Hawk Talk

Congratulations to Dr. Dana Caldemeyer, assistant professor of history at SGSC on her new book, "Union Renegades: Miners, Capitalism, and Organizing".

Posted on November 11, 2020 12:00 AM

Union Renegades

Miners, Capitalism, and Organizing in the Gilded Age

The self-interest behind joining, or not joining, a union

In the late nineteenth century, Midwestern miners often had to decide if joining a union was in their interest. Arguing that these workers were neither pro-union nor anti-union, Dana M. Caldemeyer shows that they acted according to what they believed would benefit them and their families. As corporations moved to control coal markets and unions sought to centralize their organizations to check corporate control, workers were often caught between these institutions and sided with whichever one offered the best advantage in the moment. Workers chased profits while paying union dues, rejected national unions while forming local orders, and broke strikes while claiming to be union members. This pragmatic form of unionism differed from what union leaders expected of rank-and-file members, but for many workers the choice to follow or reject union orders was a path to better pay, stability, and independence in an otherwise unstable age.

Nuanced and eye-opening, Union Renegades challenges popular notions of workers' attitudes during the Gilded Age.

"For anyone who assumes that joining a union in the late-nineteenth-century coalfields reflected a simple choice, Union Renegades is a stunning catalog of the various factors that shaped the complex calculation that workers had to make. Caldemeyer’s deeply researched study joins a growing list of scholarship exploring attitudes about unions, capitalism, and power in the rural-industrial heartland. Its lessons are important for our time."--Kenneth Fones-Wolf, coauthor of Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South: White Evangelical Protestants and Operation Dixie

Dana M. Caldemeyer is an assistant professor of history at South Georgia State College.

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