Graham Russell Gao Hodges
The American Revolution enabled ordinary people to enjoy political freedom. The story of how the common people of the early American cities made and inherited the war has been intertwined with the meaning of American independence from Britain. After winning that freedom, all working people seemed to have a greater opportunity, whether through politics, an independent economy, or personal liberty. Historians have studied the roles of artisans or mechanics (as they were then known) in order to understand the common people of urban, Revolutionary America. Artisans asserted greater political freedom as a Revolutionary heritage and eventually joined forces with southern agrarians to form a Republican Party that competed with the dominant Federalists. By 1800, they played a key role in the election of President Thomas Jefferson. Aside from politics, two other factors that changed traditional craft relationships among artisans were the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of capitalist labor relations. This chapter explores how American workers between the American Revolution and the War of 1812 confronted shared challenges and different obstacles shaped by gender, race, and region.
Working-class formation in the United States was considerably complicated by waves of immigration from the mid nineteenth century down to the present. In some cases, the ethnic differences lead to conflict, in others to “ethnically hybrid” cultures based on class. Labor and radical organizations often played an important role in acculturating late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century immigrant workers. The kind of ethic “niches” in earlier industrial occupational structures can also be found in the employment available to immigrants today. By the late twentieth century, union organization was also complicated by shifts in the occupational structure from manufacturing to service jobs, yet much of the meager growth in union organization in recent decades has come in service industries with heavy concentrations of immigrant workers.