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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Social difference, community -building, and material social practice: Solidarity and diversity at the Ludlow tent colony, 1913-1914
by Reckner, Paul E., Ph.D., State University of New York at Binghamton, 2009, 582; 3372452
Abstract (Summary)

In 1913, coal miners in southern Colorado initiated a strike under the auspices of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The strike was brutally suppressed and the violence reached a crescendo during the little-known Ludlow Massacre of 20 April 1914. This struggle united workers of at least thirty-two ethnic, national, racial, and linguistic groups under the union's banner, and has become an exemplar of multi-ethnic working-class solidarity. Drawing on oral histories of survivors of the strike, and archaeological data from excavations at the site of the strikers' community known as the Ludlow tent colony, I explore the interplay of cultural diversity and solidarity.

Social difference played a critical role in structuring daily social life within the exclusively working-class community at the Ludlow, Colorado, tent colony. The study reveals the complexity of processes of social differentiation and community-building among strikers, and probes the extent and limits of solidarity within the community. Evidence of a high degree of unity among miners, who also expressed a strong investment in (and awareness of) ethnic distinctions, underscores the complex relationship between social difference and community. This "dialectic of difference" (in the sense of Laclau 1996) was manifest in social contexts of inter-ethnic interaction that incorporated ethnically-distinctive practices. These contexts simultaneously marked social difference and, in some cases, promoted shared experiences and community-building among the diverse strike colony population.

The research also critically examines the narrative of inter-ethnic unity that has become associated with the 1913-14 strike; the “we all got along” narrative. Close readings of first-person accounts of the life in the coal camps and tent colonies of southern Colorado reveal subtle forms of exclusion that held certain ethnic and racial groups at a distance from the general community of strikers. The nominally white European/Euro-American miners who made up the majority of oral history informants on the strike period deployed a shifting “circle of we” (in the sense of Di Leonardo 1998) that obscured lines of division within the coal mining community. The dynamics of difference and community among coal miners was also cross-cut by gender identities.

Finally, the project reveals the ambivalent attitudes to diversity held by Colorado's coal mining companies and the UMWA. Despite fundamental ideological differences, both organizations adopted surprisingly similar outlooks regarding ethnic/racial difference. The study examines continuities and contradictions in company- and union-sponsored Americanization programs, and their unintended effects on miners' solidarity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McGuire, Randall H.
Commitee: Bernbeck, Reinhard W., Quataert, Donald, Stahl, Ann B.
School: State University of New York at Binghamton
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, American history
Keywords: Coal mining, Colorado, Community, Historical archaeology, Labor history, Ludlow tent colony, Social difference
Publication Number: 3372452
ISBN: 978-1-109-36125-4
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