[Marxism] The NYC labor movement in 1863

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jun 14 16:59:53 MDT 2016

Every few pages in Mark Lause's "Free Labor" I find myself doing a 
double-take. Mark writes in a very understated way and lets the facts 
speak for themselves. In the early years of the SWP turn, there was a 
fraction in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Like everything else the sect did, 
it came to naught mostly because the labor movement was quiescent and 
because the SWP probably struck most workers as zombies. Check out what 
was happening during the Civil War when the labor movement was taking 
giant steps toward confronting the ruling class, including the 
Republican Party that became as frightened of labor radicalization as 
the Democrats were of emancipation.


Political conditions differed in New York. The same sort of veteran 
radicals active in Boston battled to participate in the wartime Unionist 
coalition in New York. Ultimately, they established their own 
organizations that included the German Union League and representatives 
of trade unions. By November and December 1863, other Fourierists such 
as Charles Sears, with land reformers Joshua K. Ingalls and Henry Beeny, 
helped to raise volunteers for the army.

There, too, a vicious dispute in the Navy Yard among radicalized workers 
was raised. One of their leaders, Moses Platt, "made an extravagant 
speech about capital and labor," calling on workers to throw off their 
yoke. At a meeting of a Brooklyn trade union meeting, one of the members 
rose to discuss working-class political action, adding that "the nearest 
approach to success was made in France during the last revolution, when 
the combination of labor became so strong that capitalists in all 
countries became alarmed and combined to put it down, and - did so 
through Napoleon.

Employers reacted coherently when workers beyond the Navy Yard showed of 
militancy: stonecutters, blacksmiths, carpenters and laborers went on as 
did painters and hatters, while piano makers faced a lockout, and 
glass-molders,jewelers, machinists, and musicians organized for a pay 
increase. A "Farmers' Protective Union of the counties of Kings, Queens, 
Suffolk, Westchester, Richmond and Rockland formed". At the same time, 
the use of convict drew the molders and other trade unionists into 
politics, urging a bill to such innovations.

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