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International Socialism, Spring 1967


Philip Ralph

Tonypandy, USA


From International Socialism (1st series), No.28, Spring 1967, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Age of Industrial Violence, 1910-1915
Graham Adams Jr.
Columbia UP, 63s

Adams’ book is built around the activities and findings of the United States Commission on Industrial Relations, which was set up to investigate the causes of industrial violence at the beginning of the century. But the Commission is only the peg on which the author hangs his narrative studies of specific conflict situations.

Indeed, interest sags precisely in those chapters which describe the political manoeuvrings which surrounded the establishment and composition of the Commission. This is because Adams does not systematically clarify the clash of social and political interest groups which lay behind the opposition to the Commission and the disagreements as to its composition; that is the attitudes of different sections of employers and workers to each other and to the Government enquiry.

For the rest, the book gives fascinating insights into a series of labour, disputes, from (in the order they appear in the book) the dynamiting of the Times building in Los Angeles (1910), which spurred the Government to set up the enquiry, the silk workers’ strike in Paterson (1913), the New York garment workers’ struggle (1910) to the Colorado mining dispute (1913). All of these conflicts involved nothing more than basic trade-union demands: collective bargaining rights, the closed shop and so on. That they were accompanied by violence and the refusal of local magistrates to recognise the legality of picketing testifies to the virulence of class divisions in this period, as does the failure of the employers’ and union representatives on the Commission to agree on a common report.

The book is unsatisfactory only in so far as its terms of reference do not include a general introductory survey of the overall situation. The bitter struggles covered by the narrative therefore conceal the current decline of radical, militant industrial unionism (the IWW ‘Wobblies’) and the gradual softening of large-scale capitalism towards the conservative, moderate craft unions (the American Federation of Labour) who alone represented working-class interests on the Commission.

Although Adams adds to knowledge about the particular, rather than deepening understanding of the general, his book is both readable and worth reading.

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