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Making the World Safe for Workers

Making the World Safe for Workers: Labor, the Left, and Wilsonian Internationalism

Elizabeth McKillen
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Making the World Safe for Workers
    Book Description:

    In this intellectually ambitious study, Elizabeth McKillen explores the significance of Wilsonian internationalism for workers and the influence of American labor in both shaping and undermining the foreign policies and war mobilization efforts of Woodrow Wilson's administration. McKillen highlights the major fault lines and conflicts that emerged within labor circles as Wilson pursued his agenda in the context of Mexican and European revolutions, World War I, and the Versailles Peace Conference. As McKillen shows, the choice to collaborate with or resist U.S. foreign policy remained an important one for labor throughout the twentieth century. In fact, it continues to resonate today in debates over the global economy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the impact of U.S. policies on workers at home and abroad.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09513-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    MANY STUDENTS OF U.S. HISTORY AND politics are likely familiar with President Woodrow Wilson’s famous pledge to make the world “safe for democracy” during World War I. Far fewer are aware that Wilson viewed the cooperation of the United States and international labor movements as critical to achieving this goal. To win domestic and international labor support for his foreign policies, Wilson solicited the help of the leaders of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). This book traces the partnership that developed between President Wilson and AFL leaders from its tentative beginnings during policy deliberations over how the United States...

  5. Part I Mexico and the Western Hemisphere

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 20-22)

      President Wilson is perhaps best remembered for his policies toward World War I and his role in creating the League of Nations at Versailles. Yet he first cut his diplomatic teeth on foreign policies toward the Western hemisphere and developed many of his ideas about collective security and self-determination while trying to forge closer relations with Latin America. Renouncing both the “Big Stick” and “Dollar Diplomacy” policies of his predecessors, Wilson initially sought to encourage a new spirit of Pan-Americanism based on the ideals of national equality and mutual cooperation. One of the problems with the Monroe Doctrine, Wilson proclaimed,...

    • 1 The Mexican Revolution as Catalyst
      (pp. 23-50)

      IN THE SPRING OF 1914, two dramatic events dominated the U.S. labor and Socialist press and illustrated compellingly the ways in which the class struggle in the United States was related to the social and political upheaval that had been occurring in Mexico since 1910. On April 20, in the small town of Ludlow, Colorado, a dispute between the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company triggered a violent attack by national guardsmen on a tent colony constructed to house miners’ families after they were evicted from their company-owned homes. Guardsmen fired indiscriminately into...

  6. Part II World War I and the U.S. Labor Debate over Neutrality and Preparedness

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 52-55)

      Only a few short months separated the Wilson administration’s occupation of the Mexican port of Veracruz from the outbreak of war in Europe during the late summer of 1914. A seemingly minor incident precipitated the so-called “Great War.” On June 28, 1914, an assassin apparently linked to a Slavic nationalist group gunned down Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne of Austria-Hungary. The assassination set in motion two alliance systems that had been created by the European powers to defend their international interests and empires: the Triple Alliance, that included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, and the Triple Entente comprised...

    • 2 The Outbreak of World War I and the Socialist “War on War”
      (pp. 56-90)

      ON AUGUST 8, 1914, only a few days after European powers declared war against one another, a remarkable mass protest meeting staged by the New York and New Jersey Socialist Parties attracted over ten thousand Socialists and trade unionists to Union Square in New York City despite “broiling” hot weather. Troubled by the apparent breakdown of international labor solidarity in Europe, the organizers took pains to include speakers from “every nation now in arms in Europe,” including “Russians, Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Italians, Austrians, Poles, and Scandinavians,” who addressed the audience in multiple languages. Most speakers blamed the capitalist quest for...

    • 3 Antiwar Cultures of the AFL, the Debate over Preparedness, and the Gompers Turnabout
      (pp. 91-122)

      IN THE AUTUMN OF 1915, the Seattle Central Labor Council (SCLC), an AFL affiliate, considered an unusual issue at its weekly meetings. Ordinarily such meetings were dominated by discussions of how to promote union organizing campaigns, resolve jurisdictional disputes between local unions, or assist in area strike activities. But during September, students from the University of Washington testified before the council on the introduction of compulsory military training into the university curriculum. E. P. Marsh, president of the Washington State Federation of Labor, argued that the issue fell within the purview of the SCLC and state labor movement because state...

