morning sunrise turns the sky to red
Alarm clocks ring factory workers rise from their beds

Factory smoke stacks stare up at the faint morning light
The wind stretches the smoke like a ribbon in flight

Smoke stacks reaching high, high up into the heavens
Smoke stacks standing tall like they're going to last forever

Factory jobs move away, smokestacks seem to kick the habit
Factory workers stays in bed wondering what the hell had happened



Gloria McMillan, University of Arizona, Jane Addams on Blind Spots during the Pullman Strike of 1894:  "A Modern Lear"

This presentation examines the rhetoric employed by Jane Addams, founder of Hull-House, in a November 2, 1912 Survey Magazine essay criticizing the behavior of George Pullman, some years after the 1894 Pullman Strike.  Addams casts the workers (and herself as the workers' friend) in the role of Cordelia to George Pullman's King Lear in this little-studied, yet historic, essay.  For comparison, I am examining samples of rhetoric from Eugene V. Debs.   I am also displaying graphic slide representations of these historic figures and the conditions that led to the Pullman strike to give a broader sense of this historic era in labor relations.  Addams' and  Debs' speeches and articles form a rich field for comparisons and contrasts between their styles of engagement on labor issues.  Addams was both a Quaker and an early feminist, so her writing displays elements of engagement that look forward to feminist theory and can form a benchmark of how effective feminist rhetorical techniques were/are in the area of labor concerns.
In addition to simply analyzing Addams' style of writing and its contemporary effect upon readers, I am exploring ways to ground this reading of Addams' text in rhetorical theory, using the models provided by Ernest Bormann ("fantasy theme" criticism), Michel Foucault�s discourse theory, and Antonio Gramsci's model of hegemonic and counter discourses,  By touching on the possible systems at work upon both sides during the Pullman Strike, I hope to add a meta-commentary to the texts and rhetorical positions advanced by the various sides and by Jane Addams.



Jack Metzgar, Roosevelt University, Working and Middle as Class Cultures

Setting out a basic outline of the differences between working-class and middle-class culture, this presentation will argue that they should be seen as competing cultures, each with its own characteristic strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.  Things are not usually seen this way because the dominant middle-class culture tends to take itself as a social norm to which everyone does or should aspire, thereby defining working-class culture as the absence of or distance from some middle-class characteristic.  Utilizing the crossover literature (autobiographical accounts of middle-class professionals, usually academics, from working-class backgrounds) as social evidence, Metzgar argues that each culture makes equally valid claims on us as individuals and as a society.  Recognizing how these cultures both conflict with and complement each other can have profound consequences for how we understand ourselves and our society.



Jay Miller, Wayne State University, "Days of Roaring Hell": Trautmann, Riot, and McKees Rocks

My presentation on William E. Trautmann and his 1922 novel, Riot, represents the discovery and evaluation of a forgotten socialistic labor novel and its unique and neglected author, a founder of the IWW.  However, I maintain that before Trautmann and Riot can be properly discussed and situated in the field of labor studies, as they deserve to be, they must first be introduced to a broader audience.  Consequently my presentation is less an argument about and more a contextualization of a lost labor leader and a literary relic of the early 20th-century labor wars.  It is based on the following works: my dissertation on Trautmann's recently discovered 1938 autobiography, "Fifty Years War"; my introduction to a forthcoming, new annotated edition of Riot; and a work in progress titled, "'Everything not yet destroyed was slowly succumbing': Conservation and Erosion in William E. Trautmann's Riot."  The presentation is divided into three parts: a biographical sketch of Trautmann, the historical contextualization of Riot in the 1909 McKees Rocks Strike, and the literary contextualization of Riot between Edward Bellamy�s Looking Backward and Jack London's The Iron Heel.

Born in New Zealand in 1869, Trautmann was raised in Europe.  After completing a brewing apprenticeship in Poland, he worked as a masterbrewer in Germany before being expelled for labor activities.  In 1890 Trautmann moved to the US, joined the Brewers Union, and in 1900 became editor of its newspaper, Brauer Zeitung.  In 1905 he joined with other industrial unionists to found the Industrial Workers of the World.  Between 1905 and 1912 he mostly worked in the field as an organizer.  In 1912 he broke with the IWW leadership over strike tactics and the alleged misuse of funds collected for the "Bread and Roses" Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  At this point he all but disappears from labor histories.

Riot is based on Trautmann's experiences as an IWW activist during the McKees Rocks Strike.  Between July and September of 1909, 5,000 workers comprising nearly 20 nationalities struck over wages and conditions at the Pressed Steel Car Company.  The strike was marked by a number of violent classes between police forces and strikers and culminated in a gunfight that left 12 dead.  In Riot Trautmann combines strike experiences with the concepts of workers' councils and industrial democracy popular in the reactionary climate of the 1920s.

