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Texas Labor History Study Group | Readings and Study Questions

This is a 4-week reading and discussion group designed for organizers and union members to establish an understanding of the history of labor struggles in Texas. In our current social and political climate of “business friendly” Texas, working class people are disconnected from this forgotten/erased tradition of workers’ organizing to improve conditions. 

The goal is to give participants a well-rounded background in the specifics of labor organizing history in Texas and to help them better understand the terrain of labor politics in the present. The major themes of the study series will include: how changes to the economy are always producing new organizing strategies; the importance of anti-racism in all labor struggles; the unique situation of Texas with strong Mexican and Black organizing traditions but also with racist unions; the role of the state, especially the Texas Rangers, in attacking labor struggles; and the history of socialist activism in Texas.

This course is based on the book, Texas Labor History, by James Maroney and Bruce Glasrud. Because of the coronavirus, not all chapters could be scanned as they appear in the original text, so wherever it was possible, the originally published version of the article/chapter was substituted for a chapter of the book. Bear with us, if you find yourself relying on different page numbers. You may find that you have to display your screen so that people know what passage you are thinking about.

It is important that people register here so that they can get the zoom link.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Snehal Shingavi (snehal100@hotmail.com), or Dave Pinkham (davepinkham@gmail.com).

You can find all of the available readings here, as well as a review of the book here. Study questions will be posted weekly – this week’s are at the bottom of the schedule below.

Schedule

Texas Exceptionalism? – April 16, 2020 | 7pm CST
Introduction, Chapter 1

Race, Nationality and Labor – April 23, 2020 | 7pm CST
Chapter 2, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 16

The Latinx Working Class – April 30, 2020 | 7pm CST
Chapter 10, Chapter 13, Chapter 15
Recommended (not required): Chapter 17, Chapter 18 

Socialists in Texas! – May 7, 2020 | 7pm CST
Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 14

Study Questions

Introduction:

  1. Maroney and Glasrud identify 5 misconceptions about labor history in Texas: that a viable labor movement never existed here; that racism and sexism prevent unions from forming here; that the opposition to unions is so strong that unions in Texas never stand a chance; that unions have never won here; and that unions and progressive organization have never been able to work well together. (Page 1)  Are they right that these are misconceptions?  Can you think of other misconceptions that people have about the labor movement in Texas?
  2. M and G (shorthand now) make mention of the complicated relationship between racism and sexism in Galveston: where segregated workers not only fraternized with one another on the job but also met in non-segregated spaces (like brothels, which also employed white, free black, and slave women). Can you think of other kinds of race, class, and gender mixing that happen today? For example, students in a classroom my be integrated but sit at tables that are segregated and later play sports that are integrated.
  3. M and G also explain that Texas was once a hotbed for various reform organizations: the Greenback Party, the Farmers’ Alliances, the Farmers’ Union, the Populist Party, the Texas Socialist Party, and others.  Can you think of other progressive reform organizations that have made a dent in Texas?
  4. M and G hint at the difficulties that farmers’ groups and unions had in successfully coming together.  Can you think of current coalitions that face challenges in uniting with labor?  Can you think of successes?
  5. M and G talk about several moments when gains made by labor were quickly taken back.  What are some of their examples?  What are some that have happened in our moment?
  6. One of the biggest reasons that unions faced challenges in Texas was not only local law enforcement, but the coordination between the Governor, business, and especially the Texas Rangers to prevent strikes from succeeding. What challenges do state authorities pose against unions today?
  7. Finally, it’s clear that the introduction was written while Obama was President, because the authors point to renewed hopes for New Deal.  Why didn’t those materialize? What challenges did labor face then that we face now?

Chapter 1:

  1. There are several kinds of workers’ associations that are described by James Reese.  Describe them.  What did they do that was different than what modern-day unions do?
  2. What separated the labor associations of the antebellum (pre-1870) from the post-Civil War period (post-1870) when it comes to labor organizing?  Reese describes one main change—what is it?
  3. Reese ends on a rather pessimistic note (that labor organizing accomplished nothing in the period from 1838 to 1876).  Can you use his own evidence against his conclusion?  What were some important or exciting things that happened in Texas during this period?

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