  7. Part III U.S. Belligerency

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 124-127)

      Although Wilson was reelected in late 1916 in part on the strength of his antiwar platform, he declared war against Germany less than six months later. Two developments precipitated his decision. On January 31, 1917, Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare against all vessels found in British waters. Wilson responded by severing diplomatic relations with Germany. Yet German leaders, convinced that they could win the war in six months by unleashing their U-boats, failed to alter course; multiple American ships were sunk in British waters over the next few months. Second, in late February, British officials gave to the Wilson administration...

    • 4 Dialectical Relationships: Collaboration and Resistance in Wartime
      (pp. 128-151)

      IN THE SPRING OF 1917, AFL Vice President James Duncan, a former granite cutter of humble Scottish immigrant origins, took the trip of a lifetime at U.S. government expense. Appointed by President Wilson as an “envoy extraordinary” to a diplomatic mission that visited Russia in the wake of the March revolution that overthrew the Czar, Duncan and other members traveled by ship across the Pacific to the port of Vladivostok, and then by train across Siberia to Petrograd and Moscow. Chaired by “Broadway” capitalist and longtime statesman Elihu Root, the commission represented a cross section of prominent Americans supportive of...

    • 5 The AFL, International Labor Politics, and Labor Dissent in 1918
      (pp. 152-176)

      DURING FEBRUARY OF 1918, Samuel Gompers and William English Walling sent a long memo to President Wilson warning of a significant new threat to the Allied war effort: the spreading contagion of Bolshevism and German minority socialism. They argued that, although the American policy of encouraging Socialist and progressive forces in Germany to overthrow the government was understandable, a revolution there would likely prove “abortive” due to the control that the military autocracy exercised over the flow of information and the population. By contrast, Bolshevist and Socialist revolutionary tendencies were fanning the flames of pacifism and labor unrest in the...

  8. Part IV Versailles and Its Aftermath

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 178-180)

      Two types of peace gatherings, suggests Alan Dawley, took place in Europe during the first half of 1919: the “official meeting of diplomats at the old Bourbon Palace of Versailles,” and the “unofficial gatherings of people’s representatives, most of whom were not welcome in Paris and had to find someplace else to meet.” Among those groups that sent representatives to Paris but were denied entry to the peace conference were women’s rights organizations, the NAACP and Pan African Congress, labor and Socialist organizations, and a host of anticolonial nationalists—ranging from Ho Chi Minh, to Emir Faisal and Colonel T....

    • 6 Making the World Safe for Workers? The AFL, Wilson, and the Creation of the ILO at Versailles
      (pp. 181-207)

      IN EARLY DECEMBER 1918, the diplomat Raymond Fosdick related to President Wilson an interesting personal anecdote about working-class hopes and dreams on the eve of the Versailles Conference. Fosdick was taking a cab to the New York ferry at 6 A.M. when he noticed hundreds of working men and women, who were identified by his cab driver as sweatshop workers, getting off the ferry boat and “hurrying . . . away into the darkness” to find other transportation that would take them to their destinations. Fosdick subsequently spoke to one of the men as he bought a paper and asked...

    • 7 U.S. Labor Irreconcilables and Reservationists and the Founding ILO Conference in Washington, D.C., November 1919
      (pp. 208-240)

      INCLUDED IN THE BRITISH DELEGATION THAT traveled to the founding convention of the ILO in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1919 was George Barnes, the British architect of the initial plan for the ILO. In his memoirs, Barnes would write of his experiences that “we were received very coldly in Washington.” In part, Barnes blamed the frosty reception on President Wilson’s stroke, for it was Wilson who first extended the invitation for the international conference to meet in the United States. Barnes also noted the irony that the United States could not officially participate in the conference because the...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 241-246)

    THE SENATE’S FINAL REJECTION OF THE Treaty of Versailles brought to an end the eight-year war of position waged among U.S. labor and Socialist groups in an effort to influence the Wilsonian international agenda. No clear winners emerged from the war; it ended in stalemate. Although the AFL clearly enjoyed more direct influence within the Wilson administration, labor and Left opponents of Wilson’s foreign policies retained their own residuals of power that, when combined with those of the political Right, successfully defeated the administration’s foreign policy programs as they were embodied in the Versailles Treaty. Yet no single labor or...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 247-286)
  11. Abbreviations and Primary Sources
    (pp. 287-292)
  12. Index
    (pp. 293-299)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-306)