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Uneasy Allies

Uneasy Allies: Working for Labor Reform in NineteenthCentury Boston

David A. Zonderman
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Uneasy Allies
    Book Description:

    Throughout the nineteenth century, workingclass activists and middleclass reformers in Boston strived to build alliances in the campaign for labor reform. Though some of these organizations have been familiar to historians for more than a century, this is the first study to trace these crossclass groups from their origins in the early 1830s to the dawn of the Progressive Era. In addition to analyzing what motivated these workers and reformers to create crossclass organizations, David Zonderman examines the internal tactical debates and external political pressures that fractured them, even as new alliances were formed, and shows how these influences changed over time. He describes what workers and reformers learned about politics and social change within these complex and volatile alliances, and speculates as to whether those lessons have relevance for activists and reformers today. What emerges from this investigation is a narrative of progress and decline that spans nearly threequarters of a century, as an evershifting constellation of associations debated the meaning of labor reform and the best strategy to secure justice for workers. But the quest for ideological consistency and organizational coherence was not easily achieved. By century's end, not only did Boston look dramatically different from its antebellum ancestor, but its labor reform alliances had lost some of their earlier openhearted optimism and stubborn resilience.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-055-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-24)

    From the early 1830s until the end of the nineteenth century, more than a dozen labor reform organizations emerged and later disappeared in the streets, halls, and tenements of Boston.¹ These groups brought together men and women from widely divergent economic and educational backgrounds—including ministers, “millgirls,” and machinists—to campaign for better working conditions and dignity for all who labored. This book is the first study to analyze comprehensively how these workers and reformers struggled to build cross-class labor reform alliances in a nineteenth-century American city. In particular, this monograph pursues fundamental historical questions about the impact of class,...

  6. Part I: 1830s–1870s

    • [Part I: Introduction]
      (pp. 25-26)

      BOSTON’S first cross-class labor reform organizations emerged in the early 1830s as alternatives to the city’s struggling trade unions and workingmen’s party, stagnated during the economic depression of the late 1830s, then reappeared with renewed vigor in the mid-1840s as part of a vibrant outpouring of reform enthusiasm. The early cross-class alliances debated fundamental questions concerning goals, strategies, and tactics, questions that the labor reform community would continue to wrestle with throughout the nineteenth century. Would labor reform be defined as immediate improvements in working conditions (especially the shorter workday), or as long-term change in the nation’s social structure? Would...

    • 1 AWAKENINGS The First Cross-Class Labor Reform Organizations, 1832–1848
      (pp. 27-63)

      On February 16, 1832, at the Marlborough Hotel on Washington Street in Boston’s central commercial district, “a General Convention of Mechanics and Working Men” met “to concentrate the efforts of the laboring classes, to regulate the hours of labor, by one uniform standard, to promote the cause of education and general information … and to maintain their rights, as American Freemen.” From this gathering of more than eighty “delegates,” the New En gland Association of Farmers, Mechanics, and other Working Men (NEA) emerged.¹

      At the NEA’s birth, Boston was a port city of more than 60,000 inhabitants, dominated by wharves...

    • 2 KEEPING THE FLAME ALIVE The Enduring Vision of Antebellum Labor Reform, 1848–1865
      (pp. 64-81)

      The year 1848 did not begin auspiciously for Boston labor reformers and activists. The Labor Reform League of New England (LRLNE), successor to the New England Workingmen’s Association (NEWA), ceased meeting after March. The Massachusetts legislature continued to turn back massive petition drives for a legal limit on the workday, and no other issue offered much hope of unifying an increasingly fragmented labor reform community.

      All was not lost for these determined campaigners, however. Reports of revolutionary activity in the capitals of Europe prompted sympathetic Bostonians to hold rallies supporting their compatriots across the Atlantic. Workers at one such meeting...

