Monday, February 08, 2016

What is Chad Pearson reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Chad Pearson, author of Reform or Repression: Organizing America's Anti-Union Movement.

His entry begins:
During the course of researching what became my book, I discovered that employers, all of whom wanted control over their workforces, could be rather violent. Several employers active in the turn-of-the-century anti-union open-shop movement were once active in Civil War-era vigilante organizations. For example, Wilbur F. Sanders, one of the leaders of the anti-union Citizens’ Industrial Association of America, served as the lawyer for the Montana Vigilantes in the 1860s. And N. F. Thompson, another prominent Progressive Era union opponent, had served in the Ku Klux Klan with Nathan Bedford Forrest while he lived in Middle Tennessee. More than three decade later, Thompson called for a “justifiable homicide law.” Thompson believed that employers and non-union workers deserved the right to murder union activists responsible for seeking to prevent strikebreakers from entering workplaces. One of my book’s themes explores the long history of employer violence.

Questions about labor-management tensions--and employers’ belligerency in particular-- continue to interest me, and I’m currently looking at underexplored events to better understand these questions. Rather than focus exclusively on the industrialized northeast or Midwest, I have been drawn to the nineteenth century South. Military conflicts offer some useful examples for scholars of labor and management. In recent years, a number of scholars have re-introduced readers to the important insights found in W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1935 Black Reconstruction, an outstanding class struggle study that takes seriously the agency of the close to four million slaves during the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. He famously calls their involvement “a general strike.” A number of terrific books, including David Roediger’s Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All, David Williams’s I Freed Myself: African Americans Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era, and...[read on]
About Reform or Repression, from the publisher:
Historians have characterized the open-shop movement of the early twentieth century as a cynical attempt by business to undercut the labor movement by twisting the American ideals of independence and self-sufficiency to their own ends. The precursors to today's right-to-work movement, advocates of the open shop in the Progressive Era argued that honest workers should have the right to choose whether or not to join a union free from all pressure. At the same time, business owners systematically prevented unionization in their workplaces.

While most scholars portray union opponents as knee-jerk conservatives, Chad Pearson demonstrates that many open-shop proponents identified themselves as progressive reformers and benevolent guardians of America's economic and political institutions. By exploring the ways in which employers and their allies in journalism, law, politics, and religion drew attention to the reformist, rather than repressive, character of the open-shop movement, Pearson's book forces us to consider the origins, character, and limitations of this movement in new ways. Throughout his study, Pearson describes class tensions, noting that open-shop campaigns primarily benefited management and the nation's most economically privileged members at the expense of ordinary people.

Pearson's analysis of archives, trade journals, newspapers, speeches, and other primary sources elucidates the mentalities of his subjects and their times, rediscovering forgotten leaders and offering fresh perspectives on well-known figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Louis Brandeis, Booker T. Washington and George Creel. Reform or Repression sheds light on businessmen who viewed strong urban-based employers' and citizens' associations, weak unions, and managerial benevolence as the key to their own, as well as the nation's, progress and prosperity.
Learn more about Reform or Repression at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

Writers Read: Chad Pearson.

--Marshal Zeringue