Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sobel Wiki: Don't mourn, organize!

The major articles in the Sobel Wiki can be roughly divided into two categories, which might be called longitudinal and latitudinal. Latitudinal articles are generally about people or events, such as Ezra Gallivan or the Rocky Mountain War, and go into great detail (preferably as much detail as Sobel provides) on a limited period of time. Longitudinal articles are generally about places or organizations, such as Manitoba or the National Financial Administration, that are woven through For Want of a Nail like threads through a tapestry. This week's featured article is a longitudinal one on the labor union.

As I note in the article, all of the labor unions that Sobel mentions by name arise in the Confederation of North America. Partly this is due to the fact that the C.N.A. industrializes earlier, and to a much greater extent, than the United States of Mexico. Partly it is also due to the fact that Kramer Associates' control of the political system in the U.S.M. after 1869 would have ensured that no labor unions would develop there (Sobel specifically states that by the 1890s Mexico had no labor unions). Alt-Sobel, who tends to both glorify and whitewash K.A., never specifically connects K.A.'s political and economic power to the absence of unions in the U.S.M., but it isn't hard to imagine Bernard Kramer and Diego Cortez y Catalán engaging in union-busting, the former with his characteristic ruthlessness, the latter relying on Benito Hermión's Constabulary agents.

In the C.N.A., Sobel mentions textile workers organizing a union in Massachusetts in 1826, and the mill owners quickly crushing it. The first union to be mentioned by name is the Grand Consolidated Union, an early one-big-union established in 1835 and ruthlessly crushed by Henry Gilpin in the winter of 1840-41. Sobel then mentions three more unions being established after the Rocky Mountain War and gaining considerable political influence. A union official is elected to the Grand Council in 1893 and becomes the leader of the radical wing of the People's Coalition. An organization called the Workers' Army forms part of the League for Brotherhood in the early 1920s.

And that's it. Apart from that one brief reference to the Workers' Army, all of Sobel's labor history is confined to the 19th century. A comparable history of the USA would mention the United Autoworkers sit-down strike against G.M. in 1937, the A.F.L.'s split with the C.I.O. in 1938, and the merger of the two in 1955. Of course, both Sobel and alt-Sobel were business historians, and Nail reflects that, with much more space being given over to business history and the N.F.A. than to labor history.