The Great Industrial War: Framing Class Conflict in the Media, 1865-1950

The Great Industrial War: Framing Class Conflict in the Media, 1865-1950

The Great Industrial War: Framing Class Conflict in the Media, 1865-1950

The Great Industrial War: Framing Class Conflict in the Media, 1865-1950

Synopsis

The Great Industrial War, a comprehensive assessment of how class has been interpreted by the media in American history, documents the rise and fall of a frightening concept: industrial war. Moving beyond the standard account of labor conflict as struggles between workers and management, Troy Rondinone asks why Americans viewed big strikes as "battles" in "irrepressible conflict" between the armies of capital and labor- a terrifying clash between workers, strikebreakers, police, and soldiers.

Examining how the mainstream press along with the writings of a select group of influential reformers and politicians framed strike news, Rondinone argues that the Civil War, coming on the cusp of a revolution in industrial productivity, offered a gruesome, indelible model for national conflict. He follows the heated discourse on class war through the nineteenth century until its general dissipation in the mid-twentieth century. Incorporating labor history, cultural studies, linguistic anthropology, and sociology, The Great Industrial War explores the influence of historical experience on popular perceptions of social order and class conflict and provides a reinterpretation of the origins and meaning of the Taft-Hartley Act and the industrial relations regime it supported.

Excerpt

Is Class Conflict Growing and Is It Inevitable?” This was the question posed in 1907 by the American Sociological Society to a select group of social scientists and reformers for an upcoming issue of its scholarly imprint, American Journal of Sociology. At the bright dawn of the twentieth century, such a query might have seemed unduly negative. U.S. ports bustled with steamships pushing out finished goods to the rest of the world. the American presence abroad was strong and authoritative. the young country had recently become the wealthiest, most productive nation on the planet, producing more manufactures than its three nearest competitors combined. in fact, if placed in comparative perspective, America appeared to be an unstoppable engine of democratic industry. in the inimitable words of tycoon Andrew Carnegie, “The old nations of the earth creep on at a snail’s pace; the Republic thunders past with the rush of an express.”

And yet these were anxious times as well. With the passing of the agrarian America of wistful frontier myth, profound, troubling changes could be seen everywhere. Cities were crowded with “alien” non-English-speaking, non-Protestant immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. Massive factories dotted the countryside, belching out pillars of smoke and consuming immigrant labor and sooty coal. Distant, impersonal firms dominated the economy, with unseen corporate aristocrats pulling the levers of power. a serious bank panic burrowed into consumer confidence. Perhaps most alarmingly, if the newspapers were to be believed, the nation stood on the precipice of civil war.

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