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[LABOR] 19th Century, America's Lobor Unions Support 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 1:39 AM
      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


      -

      Gyory in the end is forced to admit that in the spring of 1882,
      organized labor rallied behind the bill to ban Chinese immigrants.

      They had, in the words of the labor paper Carpenter, which Gyory
      quotes approvingly, regarded the Chinese as "dangerous to public
      health and human decency," but not opposed their immigration
      provided that it could be proven to be voluntary. Indeed, they only
      railed against "their importation in hordes, under slavish contracts
      made in their native country, and held sacred by their religious
      fears."

      From 1897 to 1902, Terence Powderly, former head of the Knights of
      Labor and an outspoken Sinophobe, served as Commissioner General of
      Immigration and in 1900 was placed in charge of appeals arising out
      of the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its subsequent
      modifications.

      Two years later, he was replaced by Frank P. Sargent, grand master
      of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and a friend of Samuel
      Gompers, the notoriously anti-Chinese leader of the American
      Federation of Labor, who served until 1908, and he in turn was
      succeeded for the next five years by Daniel Joseph Keefe, president
      of the longshoreman's union and a former vice-president of the AFL.

      By and large, the men who founded, administered, lobbied, and
      conducted the meetings and conventions of America's labor unions
      favored the elimination of the Chinese worker from the labor market
      as well as the exclusion of the Chinese people from the United
      States.

      -


      The Leaders and the Led: Who, In Fact, Influenced Public Policy?
      THROUGHOUT HIS BOOK GYORY IS AT PAINS TO DISTINGUISH THE ATTITUDE of
      rank-and-file white workers from that of the organizational and
      administrative leaders of the union movement. To be sure, Gyory in
      the end is forced to admit that in the spring of 1882, organized
      labor rallied behind the bill to ban Chinese immigrants.

      But, he insists that at that moment the workers' support was new,
      that they were "[r]ecent converts to exclusion," and that they had
      come to endorse that approach to resolving the debate over Chinese
      immigration "wholeheartedly when passage in Congress became a
      foregone conclusion."

      Before that time, his study wishes to suggest, they had been only
      half-hearted supporters. They had, in the words of the labor paper
      Carpenter, which Gyory quotes approvingly, regarded the Chinese
      as "dangerous to public health and human decency," but not opposed
      their immigration provided that it could be proven to be voluntary.
      Indeed, they only railed against "their importation in hordes, under
      slavish contracts made in their native country, and held sacred by
      their religious fears."

      However, since every praiseworthy white worker and, it would seem,
      Gyory himself, since he steadfastly eschews a critique of their
      views believed that virtually all Chinese immigration was
      involuntary, in almost every instance contracted in and from China,
      and but a part of the ubiquitous "coolie trade," this supposedly
      moderating dichotomy would appear to be the making of a distinction
      without a difference.

      To Gyory the passage of the exclusion act was "a cheap panacea" for
      politicians, but for the white workers of 1882, "it was plainly the
      best they were going to get . . . Half a loaf even not of their own
      choosing was better than none." The loaf they wanted, he argues,
      was an enforceable law prohibiting the importation of contract labor
      from anywhere in the world.

      However, when, in 1885, as Gyory points out in a footnote, "Congress
      finally acceded to workers' demands and passed the Foran Act,
      outlawing contract labor . . . the law proved difficult to enforce
      and [was] largely ineffective."

      But, since neither the white workers, nor Gyory in his role as
      spokesperson for their instant mind set, could know that the Foran
      Act would be so deficient, why didn't white workers clamor
      immediately for repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, in effect
      trading in the half-a-loaf that they had only grudgingly accepted in
      return for the whole?

      Of course, nothing of the sort happened, and claims that neither law
      was accomplishing what it was supposed to led Congress, with labor's
      unstinting support, to revise and extend the Chinese Exclusion Act
      over and over again, making it one of what Lucy E. Salyer calls
      the "laws harsh as tigers."

      In point of fact, labor's leaders became so influential in the
      administration of the exclusion laws that, except for the appeals
      granted to Chinese by the Constitution- conscious judges of the
      Federal courts in California and the Pacific Northwest, and the
      Chinese workers' protests and boycotts of American goods in both
      China and America's Chinatowns, they might have succeeded in driving
      the Chinese out altogether: From 1897 to 1902, Terence Powderly,
      former head of the Knights of Labor and an outspoken Sinophobe,
      served as Commissioner General of Immigration and in 1900 was placed
      in charge of appeals arising out of the enforcement of the Chinese
      Exclusion Act and its subsequent modifications.

      Two years later, he was replaced by Frank P. Sargent, grand master
      of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and a friend of Samuel
      Gompers, the notoriously anti-Chinese leader of the American
      Federation of Labor, who served until 1908, and he in turn was
      succeeded for the next five years by Daniel Joseph Keefe, president
      of the longshoreman's union and a former vice-president of the AFL.

      The alleged and much vaunted independence of white workers from
      their own leadership in fact came to nothing. Except for its
      possible influence on labor history, much the same might be said of
      Gyory's opus.

      By and large, the men who founded, administered, lobbied, and
      conducted the meetings and conventions of America's labor unions
      favored the elimination of the Chinese worker from the labor market
      as well as the exclusion of the Chinese people from the United
      States.

      Gyory does not engage in a sustained analysis of these leaders and
      of their system of controls over the rank-and-file, and such
      omissions as these give implicit support to his belief in the class-
      rather than race-oriented populist consciousness of the latter.
      However, he does mention such leaders as Samuel Gompers, Terence
      Powderly, and Adolph Strasser, carefully downplaying or avoiding
      altogether their Sinophobic statements, writings, and programs.
      There is no shortage of material on these matters, so what follows
      can only be illustrative and will be presented in relation to
      Gyory's thesis.
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