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Texas Labor History

Bruce A. Glasrud

Publication Year: 2013

Too often, observers and writers of Texas history have accepted assumptions about labor movements in the state—both organized and not—that do not bear up under the light of careful scrutiny. Offering a scholarly corrective to such misplaced suppositions, the studies in Texas Labor History provide a helpful new source for scholars and teachers who wish to fill in some of the missing pieces.

Tackling a number of such presumptions—that a viable labor movement never existed in the Lone Star State; that black, brown, and white laborers, both male and female, were unable to achieve even short-term solidarity; that labor unions in Texas were ineffective because of laborers’ inability to confront employers—the editors and contributors to this volume lay the foundation for establishing the importance of labor to a fuller understanding of Texas history. They show, for example, that despite differing working conditions and places in society, many workers managed to unite, sometimes in biracial efforts, to overturn the top-down strategy utilized by Texas employers.

Texas Labor History also facilitates an understanding of how the state’s history relates to, reflects, and differs from national patterns and movements. This groundbreaking collection of studies offers notable opportunities for new directions of inquiry and will benefit historians and students for years to come.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University

Front Cover

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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Our greatest debt is owed to the contributors to this volume; without their dedication to the cause of the working-class majority of this state and nation, this work would not have been possible. The encouragement, suggestions, and enthusiasm of a number of scholars for this project, including several not among...

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Introduction. The Neglected Heritage of Texas Labor

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pp. 1-25

The history of organized labor movements in Texas is too often overlooked or ignored by observers and writers of Texas history, many of whom hold inaccurate or false views about Texas unionists. This has led to a number of misconceptions. First is the presumption that a viable labor movement never existed in the Lone...

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Chapter 1. The Early History of Labor Organizations in Texas, 1838–1876

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pp. 27-45

Until the development of eff ective railway transport in the 1870s, there was little in the Texas economy or society conducive to the development of labor organizations. Outside the port towns of Galveston and Houston, which developed relatively diversified economies even before the Civil War, the economy...

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Chapter 2. On Empire’s Shore: Free and Unfree Workers in Galveston, Texas, 1840–1860

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pp. 47-63

During the summer of 1854 the editor of a Texas newspaper wrote in anguish that dances attended by blacks and working-class whites were common in the state’s larger cities and that anyone observing such an event “almost imagines himself in the land of amalgamation, abolition meetings, and women’s rights...

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Chapter 3. The Cowboy Strike of 1883 Its Causes and Meaning

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pp. 65-78

In the two decades that followed the Civil War, the open-range cattle industry dominated the Great Plains, then died and was replaced by enclosed range ranching and stock farming. In Texas the movement to enclose the range began in earnest in the early 1880s and was completed by 1890. During this transitional...

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Chapter 4. The Radical Potential of the Knights’ Biracialism: The 1885–1886 Gould System Strikes and Their Aftermath

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pp. 79-107

In 1941 an elderly white socialist named Patrick Cassidy wrote to Ruth Allen, a historian of the Southwest railway strike of 1886. Cassidy had participated in that strike under the leadership of District Assembly 101 of the Knights of Labor, along with thousands of other railroad workers on Jay Gould’s Southwest...

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Chapter 5. “Underground Patriots”: Thurber Coal Miners and the Struggle for Individual Freedom, 1888–1903

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pp. 109-139

In January 1945, as Allied forces pushed into Germany, Gomer Gower reminisced about his turn-of-the-century experiences as resident, worker, and labor activist in Thurber, Texas, a coal-mining town owned and actively operated by the Texas and Pacific Coal Company from 1888 through the 1920s. Alluding to...

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Chapter 6. The Gospel of Wealth Goes South: John Henry Kirby and Labor’s Struggle for Self-Determination, 1901–1916

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pp. 141-152

In his American Conservatism in the Age of Enterprise, 1865–1910, Robert G. McCloskey contends that society’s acceptance of the doctrines of Social Darwinism and laissez-faire economics ultimately and inevitably turned the democratic faith upside down. That is, property rights supplanted human rights as the...

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Chapter 7. Tenant Farmer Discontent and Socialist Protest in Texas, 1901–1917

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pp. 153-172

The tenant farmer discontent and socialist protest that developed in Texas during the 1910s grew out of the terrible depression of the early 1890s, which caused thousands of small farm owners throughout the South to lose their land and fall into tenant farming. At first, academic experts thought this situation...