    • 3 ACTS OF COMMISSION Labor Reformers, Activists, and the Levers of Political Power, 1865–1870
      (pp. 82-113)

      The years 1865 to 1870 were a time of political reconstruction for the nation and of strategic reconstitution for labor reform organizations in Boston. As one observer noted: with “the breaking up of the rebellion and the return of the Grand Army of the Republic to the grand army of labor, from the process of destruction to the process of Production … the full force” of the labor reform campaign could be realized. The very concept of Reconstruction, as defined by labor reformers and activists, extended beyond legal reunification and embraced a restructuring of the nation’s economy and workplaces. With...

    • 4 THE GENERATION OF 1869 Two Leagues, a Bureau, and a Party
      (pp. 114-168)

      In 1869, as the nation continued to wrestle with fundamental legal and political questions surrounding Reconstruction, the Boston labor reform community exploded in a frenzy of organizing. Four new institutions formed, all in the closing year of that tumultuous decade. It was as if reformers and activists feared that the dawn of a new decade might push the emotional intensity of the Civil War years into a rapidly receding past, and diminish the enthusiasm for social change.

      Two of these new organizations—the New England Labor Reform League (NELRL) and the Boston Eight Hour League—stood on opposite sides in...

  7. Part II: 1870s–1900

    • [Part II: Introduction]
      (pp. 169-172)

      THE labor reform community in Boston confronted a rapidly changing city in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Boston’s population grew steadily and shifted in its ethnic composition from the Civil War to the end of the century. Fueled by ongoing inmigration from rural New England, the changing character of European immigration, and especially the annexation of surrounding towns, the city’s population more than doubled from about a quarter of a million in 1870 to over 560,000 in 1900. New arrivals from Ireland and England continued to stream through the port of Boston—by 1875, 60,000 foreign-born Irish and...

    • 5 PIETY AND PROTEST Labor Reform, Religion, and Mass Demonstrations, 1872–1898
      (pp. 173-211)

      In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, religion—particularly liberal Protestantism and its more daring off shoot, Christian Socialism—assumed a more prominent role than ever before in Boston’s labor reform community. In these same decades, deep economic downturns, open conflict between labor and capital, and spreading strike waves forced these new generations of sympathetic ministers and other religiously inspired activists to confront mass protest and its challenge to their ideals of Christian brotherhood and cross-class cooperation.

      The growing links between organized religion and Boston’s labor reform community were embodied first in the early 1870s by the young crusading...

    • 6 SPACES, PLACES, AND HEADQUARTERS Workers, Reformers, and the Search for Common Ground, 1879–1900
      (pp. 212-239)

      During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, many workers and reformers intensified their search for meeting places in Boston where they could gather on a regular basis to mobilize for social change. Ever since the Labor Reform Institute had set up Institute Hall in 1867, such sites had promoted cross-class dialogue and cooperation, organizational cohesion, and continuous political agitation beyond the more illusory enthusiasm generated by annual conferences and public rallies. Often combining the functions of a library, lyceum, and social hall, these labor reform centers strengthened the bonds of solidarity and helped attract new members to the...

    • 7 NEW MODELS FOR A NEW CENTURY Labor Reform and the Origins of the Progressive Movement, 1891–1900
      (pp. 240-260)

      In the 1890s, two emerging groups in Boston—the Anti–Tenement House League and the Consumers’ League of Massachusetts—stood at the crossroads of a new century, using both tactics inspired by past labor reform efforts and new techniques drawn from the emerging Progressive movement. But, faced with a burgeoning population of immigrant workers from eastern and southern Europe desperate for labor reform—thousands of men and women, speaking strange languages, who had odd customs and unusual religious practices—these organizations chose to shift away from cross-class alliances with shared leadership and toward more hierarchical associations rooted in elite economic...

    (pp. 261-264)

    Boston at the dawn of the twentieth century was certainly a different city in many respects from its antebellum ancestor. The previously modest-sized port had expanded nearly tenfold in population, and nearly thirty times in physical size. By 1900, immigrants and their children—many of them now Catholics and Jews from southern and eastern Europe—constituted nearly three-quarters of the city’s inhabitants. These newcomers often flooded into the cramped flats and boardinghouses of the South End and North End, and toiled long hours in nearby sweatshops, despite the efforts of tenement house opponents to stamp out such egregious working conditions....

    (pp. 265-266)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 267-306)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 307-312)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-314)