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[LABOR] In 1902, United Mine Workers' Support of Chinese Exclusion Act

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  • madchinaman
    The Chinese Question and American Labor Historians Stanford M. Lyman [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter 2000] STANFORD M.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 8, 2005
      The "Chinese Question" and American Labor Historians
      Stanford M. Lyman
      [from New Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 28, Winter
      2000]
      STANFORD M. LYMAN is Robert J. Morrow Eminent Scholar and professor
      of Social Science at Florida Atlantic University. A specialist on
      Asian American studies, minorities and sociological theory, he is
      the author of Chinese Americans, The Asian in North America, and
      Chinatown and Little Tokyo: Power, Conflict, and Community among
      Chinese and Japanese Immigrants in America. His most recent book is
      Postmodernism and a Sociology of the Absurd and Other Essays on
      the "Nouvelle Vague" in American Social Science.
      http://www.wpunj.edu/~newpol/issue28/lyman28.htm


      -

      And one more point: Whereas Gyory insists it is the politicians who
      took the lead and the unions that lagged behind in the opposition to
      Chinese immigration during the pre-exclusion years, Montgomery
      offers an important instance in New York City when that order was
      reversed: "Sensing that its opposition to black enfranchisement
      was . . . costing more votes than it was winning, especially among
      German workers . . . the Tweed Ring switched its target to the
      Chinese.

      In 1870 it joined the unions in a huge rally against the immigration
      of 'coolie labor' to the United States." And, finally with respect
      to this aspect of Gyory's thesis, it might well be remembered that
      no less a figure than Selig Perlman had pointed out that "The
      National Labor Union came out against Chinese immigration in 1869,
      when the issue was brought home to the Eastern wage earners
      following the importation by a shoe manufacturer in North Adams,
      Massachusetts, of Chinese strike breakers" and that, writing to the
      same point, John R. Commons and his colleagues observed, "The
      general agitation which this action [i.e., the bringing of the
      Chinese shoemakers to Massachusetts] provoked among all classes of
      labour served to bring the national labour movement into closer
      sympathy with the California point of view."

      Commons et al., went on to note, "At the next convention of the
      National Labour Union in 1870 the general labour movement was ready
      to take the step from merely advocating the prohibition of Chinese
      importation to demanding total exclusion." Gyory's Eastern workers
      had not been then, and are not now, above reproach.

      In 1902 the United Mine Workers had unleashed a vituperative
      campaign in behalf of extending Chinese exclusion and followed that
      with a program of opposition to Japanese immigration.

      To Gyory's East Coast white workers of the late 19th century, the
      Chinese Exclusion Act was merely an "indirect result of the labor
      uprising of 1877." For, although "workers would continue to express
      only minimal interest in immigration restriction, other groups would
      begin to see it as a solution for the nation's industrial problems."
      These "other groups" apparently are the politicians and the forces
      of monopoly capitalism; for Gyory concludes that "This atmosphere of
      violence and uncertainty breathed new life into the anti-Chinese
      movement among those seeking to eliminate or defuse class tensions
      [!]"

      In fact, shortly after the white laborers' violent uprising that
      left over 40 Chinese dead, drove the rest out of their homes and
      torched the town's Chinese quarters, the officers of the Union
      Pacific Coal Department that had first introduced Chinese workingmen
      into the Wyoming mines, determined to rid themselves of all of the
      latter and as many as possible of the unionized white workers as
      well, replacing both with nonunion Mormon miners and, more
      significantly, with new labor-saving machinery.

      -


      The Rock Springs Riot: A Moment in Exclusion's Proactive History
      MONTGOMERY SEEMS TO QUALIFY HIS VIRTUAL INDICTMENT of white
      workingmen's continuing anti-Asian racism when he observes, apropos
      of the race-and-labor situation in Wyoming two decades after one of
      the worst outbreaks of labor-inspired violence against the
      Chinese, "By 1908, in Rock Springs, Wyoming, scene of the bloody
      massacre of Chinese miners by white Knights of Labor in 1885,
      Chinese members attended UMWA meetings, according to one reporter,
      together with 'nearly every nation of Europe.' "

      Gyory, it is important to notice, plays down white workers' anti-
      Chinese violence in the 1870s and 1880s, mentioning briefly
      the "Chico massacre" in 1877 but confining to a footnote his
      discussion of the riots in Denver (1880), Los Angeles (1881), Rock
      Springs (1885), and Snake River, Oregon (1887), as well as the 55
      such riots reported in the research of Shih-shan Henry Tsai to which
      he adds, citing a New York Times report of December 13, 1995,
      apparently unaware of what it means to his general thesis, this
      enigmatic statement: "Violence against Chinese Americans continued
      throughout the 20th century."

      To Gyory's East Coast white workers of the late 19th century, the
      Chinese Exclusion Act was merely an "indirect result of the labor
      uprising of 1877." For, although "workers would continue to express
      only minimal interest in immigration restriction, other groups would
      begin to see it as a solution for the nation's industrial problems."
      These "other groups" apparently are the politicians and the forces
      of monopoly capitalism; for Gyory concludes that "This atmosphere of
      violence and uncertainty breathed new life into the anti-Chinese
      movement among those seeking to eliminate or defuse class tensions
      [!]"

