Fragile Alliances: Labor and Politics in Evansville, Indiana, 1919-1955

Fragile Alliances: Labor and Politics in Evansville, Indiana, 1919-1955

Fragile Alliances: Labor and Politics in Evansville, Indiana, 1919-1955

Fragile Alliances: Labor and Politics in Evansville, Indiana, 1919-1955

Synopsis

How did the alliance between labor and the Democratic Party develop after the First World War? What role does Evansville play in an examination of this alliance? What was the impact of the alliance on U.S politics and society? These are some of the questions that Samuel W. White tackles in his book Fragile Alliances: Labor and Politics in Evansville, Indiana, 1919-1955.

Focusing on Evansville, Indiana, as a case study, White challenges traditional assumptions in the field, such as the following: labor has one political voice; labor is monolithic in electoral politics; the New Deal successfully reordered American society and politics. White examines the roles played by political repression, opposition by employers, and anticommunist forces within the community as well as the labor movement in undermining the labor-Democratic Party alliance in Evansville. He contends that by the 1950s, the impact of these forces blunted the potential of the labor movement and the Democratic Party to transform the political system by giving workers and their allies a permanent political space in electoral politics.

How did the alliance between labor and the Democratic Party develop after the First World War? What role does Evansville play in an examination of this alliance? What was the impact of the alliance on U.S politics and society? These are some of the questions that White tackles in his book Fragile Alliances: Labor and Politics in Evansville, Indiana, 1919-1955. Focusing on Evansville, Indiana, as a case study, White challenges traditional assumptions in the field, such as the following: labor has one political voice; labor is monolithic in electoral politics; the New Deal successfully reordered American society and politics. White examines the roles played by political repression, opposition by employers, and anticommunist forces within the community as well as the labor movement in undermining the labor-Democratic Party alliance in Evansville. He contends that by the 1950s, the impact of these forces blunted the potential of the labor movement and the Democratic Party to transform the political system by giving workers and their allies a permanent political space in electoral politics.

Much of the published literature on labor and politics in the U.S. is focused on national events and organizations that make labor appear as a monolith in electoral politics. White diverges from the national focus of the majority of this literature, instead looking at labor and politics at the local level. While much of the published literature argues that the alliance between labor and the Democratic Party in the 1930s was a formidable force that reordered American society and politics, White shows that in Evansville, the alliance was anything but that. Racked by political repression, opposition by employers, and anticommunist forces within the community and the labor movement itself, the alliance was remarkably fragile and incapable of sustaining the momentum it had established in the 1930s.

Excerpt

This study considers the history of labor and politics in Evansville, Indiana, during the tumultuous period in the United States following the First World War and ending in 1955 when the two national labor federations— the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)—merged. During this period, the modern labor movement in the United States matured to the point that it would survive as an important institution of American life, following a rather difficult birth. What follows is by no means a comprehensive history of Evansville politics during this period, nor is it a complete history of labor in the city. Rather, it attempts to capture the main contours of labor’s political position in the community over time by looking at the interplay of the principal actors in election politics: the political parties, labor organizations, employers, community groups, and local government. It is, in this sense, a local history, but one that reflects on larger discussions within the history of labor in the United States and the role that workers and their organizations play within the arena of electoral politics.

Evansville, one of Indiana’s oldest industrial centers, located on the banks of the Ohio River in the southwestern corner of the state, is an appropriate case study for an exploration of the relationship between labor and politics for several reasons. First, as a medium-sized city, Evansville is of a reasonable size for a twentieth-century case study, and sufficient enough in size to draw conclusions about the topic at hand. While historians of labor and politics have written many detailed community studies in the context of nineteenth-century America, few case studies exist for more modern considerations of labor and politics in the United . . .

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