Class, Labor, and American Capitalism

Professor James Gregory

Office Hours: Wednesday 2:30-3:30 and by appointment
                                        118 Smith;  543-7792
email: gregoryj@u.washington.edu


This course explores the themes of work, class, and labor movements along with the history of American capitalism. The stages of American capitalism and class formation, changes in racial, ethnic, and gender relations and in the values of work, leisure, and consumerism are among the issues to be considered.

The course is also about the politics of labor and class. Attempts to organize working people into labor unions or political parties date back to the 1820s. We will explore the many faces of organized labor and American radicalism seeking to understand what is often said to be America's unique hostility to class-based ideologies and organizations. The course concludes with a consideration of contemporary patterns of social inequality and the current fate of organized labor.


  • Course Reader available at Ram Copy
  • Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
  • James Green, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America
  • Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart


Midterm, final, 3 page labor event observation paper, and 7+ page research paper or service learning report, weekly reading responses. No one may pass the course without completing each of these assignments.

They will be weighted as follows: midterm (20%), final (25%), research paper or service learning project (30%), labor event report (10%), class participation/reading responses (15%).  The class participation grade will depend largely on the weekly discussions of assigned readings and on several short response-to-readings assignments. Generally we will set aside an hour each Thursday to discuss the readings.


Week 1: ( read Freeland, Plutocrats, 1-87)
3/29: Thinking about class
3/31: Thinking about capitalism and labor

Week 2: (read Freeland, Plutocrats, 141-287)
4/5: Industrial revolutions
4/7: Work and opportunity in 19th century America

 Week 3: (read Green, Death in Haymarket,  1-159)
4/12: Chicago: Gateway to an industrializing America

 Week 4: (read Green, Death in Haymarket,  160-320)
4/19: Socialism, Anarchism, and early unions
4/21: Three Gilded Age labor movements

Week 5 : (readings for research projects TBA) 
4/26: Midterm
4/28: Death on the Job: Occupational Health Then and Now 

Week 6 : (readings for research projects TBA) 
5/3: Born Red: Washington State’s radical labor heritage
5/5: Managerial Revolutions and the Era of Corporate Capitalism 1890-1930

 Week 7: (read Bulosan, America is in the Heart, 1-151) 
5/10: 1930s Big Bang: Towards Balanced Capitalism
5/12: The Wagner Act and the rise of the CIO

Week 8: (read Bulosan, America is in the Heart, 152-327)
5/17: Gender at work: sexual divisions of labor
5/19:Race at work: the political economy of race and immigration

Week 9: (read Course Reader part 1)
5/24:  Taming Labor: From social movement to business unionism
5/26: The Great Dismantling: From balanced capitalism to globalized financialized capitalism

Week 10: (read Course Reader part 2)
5/31: Deindustrialization and the new labor movement
6/2: Political economy, class, and race in the 21st century 



The object of this assignment is to learn something about how contemporary labor movements operate. You should make plans to observe a labor event, either a cultural event, meeting, picket line, or protest. Then submit a 3 page observation paper describing what you have seen and offering observations and analysis of what it reveals about contemporary labor culture. What attitudes and practices do you observe? Do they reflect aspects of labor history and labor culture that we have been discussing in class?  By labor culture I mean ideas, values, rituals, symbols, tactics, etc. Grades will be based on the quality of observations and the quality of writing. This assignment should be completed early and turned in as soon as possible. Deadline: May 8.
See canvas page for list of events. As I learn about events, I will post them. Feel free to suggest others.


There are two options for this assignment: (1) a 7+ page historical research paper (2) participate in a service learning assignment with an eligible union or poverty program and write a 7 page report. Consult the canvas site for full descriptions of each.