Riot is a Progressive Era "problem novel."  Thematically it falls between Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888) and Jack London's The Iron Heel (1908).  "Problem novel" is a category covering fictions that introduce a central problem and work out a solution through characters and events.  The problem each addresses is the nature of the transition between a capitalistic and a socialistic society.  In Looking Backward the transition is speedy and non-violent; in Riot, sporadic and occasionally violent; in The Iron Heel, slow and extremely violent.  As authors, Bellamy and London are trapped by their utopian and apocalyptic models and fail to provide a realistic or desirable evolutionary path, but Trautmann charts a middle path between their extremes of an unrealistic peace and an unimaginable war.



Ricardo Levins Morales, Northland Poster Collective, Art, Organizing, and Memory

The telling of history is more than an exercise in documentation. It has always been an important element in shaping history.  Historical narrative provides important information about both specific tactics and strategies and broader possibilities for action.  Consequently, the struggle to control the memory of events is an important element of social conflict.

The Northland Poster Collective participates in this aspect of social (particularly workplace) struggles on three levels.
Working with organizers and rank and filers we help them to identify and redefine the workplace narrative.  To effectively organize, it makes a difference whether workers see themselves as part of a big, happy family; as engaged in a David vs. Goliath struggle; as rugged individuals who must each make their own way; as a community of interest in an exploitative environment, etc.  Art, humor, and creative tactics can create a receptive atmosphere organizing and leadership development.

Telling untold (or miss-told) stories that can suggest avenues for action.  Even when figures or events from social struggles are integrated into mainstream teaching they are presented in ways that emphasize individual heroics and chance.  Our classroom posters focus on the collective action, planning, and community connection that offer a more reliable roadmap for creating change.  By our choices of what stories to depict we help to challenge widely held notions about who is an actor in history.

Posterfolio sets help to bring more depth of knowledge (and curiosity) about events that people may know of only superficially.  Posters that challenge deeply held assumptions.  Less immediate in their impact, these may illustrate word definitions or the histories of everyday items, foods, etc.  Seemingly innocuous, these posters contain layers of social history and suggest connections to other peoples that are absent from mainstream and commercial culture.
Making use of history as a lever for real change requires strategies for its dissemination.  Our approach has been to use our relationships with schoolteachers, unions, and community organizations to distribute the work that we produce.  These networks are also the source for information on the needs of the people at the front.  Organizing seeds have a hard time growing in hostile soil.  Tending to the cultural soil of the workplace, community, and broader society is a long-term and essential element in any strategy for change.



Jenn Nichols, Michigan State University, Keeping Up with the Joadses: Working-Class Culture, Anti-Globalization, and Romantic Anthropology

This paper focuses on the issue of "passing" from one class to another and the pop-culturization of the symbols of working-class lived experiences as articles of cultural cache among the bourgeoisie.  Drawing on a variety of popular textual representations of labor, migrancy, and mobility, I examine the ways in which middle-class America, particularly its youth, is colonizing the signifying elements of working-class life to render them meaningless as points of identification and solidarity.  From the popularity of blue-collar clothing such as Carharrt to a magazine article pitching migrant farm labor as an "off-beat travel experience" for recent college graduates, the very sites -- labor, uniform clothing, forced (im)mobility -- that traditionally represent class oppression to working-class subjects are being recast(e) as sites of freedom from oppression, namely, the stifling un-hipness of being middle-class.

The recent rounds of activism against the IMF, WTO, and the World Bank have helped to foster another cycle of class awareness in this country as middle-class college students from across the nation join with union members and other blue-collar workers in protest against the destructive forces of global capital.  How sensitive this awareness is to the realities of living in one class or another (or in the liminal spaces between) is the subject of my exploration.  Do popular culture trends that draw on working-class experiences yield new understandings of America's class system?  Or are we simply witnessing the imperialistic recoding of class symbols for the enjoyment of the consumer market?  This paper will look at the history of class colonization that cyclically produces the nation's pop culture trends.  It seems that the class awareness that makes appreciating working-class culture possible simultaneously allows its significance to be forgotten all too easily by those whose blue collars are only this year's fashion trend.



