During the critical years of American industrialization and rising status as a world power, a great struggle unfolded in the United States over workers’ status as citizens and what rights their status entailed. The outcome of this struggle shaped and constrained what workers would achieve in twentieth-century America. Just as imperialism raised the question of whether “the Constitution followed the flag” abroad, industrial conflict in those years raised the question of whether the flag – and the Constitution it symbolized – would follow laboring men and women into workplaces, streets, homes, and interactions with employers and government authorities. This dissertation argues that labor conflicts in this period were frequently fought over the boundaries and content of working-class citizenship. However, by the dawn of the New Deal era, the right to organize had become narrowly defined as a matter of market regulation, not as a matter of constitutional principles.
This dissertation draws on the experiences of a wide range of workers to make its argument, including Japanese plantation laborers in Hawaii, agricultural workers along the U.S.-Mexico border, coal miners in Colorado, ore miners in the Midwest, and mill workers in the Northeast. Their struggles are situated in the context of a U.S. working-class undergoing rapid transformation, the expanding power and reach of the American state, and the simultaneous emergence of imperialism, racial segregation, and disenfranchisement that illuminated the limits of constitutional protection of the rights of those deemed non-white – as well as those who posed a threat to capitalist interests.
This dissertation demonstrates that the power of the state, primarily expressed through the courts, armies, and militias, was repeatedly deployed on behalf of employers to defeat the organizing efforts of workers, especially nonwhites and immigrants. Yet it also shows that workers repeatedly resisted repression from both employers and the state by claiming rights – whether or not they enjoyed the formal status of U.S. citizen. In doing so, they ultimately offered an alternative interpretation of the Constitution, influenced the New Deal, and created a more expansive vision of what citizenship should and could mean.
|Advisor:||McCartin, Joseph A.|
|Commitee:||Benton Cohen, Katherine, Chatelain, Marcia|
|School Location:||United States -- District of Columbia|
|Source:||DAI-A 79/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||American history, Labor relations|
|Keywords:||Citizenship, Constitution, Labor, Progressive, Working-class|
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