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Chapter 8. The Texas-Louisiana Oil Field Strike of 1917

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pp. 173-183

By World War I, labor unions were beginning to make significant progress in the South, an area experiencing dramatic developments in manufacturing. Although most Americans balked at mass unionism until the 1930s, skilled craftsmen in the South, like their counterparts in the rest of the nation, frequently...

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Chapter 9. Opening the Closed Shop: The Galveston Longshoremen’s Strike of 1920–1921

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pp. 185-217

These stanzas illustrate the frustration of the island’s coastwise longshoremen in late June 1920—on strike for a 25 percent wage increase since March 19. Day after day, hundreds of strikebreakers worked an increasing number of ships tied up along the docks of the Morgan Line and Mallory shipping companies. No...

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Chapter 10. Tejana Radical Emma Tenayuca and the San Antonio Labor Movement during the Great Depression

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pp. 219-243

In the 1930s Mexican Americans fought their first major battles for worker rights and racial equality when they joined the revitalized labor movement.1 In many instances of labor upheaval on farms, at mine sites, and in factories in the United States, Spanish-speaking workers took the lead. They created separate...

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Chapter 11. Unionizing the Trinity Portland Cement Company in Dallas, Texas, 1934–1939

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pp. 245-266

In 1934–35 Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration confronted a direct challenge to Section 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in Dallas, Texas. A local panel of the National Labor Relations Board—established by the president through power given him by a congressional resolution in June...

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Chapter 12. Discord in Dallas Auto Workers, City Fathers, and the Ford Motor Company, 1937–1941

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pp. 267-279

As auto workers and other factory laborers joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) by the millions in the late 1930s, the workforce at the Ford Motor Company in Dallas was not involved in the process—even though local headlines in 1937 indicated that there were considerable labor diffi culties...

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Chapter 13. Texas Homeworkers in the Depression

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pp. 281-295

During the 1930s Texas homeworkers spent long hours bent over tedious tasks that earned them mere pennies a day. In San Antonio, described by a local labor paper as a “pesthole of low-paid labor,” social and economic conditions interacted to encourage the growth of industrial homework before and during the...

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Chapter 14. Black Texans and Theater Craft Unionism: The Struggle for Racial Equality

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pp. 297-314

The evolution of the small, craft -oriented, black-led labor union in an urbanindustrial setting is one of the more understudied aspects of American labor history. The struggle for black workplace rights was not unique to the unskilled, and the pervasiveness and infl uence of black labor extended beyond the ranks...

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Chapter 15. The Failed Promise of Wartime Opportunity for Mexicans in the Texas Oil Industry

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pp. 315-342

Mexicans came out of the Great Depression facing an unprecedented opportunity to improve their traditional position as low-wage labor and to alter the generational effects of prior occupational discrimination. The wartime rhetoric of democracy, public policy measures that prohibited discrimination by defense...

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Chapter 16. No Gold Watch for Jim Crow’s Retirement: The Abolition of Segregated Unionism at Houston’s Hughes Tool Company

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pp. 343-366

On July 1, 1964, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decertified the racially segregated Independent Metal Workers Union as the collective bargaining agent at Houston’s Hughes Tool Company. In a unanimous decision, the five-member board determined that the union had failed to fairly represent all...

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Chapter 17. “Better to Die on Our Feet than to Live on Our Knees”: United Farm Workers and Strikes in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1966–1967

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pp. 367-398

On June 29, 1967, four United States senators—Harrison Williams of New Jersey, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Paul Fannin of Arizona, and Ralph Yarborough of Texas—arrived at the steamy, isolated delta of the Lower Rio Grande Valley to hold hearings on recent farmworker strikes and resulting violence...

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Chapter 18. Adelante Compañeros: The Sanitation Worker’s Struggle in Lubbock, Texas, 1968–1972

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pp. 399-404

The 1960s turned into a decade of active involvement in the areas of politics and labor organization for the Mexican American population in Texas. As early as 1960 Mexican Americans were actively organizing “Viva Kennedy” Clubs throughout Texas. In Northwest Texas such clubs could be found in approximately...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 405-420


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pp. 421-424


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pp. 425-444

E-ISBN-13: 9781603449786
E-ISBN-10: 1603449787
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603449458

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: Index. Bib.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University