Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cohen - Racketeer's Progress

Cohen, Andrew Wender. The Racketeer's Progress: Chicago and the Struggle for the Modern American Economy, 1900-1940. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004

Cohen complicates the historiography from the Progressive Era through the New Deal by adding a large new body of actors to the corporations and their laborers: craft workers and small businessman. Focusing on Chicago, Cohen shows how craftsmen resisted corporate modernization and battled against corporations to protect their trades' spaces. Cohen reveals a system of order and law governed not by the official legal system but by cooperation and oversight among the trade unions and associations, enforced "through fines, strikes, boycotts, pickets, assaults, bombings, and shootings." In the twenties these associations began to turn toward powerful crime syndicates such as Al Capone to defend their trade, leading to the legal term "racketeer" which differentiated (quite loosely) illegal organization from legal organization, and was often used to persuade jurors against craft unions. Throughout, corporations sought to break up the craft associations through traditional legal routes with some success, although quite often craftsmen managed to merely ignore court rulings and quickly bounced back from any union-busting moments. Ironically, racketeering during the New Deal was redefined in a way that protected craft unions.

Craftsmen were ambivalent toward Progressives and their ideas of reform, who in turn had a superior attitude toward craftsmen. Progressive Era courts rebuked craftsmen for their attempts at controlling trade.

Key Terms
open shop/closed shop - Early in the century corporations campaigned for an "open shop" relationship to craftsmen which would allow them to pursue craft services in an open market, while craftsmen sought to maintain their market power through organization in a "closed shop" excluding non-members.

Jentz, JAH
Cohen "wants to displace mass production labor from the center of labor history before World War II." In the 1920s courts moved from using injunctions against union activities to criminal prosecution of craft leaders.

Elliot J. Gorn, Business History Review

"Modernizing the economy was not a smooth process?it was "violent, contingent, and contested." Powerful labor organizations, which occasionally resorted to tactics like bomb ings and beatings, prevented national corporations from wholly impos ing their will on Chicago; such labor activism also provided the tem plate for federal practices during the New Deal. Cohen goes on to contest five ideas he says dominate historians' in terpretation of the early twentieth century. Modernity implies that the American economy, along with the state and society, had attained maturity by the Progressive Era; that incorporation, technology, mechanization, and free markets had transformed the nation. In fact, large segments of Chicago were still "premodern," in the sense that many workers re mained ensconced in small-scale firms where their muscle, knowledge, and skill gave them considerable power."

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