This course examines the economic, cultural, and political lives of the US working class from the end of the Civil War to the present. Over the course of the semester, students will analyze how laboring women and men both shaped and were shaped by the rise of big business during the Gilded Age, the social upheavals of the World War I era, the economic hardships brought about by the Great Depression, the social policies of the New Deal, the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement, and continuing debates over the meanings of work, citizenship, and democracy. Significant attention will be given to the organizations workers created to advance their economic interests.
The course will explore the success and failures of the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Communist Party, the SEIU, and various Living Wage Coalitions, among other groups. A major issue to be explored in our discussions of working-class movements will be the ways in which laboring people have been divided along racial, gender, ethnic, and regional lines. Since working-class history is about more than the struggle of laboring people to improve their material condition, this course will also focus topics such as workers’ leisure activities, customs and thoughts, and religious beliefs.