Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Great Industrial War

The Great Industrial War: Framing Class Conflict in the Media, 1865-1950

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 260
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Great Industrial War
    Book Description:

    The Great Industrial War,a comprehensive assessment of how class has been interpreted by the media in American history, documents the rise and fall of a frightening concept:industrial war.Moving beyond the standard account of labor conflict as struggles between workers and management, Troy Rondinone asks why Americans viewed big strikes as "battles" in "irrepressible conflict" between the armies of capital and laborùa terrifying clash between workers, strikebreakers, police, and soldiers.

    Examining how the mainstream press along with the writings of a select group of influential reformers and politicians framed strike news, Rondinone argues that the Civil War, coming on the cusp of a revolution in industrial productivity, offered a gruesome, indelible model for national conflict. He follows the heated discourse on class war through the nineteenth century until its general dissipation in the mid-twentieth century. Incorporating labor history, cultural studies, linguistic anthropology, and sociology,The Great Industrial Warexplores the influence of historical experience on popular perceptions of social order and class conflict and provides a reinterpretation of the origins and meaning of the Taft-Hartley Act and the industrial relations regime it supported.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4811-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: A Question of the Age
    (pp. 1-12)

    Is Class Conflict Growing and Is It Inevitable?” This was the question posed in 1907 by the American Sociological Society to a select group of social scientists and reformers for an upcoming issue of its scholarly imprint,American Journal of Sociology.¹ At the bright dawn of the twentieth century, such a query might have seemed unduly negative. U.S. ports bustled with steamships pushing out finished goods to the rest of the world. The American presence abroad was strong and authoritative. The young country had recently become the wealthiest, most productive nation on the planet, producing more manufactures than its three...

  5. 1 With Colors Flying: Strikes in Antebellum America
    (pp. 13-37)

    In 1806 a group of Philadelphia shoemakers, or “cordwainers,” found themselves on trial for conspiring to restrain trade. Responding to a recent wage reduction and lower pay scales than shoemakers received in other major cities, the journeymen cordwainers walked off the job in the winter of 1805–1806. The strike leaders were arrested immediately, and reports of the subsequent trial soon made their way into the local press. William Duane, editor of the radical-leaning newspaperAurora, made sure that the public received a sympathetic account of the affair.¹

    In a piece entitled “The Price of Labor” published immediately after the...

  6. 2 Drifting toward Industrial War: The Great Strike of 1877 and the Coming of a New Era
    (pp. 38-57)

    In the fourth year of America’s Civil War, William Sylvis, president of the Iron Molders’ International Union, addressed a group of laborites in upstate New York. Rejecting the older “harmony of interests” dictum, Sylvis told the audience that there in fact endured a “sort of irrepressible conflict” between employers and workers.¹ He had appropriated this phrase from the ongoing national discussion concerning the inevitability of the bloody sectional struggle. The notion of an unpreventable war between owners and workers resonated with his audience, a people accustomed to reading daily about great and bloody battles waged over the very definition of...

  7. 3 The March of Organized Forces: Framing the Industrial War, 1880–1894
    (pp. 58-89)

    In the decades that followed the Great Strike of 1877, the master frame of total war guided much of strike reportage. By the mid-1880s the public read daily how workers formed “ranks” and took to the “field” during work stoppages. Strikes became “movements” in an ever- advancing labor front. This front was never static; in more prosperous times industrial war coverage receded from the top headlines, only to reemerge during periods of uncertainty. Despite these ebbs and flows, the idea of industrial war remained a constant worry for Americans through the end of the nineteenth century. As corporations and unions...

  8. 4 The Emergence of the “Great Third Class”: The “People” and the Search for an Industrial Treaty
    (pp. 90-105)

    Escalating labor conflict in the 1890s reinforced popular fears of imminent, apocalyptic class war. For many reformers and editorialists, the answer to the problem of labor conflict rested in appeals to the “public,” a body that became a tentative player in strike analysis in the 1880s and to a much greater extent during the depression years of the 1890s. The widely discussed antagonistic division of capital and labor had done more than provide a foil against which reformers could articulate their ambitions; it drove a wedge of anxiety through the hearts of millions of Americans. Each national strike reinforced a...

  9. 5 The Fist of the State in the Public Glove: Federal Intervention in the Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 106-131)

    On August 31, 1910, in the opening effort of a new run for the highest office, Theodore Roosevelt gave a memorable speech entitled “The New Nationalism.” His speech was full of references to the Civil War, an event that Progressives had learned to enlist in the cause of social justice. He claimed that Lincoln, who had successfully “faced and solved the great problems of the nineteenth century,” also offered light on solving the major problem of the twentieth century. He quoted: “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have...

  10. 6 Co-opting the Combatants: Pluralism on the Front Lines
    (pp. 132-150)

    Like Frankenstein’s monster, “industrial war” would not go away, hulking into the twentieth century to frighten Americans with a foreboding message of capital-labor conflict. As strikes raged on and corporations and unions consolidated their power, industrial “battles” continued to occupy a central place in the popular imagination of social disorder. Then, in a development that has puzzled many since, class war slipped quietly from view, even as strike rates showed little evidence of decline.

    The causes of this disappearance are connected with the compelling fear generated by the war frame itself: grand battle inspired a demand for peace, and peace...

  11. 7 A Kind of Peace: The Advent of Taft-Hartley
    (pp. 151-165)

    Addressing a CIO convention on December 4, 1952, in Atlantic City to accept his new role as president of the organization, Walter Reuther spoke of a great war that was currently being waged on a global level. It was the “struggle in the world between freedom and tyranny.” Organized labor needed to be unified in this war, a struggle not against capital but rather against “hunger” and exploitation, against the “reactionaries in Wall Street” who used fear to their advantage. To “mobilize” itself for “victory” was the great challenge for organized labor in this postwar era, explained Reuther. That a...

  12. Conclusion: The End of Class Conflict?
    (pp. 166-172)

    In 1955Lifemagazine published an article entitled “New Affluence, Unity for Labor.” Accompanied by handsome, glossy images of orderly meetings, union leaders in business suits sitting beside comfy fireplaces or in glassy conference rooms, and a handy table of union progress over the decades, this remarkable article asserted that the age of violent class conflict was essentially over. “From its bloody beginnings,” the author intoned, “U.S. labor has in less than a century made progress as dramatic as the change of horse and carriage to jet transport.” With the help of responsible federal legislation and growing wealth, unionism had...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 173-212)
    (pp. 213-234)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 235-246)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-248)