The "Chinese Question" and American Labor Historians

ÁÎ×Ó¹â HenryC.K.Liu ¹ù¤l¥ú hliu at
Mon Jan 31 18:49:31 MST 2000

One hears echoes of the same refrain in the current AFL-CIO anti-China/WTO
I was banned from LBO-Talk as a result of flame war arising from my suggestion
that the sending of Chinese laborers as human detonators for dynamiting railraod
tunnels in the American West was racist.  Many on the list thought I was a
reverse racist and that that sort of thing happened to white immigrant workers as
well.  Many accused me of making up the stories.

Henry C.K. Liu

Michael Hoover wrote:

> > The "Chinese Question" and American Labor Historians
> > By Stanford M. Lyman
> > [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter 2000]
> > the Chinese worker.
> > Those who seek honor for a non-racist labor
> > heritage are led by the late Herbert Gutman and count among their number
> > Eric Arnesen, Bruce Laurie, Leon Fink, Alan Dawley, Alex Lichtenstein,
> > Daniel Letwin, and numerous other epigoni. Those who examine the patterns
> > and consequences of white working-class racism are a dissident element
> > among labor historians, and include Herbert Hill, Alexander Saxton, David
> > Roediger, Nick Salvatore, Noel Ignatiev, and Gwendolyn Mink, among others.
> > To this force and counterforce must now be added works addressing the role
> > of the Chinese workers and the anti-Chinese movement in the annals of
> > American labor history. In support of the followers of Gutman there has
> > recently appeared Andrew Gyory's Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the
> > Chinese Exclusion Act;
> > Gyory aims some of his most withering fire at Gwendolyn Mink. In 1986, Mink
> > had argued that white workers' support for Chinese exclusion had become "a
> > peculiar bridge between unionism and national politics." In Gyory's
> > opinion, Mink has erred most egregiously by "repeatedly stressing, with
> > virtually no original evidence, that workers in the eastern United States
> > backed the cries of their brethren in California and that their support for
> > Chinese exclusion thereby 'nationalized labor politics' "; however, even
> > worse, Gyory retorts, Mink has echoed "the work of [Alexander] Saxton and
> > [Herbert] Hill and anticipated that of [David R.] Roediger."
> > Louis Proyect
> Mink's 1986 _Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development:
> Union, Party, and State, 1875-1920_ focuses on ways in which organizational
> and political interests of AFL were mediated by national issue of
> immigration and links AFL response to immigration to its conservative
> stance in and toward politics.
> Her original evidence re. "Chinese Question" includes:
> *Democratic Party belief that labor electoral support required anti-
> Chinese position (New York Tribune, 19 April 1882 & 21 August 1882,
> Daily Alta California)
> *Gompers 1883 anti-Chinese testimony before US Senate (hearings
> published in 1885 as _Relations Between Capital and Labor_)
> * has become a solemn necessity on our part to protect the
> Caucasian race, against the intrusion of the Oriental people."
> (Democratic National Committee, _The Political Reformation of 1884:
> A Democratic Campaign Handbook_)
> *Cigar makers union anti-union activities against Chinese and
> recruitment of cigar makers from eastern states to California.
> (Walter Fong, "Chinese Labor Unions," _Chautauguan_, June-July 1896)
> *Cigar Makers Union in eastern states defended anti-Chinese position
> of Californians and actively involved themselves in exclusion
> movement. (Gompers and Herman Guttstadt, "Meat vs. Rice: American
> Manhood vs. Asiatic Coolieism: Which Shall Survive_, 1902)
> *"...the caucasians are not going to let their standard of living
> be destroyed by negroes, Chinamen, Japs, or any others." (Gompers,
> "Labor Talks," _American Federationist_, September 1905).
> Above examples support Mink's conclusion that 'old labor' response to
> industrial-era immigration underly AFL's ties to Democratic Party and
> to emerging US political order.      Michael Hoover

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