restricted access 13. Martin Foran and the Creation of Cleveland's Labor Movement
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n 1886, Martin Foran praised the potential of the United States. For him, the nation, guided by the hand of God, promised unbounded opportunity and the chance for men to rise and fall on their own merit. Unlike Europeans, Americans were unencumbered by restrictions of class, and Foran looked forward to the day when only “the natural differences between men” determined success and status. The only impediment to this was the “wage system,” which Foran considered “a species of slavery, in some respects more galling than chattel slavery.” Historically, white American men saw wage labor as a temporary condition that allowed them to save enough money to buy a farm or tools and a shop with which to support a family. They considered such economic independence to be the cornerstone of American democracy. Only those who were economically independent could be free to exercise their franchise free of coercion. But after the Civil War, wage labor and dependence became a permanent condition for an increasing number of American workingmen. Corporations, which pooled resources of investors, began replacing individual entrepreneurs and family partnerships as the primary owners of U.S. industry . With access to capital and labor saving machinery, corporations often drove small competitors out of business and forced wages down. Foran feared that large corporations and the wage system were creating a class of workmen who did not have the opportunity to rise and fall on their own merits or achieve economic independence. To overcome the wage system and check the increasing power of corporations, Foran proposed that businesses adopt “profit sharing” arrangements in which a portion of the profits was set aside for the workers’ benefit. Such arrangements would ensure that workers 13 164 Martin Foran and the Creation of Cleveland’s Labor Movement MICHAEL PIERCE  I vantne_3rd_chap13.qxd 11/10/2003 3:31 PM Page 164 would profit from the wealth that they had produced and provide opportunities for their families. If corporations proved reluctant to share profits with their workers, Foran called for “collective ownerships in the great engines of production and agencies of distribution.” Foran was not some socialist crank who had read a few tracts by Marx when he wrote these words. He was serving the second of his three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. His election symbolized the fear that many Cleveland workingmen had of industrial corporations during the Gilded Age and the growing power of labor organizations in Ohio politics. Foran was born on November 11, 1844, in Choconut Township in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. His parents had migrated to Susquehanna County in the 1820s or 1830s from south-central New York as part of a contingent of Irish-Catholic canal laborers recruited by land speculators to settle the area. Little else is known about his father, James; his mother, Catherine O’Donnell; or his many brothers and sisters. Foran spent his first sixteen years on the family’s farm where his father taught him the rudiments of coopering, or barrel 165 MARTIN FORAN FIG. 9 Martin Foran. Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society. vantne_3rd_chap13.qxd 11/10/2003 3:31 PM Page 165 making. Like many farmers, James Foran did not rely solely on agricultural pursuits to provide for his family. During the winter and slack times, Foran and his sons produced barrels, which area farmers used to ship their goods to market. In the winter, young Foran attended a county school where he picked up basic grammar and mathematics, but most of his learning took place outside the classroom. In the early 1870s, Foran wrote The Other Side, a novel loosely based on his life, in which he suggested that the local school was neither rigorous nor inviting for a poor, yet talented, farm boy. Like his alter ego, Richard Arbyght, Foran was frustrated by the slow pace of learning and “devoured all of the books, papers and periodicals that came in his way.” At sixteen, Foran enrolled in St. Joseph’s College in nearby Montrose, Pennsylvania. Despite its name, the small Catholic school was little more than a glorified high school that prepared students to become teachers. Foran completed St. Joseph’s two-year course and began teaching school in the fall of 1862. Not much is known about his stint as a teacher, but that he would later give up teaching for coopering suggests that he did not consider it to be a rewarding career. In February 1864, nineteen-year-old Foran resigned his teaching position and...


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