Radicalism has been rampant in the U.S for many decades. The struggle for abolition of slavery, the battle for Reconstruction, and the subsequent victories were radical initiatives that led to the emergence of U.S multiracial labor movement (Smith xv)…
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Many historians and socialists like Karl Max and theories like the whiteness theory try to explain the place of the U.S. labor movement. Workers parties like the Socialist Party (SP) (Smith 69) and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were avenues of fostering the struggle. The flint sit-down strike of the General Motors workers is one of the greatest workers struggle (Smith 136).The struggle was characterized by a decline in the number of union members, reliance on institutionalized labor-management cooperation schemes by the labor officials, disorganization of non-union manufacturing and service sectors, and concession bargaining.
Smith made several arguments towards working-class radicalism in the US labor movement. She argues that the decline in union membership in 1940s and 1950s coincided with the resultant fall in working-class radicalism and McCarthyism where the highest levels of government-purged radicals from the labor movement thereby eliminating radical traditions in the working class (Smith 63). She equally argues that despite relatively higher wages and greater opportunities in the U.S, workers in the 19th and 20th centuries could venture in militancy and organization. Additionally, she argued that the three features of U.S. capitalist development that fueled industrial militancy and divided the US working class in the second half of the 19th century were individual, permanent, and not temporary (Smith 7). Smith also denotes that the early universal white male suffrage, immigration, and the expansion of the agro-industrial frontier are not the causes of the U.S. labor movement’s failure to create its own political party. Instead, she argues that reliance on political repression, high degree of racism and racial segregation, and the shared rule of the Democrats and Republicans, attribute to the failure of the U.S. labor movement to create its own political party. Indeed, she says racism considerably benefits the capitalist class and that the white workers have a mandate to fight racism. Smith argues that the postwar social contract that exchanged peace with rising wages and benefits largely led to rising working-class living standards but carried with it massive exploitation (Smith 208). Smith equally notes that the emerging bureaucracy of the industrial unions hindered industrial militancy and the movement for a labor party after 1936. The structural problems that the workers faced include the low-wage competition and the force refusal of the south workers to join the union, decline in union membership, and the establishment of a universal white male suffrage that denied all American women the right to the vote and all America’s Black population the rights of citizenship. Hence, the workers did not have a venue to air their democratic rights. Additionally, the migration to the Western frontier of the citizens who could have fought for better conditions, racial discrimination, segregation, and ethno-religious and cultural divisions were a structural problems in the workers struggle (Smith 7). Moreover, the political and ideological weaknesses of the Socialist Party and Industrial Workers of the World (Smith 88) were also problematic. Indeed, the IWW and other labor and political organizations fostered class battles between the unskilled black, the women workers, and immigrants. The formation of an organization was the best option since it would destroy existing class rule, establish a free society based on organization cooperation in production, organize education on equal basis, ensure free exchange of equivalent products without profit-mongery, and regulate all public and workers affairs (Smith xvi). The federal government suppressed the efforts of the working class to form an organization by using
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“Subterranean Fire by Shalon Smith Book Report/Review”, n.d. https://studentshare.org/sociology/1446212-subterranean-fire-by-shalon-smith.
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