      However, both Gyory's dismissal of the massacre at Rock Springs in
      1885, as well as Montgomery's sanguine statement about labor
      conditions there two decades later, deserve further attention. In
      fact, shortly after the white laborers' violent uprising that left
      over 40 Chinese dead, drove the rest out of their homes and torched
      the town's Chinese quarters, the officers of the Union Pacific Coal
      Department that had first introduced Chinese workingmen into the
      Wyoming mines, determined to rid themselves of all of the latter and
      as many as possible of the unionized white workers as well,
      replacing both with nonunion Mormon miners and, more significantly,
      with new labor-saving machinery.

      A good number of the Chinese had already fled or would soon flee to
      China, while others moved to what they hoped would be a safer haven
      in San Francisco. Nevertheless, a few Chinese remained in the area,
      for 13 years protected by federal troops from continuing white
      workingmen's depredations.

      The reports of the Dillingham Commission on immigrants in industries
      in the western states of the United States, published in 1911,
      pointed out that in Wyoming in 1908 there were but 23 Chinese miners
      at one mine and that this group was "practically all that are
      employed in the [entire] State."164 On August 30, 1885, two days
      before the riot, there had been 331 Chinese and 150 whites in the
      Rock Springs coalfield, and two months later before the Union
      Pacific commenced in earnest its 15-year program of ethnic cleansing
      against the Chinese the number of Chinese coal miners had actually
      risen to 532 while the number of white workers had dropped to 85.165

      The Dillingham Commission went on to observe that the "race present
      in largest numbers among the foreign-born was the Japanese,"
      numbering 512. When the Commission took note of the fact that
      the "mining communities in Wyoming present a somewhat unique
      situation with regard to the relations between the various races,"
      it evidenced this anomaly with the statement that "Even orientals
      are eligible to union memberships, and the relations engendered by
      the association which such membership entails are almost fraternal."

      The Commission reported that "Japanese and Chinese wear their union
      buttons with pride and are given the same treatment as other
      races." However, this portrait of workers' racial harmony and
      equality is undercut by the fact the "Chinese and Japanese . . .
      races live apart from the others in 'bunk houses' provided for
      them," by the Commission's notice that "Natives and north Europeans
      are preferred in all cases by the operators for supervisory and
      other positions of responsibility," and by the fact that in contrast
      to European miners, the number of Japanese so employed
      was "decreasing."

      Indeed, as Herbert Hill had documented, the coal mine operators were
      not the only ones unhappy with the dearth of whites and the presence
      of numerous Asian mineworkers in the region; in 1902 the United Mine
      Workers had unleashed a vituperative campaign in behalf of extending
      Chinese exclusion and followed that with a program of opposition to
      Japanese immigration.

      The comity that both the Commission and Professor Montgomery say
      prevailed in Wyoming in 1908 was indeed an exception to labor's
      usual anti-Asian stance. But, as Yuji Ichioka's well-informed study
      of the labor-and-race issue at Rock Springs shows, the exception was
      the product of unique circumstances and did not set a precedent for
      labor-race relations in other venues: "Local conditions dictated the
      policy of admission [of Asian workers] in spite of . . . the union's
      antipathy to Japanese labor . . . Thus this notable exception to
      organized labor's exclusion of Japanese [and other Asian] labor was
      not the result of labor solidarity."

      Of course, adherents of Gyory's thesis are likely to dismiss this
      discussion of the Rock Springs riot and its aftermath by pointing
      out that he is for the most part willing to concede the racism of
      western white workers, while insisting on the nonracist perspective
      of the latter's compatriots on the East coast. But, even here, he is
      on shaky ground.

      Frederick Rudolph, a historian of the incident in North Adams,
      Massachusetts, where 75 Chinese shoemakers were brought to break a
      strike at the Calvin T. Sampson Shoe Company, (the incident that is
      the starting point for Gyory's investigation), on the basis of his
      painstaking analysis of what actually happened and what the
      consequences were, concluded: "Sampson . . . had provided the
      eastern workers with a laboratory which produced an indoctrination
      in opposition to Chinese labor and unstinting support to all efforts
      at Chinese exclusion."

      And one more point: Whereas Gyory insists it is the politicians who
      took the lead and the unions that lagged behind in the opposition to
      Chinese immigration during the pre-exclusion years, Montgomery
      offers an important instance in New York City when that order was
      reversed: "Sensing that its opposition to black enfranchisement
      was . . . costing more votes than it was winning, especially among
      German workers . . . the Tweed Ring switched its target to the
      Chinese.

      In 1870 it joined the unions in a huge rally against the immigration
      of 'coolie labor' to the United States." And, finally with respect
      to this aspect of Gyory's thesis, it might well be remembered that
      no less a figure than Selig Perlman had pointed out that "The
      National Labor Union came out against Chinese immigration in 1869,
      when the issue was brought home to the Eastern wage earners
      following the importation by a shoe manufacturer in North Adams,
      Massachusetts, of Chinese strike breakers" and that, writing to the
      same point, John R. Commons and his colleagues observed, "The
      general agitation which this action [i.e., the bringing of the
      Chinese shoemakers to Massachusetts] provoked among all classes of
      labour served to bring the national labour movement into closer
      sympathy with the California point of view."

      Commons et al., went on to note, "At the next convention of the
      National Labour Union in 1870 the general labour movement was ready
      to take the step from merely advocating the prohibition of Chinese
      importation to demanding total exclusion." Gyory's Eastern workers
      had not been then, and are not now, above reproach.
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