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Volume 13:2—Labor In Illinois History

Historian Victor Hicken wrote of industrial capitalism in Illinois after the Civil War that it "created two new classes," the "non-owning laborers, whose working conditions gradually began to deteriorate ... and absentee owners, whose growing wealth and geographical distance from what they owned allowed for little if any empathy for those they employed." Consequently, "as the gap between the two newly created classes increased, so did the evils inflicted upon the workers.... The end was strife, labor warfare, and then unionism." Illinois was not alone in these tremendously influential transformations; they took place nationwide. But because Illinois was a leader in industrialization some of the events made the state especially important in labor history. The four historians and the curriculum materials authors enlisted for this issue of the Illinois History Teacher help us to appreciate selected aspects of that special history.

Both of the first two narratives and the dedicated curriculum materials stem from the history of Illinois coal mining. Together they help to emphasize the importance of coal mining. With coal underlying a huge percentage of Illinois' surface and with coal supplying much of the energy for the industrializing nation, the organization of labor to perform the work of coal mining was bound to register prominently in Illinois' public life. Although Southern Illinois has attracted the most attention in the annals of the state's coal mining history, Richard Joyce directs our thoughts to the considerable activity in the northern part of the state, tracing not only the miners' lives at work but outside of work.

Evelyn Otten's curriculum materials help students understand the living and working conditions of miners. In this volume's second section, Rosemary Feurer traces the events surrounding the Virden "Massacre" in south central Illinois where, on October 12,1898, miners and armed guards confronted one another in what she classifies as "one of the bloodiest class conflicts in American history." Michael and Jenny Daugherty's curriculum materials encourage students to come to grips with the assumptions giving rise to that conflict.

Railroad workers were another group of workers at the very center of the tensions that industrialization set off because so much of the interconnectedness on which the nation's industrialization relied on the railroad. The Pullman Strike began in Chicago in 1894 among the laborers in George Pullman's factory for railroad passenger cars and had massive repercussions throughout the nation. Five weeks later, the American Railway Union refused to handle trains with Pullman cars, and rail traffic was crippled nationwide. Downstate Illinois was but one of the locations embroiled in the strike, and the difficulties that occurred in Decatur-an important rail center-are the subject of Robert Sampson's narrative, the third in this volume.

Malcolm Moore's curriculum materials helps students understand the issues involved and begins by encouraging an understanding of what a strike is and, then, examining who, in addition to the workers and railroad owners, had a stake in the outcome. However important a strike is to labor and management, it also profoundly affects the communities in which the strike occurs and those communities dependent on the product or service which is the subject of the strike. Society is, after all, a set of interdependent relationships.

The last set of materials in this volume deals with meatpacking, another industrialized activity in which Chicago was nationally pivotal by the end of the nineteenth century. Wilson "Bill" Warren's narrative traces the shift in meatpacking from various midwestern towns before the Civil War to its concentration in Chicago, and he describes it throughout the twentieth century. His long chronological perspective is an excellent foreground for Vicky Hollister's curriculum materials addressing many students' mistaken assumptions that the problems in meatpacking ended early in the twentieth century. She begins with this vital point and caution: "Everyone eats, for survival, pleasure, or both. As America moves ever farther away from an agricultural economy and lifestyle, so does our knowledge of what occurs beforehand to bring food to our table." She is making the important point that history is something truly touching our lives, not something of weird curiosity about bygone times. This alone makes this volume work teaching and learning from.

I thank the contributors to this issue and the reviewers who recommended improvements where necessary. They both have made it possible to learn something of Illinois' past without making it an onerous task. Informed scholarship and dedicated teaching yields the lively and relevant materials such as you have in this volume. The benefits derived from an understanding of the past can enable creation of a more tolerant approach to the future and a better life for all.

Keith A. Sculle

Editor, Illinois History Teacher


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