Proletarian Literature from the Bottom Up: Workers and Poetry during the Rise of the CIO


The largely forgotten poetry created by industrial workers during the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) is read against the poetry created by more professional poets associated with the movement for proletarian literature during the 1930s. Different sensibilities and sociopolitical content characterize the two literatures. Notably, the proletarian poets often depicted workers as downtrodden and alienated, crushed by capitalism, while the CIO poets privileged dignity, perseverance, and successful struggles against adversity. Both groups of poets also discuss work and labor differently. For example, the proletarians infrequently refer to the labor process, while the CIO writers highlight such work-related grievances as the fast pace of machinery and the Taylorized personnel practices of the large corporate firm.