Bob Niemi, St. Michael's College, Imaging Working-Class Lives in Hollywood Film

This paper (which is part of a larger project) constitutes a brief and selective historical survey of cinematic representations of the American working class from 1940 to the present. My thesis is this that Hollywood has tended to produce an ambiguous and conflicted representation of working-class people and working class lives: a mixture of reverence, pity, and condescension. Such a representation is in keeping with the paradoxical nature of "American Dream" ideology, which, on the one hand, refuses to admit the reality of class stratification but, on the other hand, must at least implicitly acknowledge class in order to affirm the virtues that allow for upward mobility. Furthermore, when Hollywood isn't caricaturing working people as dimwitted bumpkins it routinely uses a subliminal class discourse to flatter its working class audience by contrasting perceived proletarian traits (e.g., honesty, willingness to work hard, group and family solidarity, etc.) with the decadence of the wealthier classes while also taking pains to emphasize the drudgery of working-class life. Films to be examined include The Grapes of Wrath (1940); Mildred Pierce (1945) Marty (1955); Joe (1970); Five Easy Pieces (1970); The Last Picture Show (1971); Woman Under the Influence (1974); Car Wash (1975); Rocky (1976); The Deer Hunter (1977); Alien (1979); School Ties (1982); Places in the Heart (1984); Tin Men (1987); River's Edge (1987); Stand and Deliver (1988); Stanley & Iris (1990); City of Hope (1991); Night on Earth (1991); Boyz N the Hood; (1992); Do the Right Thing (1992); King of the Hill (1993); A Bronx Tale (1993); Nobody's Fool (1994); A Simple Plan (1997); Affliction (1997).



Sharon O'Dair, University of Alabama, Is the College Classroom a Space for Working-Class Activism?

For many, the answer to the question posed in my title is quite obvious:  of course the college classroom is a space for working-class activism.  But I'd like to contest, or at least problematize, the obvious by focusing on what seems to me a contradiction in many of the essays to be found in part one of Sherry Linkon's fine collection, Teaching Working Class.  This contradiction appears in the contributors' responses to the question, "toward what end are we easing or students' transition to higher education by engaging in counter-hegemonic pedagogy?"  As Ann E. Green asks, "Do we want our working-class students to become bourgeois?  Do we want our "bourgeois" students to drop out of school and experience a less privileged life?" (16).  It seems that many of the contributors DO and yet DO NOT want their students to become bourgeois--they want to ease their transition and they want them to succeed in the middle-class (or, as I like to say, the upper middle-class) institutions of higher education, but at the same time, they seem not to want them to accept the norms of those institutions--standard English, taste, manners.  Indeed, many of the contributors want to change the academy, and turn it into a working-class institution.

About the above, I'd like to make three points. First, the contributors seem to be talking not about new definitions of what it means to be bourgeois but about a delaying strategy, the result of their students' not having been taught in high school or earlier that standard English, for example, is an essential tool for most forms of upward mobility in this society.

Second, as a result of or possibly as an alternative to, this delaying strategy--and of thinking, I guess, that nothing can be done to change it, that nothing can be done to strengthen the high schools, for instance, and to give them back their job--many of the contributors want to change the academy, to make it a working-class institution.  For me, this is a scary proposition; for some of you it may not be, but for me it is.

Third, I cannot but wonder what working-class students think about turning institutions of higher education into working-class institutions. As many essays in Teaching Working Class make clear, the vast majority of working-class students are in college because they want a better life and upward mobility.  They perceive higher education as a way to achieve such goals, and that perception is rooted in their understanding that higher education will help them to perform better in the weird bourgeois or professional worlds that await them.  Delaying further their transition to those worlds, until, perhaps they are already in them, would seem irresponsible and antithetical to their ambitions.  Finally, I cannot but wonder what are the implications of turning institutions of higher education into working-class institutions for those students who, as Ann Aronson points out in her important contribution to Teaching Working Class, have discovered or will soon discover that a college degree is no guarantee of upward mobility?  For students who will not experience upward mobility, what is the point of attending a specifically working-class institution of higher education?



Mary O'Quinn, The University of Virginia College at Wise, The Appalachian Coal Miner and the Coal Camp: An Oral History of Clinch, Virginia

Few middle class workers experience the danger and deprivation associated with coal mining.  Each morning, as a coal miner leaves his home, both he and his family are uncertain about his safe return.  Many miners are killed or crippled in the mines.  Others contract Black Lung Disease.  This research uses qualitative methods to describe ways in which coal miners interpret their experiences when immersed in an industry based on the exploitation of the worker, the environment, and the culture.   That is, the research attempts to address the miners' construction of reality in the coal camps of Appalachia.  To accomplish this, three theoretical perspectives are used: Colonization Theory (Lewis, 1972), Social Capital Theory (Couto, 1999), and Merton's theory of Anomie (1968).  Across several data collection methods, unstructured interviews, secondary analysis of historical data, and observations, each theoretical perspective is applied.  Findings are presented in terms of how the coal miner describes his reality.  Photographs, mountain music, and artifacts help to make this reality more understandable.

This research is supervised by Dr. Mary O'Quinn and conducted by both Dr. O'Quinn and her students.  Students include: Hope Perkins, Phillip Reece, Brandy Moore, Miranda Robinson, Lydia Dorton, Kelly Whited, Chasity Clark, Kristy Skeens, and Ryan Mullins.  All students are from the coal fields of Appalachia.