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HSTAA 353 A: Class, Labor, And American Capitalism

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
BAG 154
James Gregory
James Gregory

Syllabus Description:

Class, Labor, and American Capitalism


Professor James GregoryCartoon20030618horsey.gif

Office Hours: Wednesday 2:30-3:30
312B Smith;  543-7792 

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 state of organized labor.

HSTAA 105 earns writing course w-credits. This course also fulfills requirements for the Labor Studies minor.  


  • 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
  • Final readings to be announced



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.


  • Project proposals (1 page) due October 18 
  • Midterm:  October 27
  • Observation paper should be turned in as early as possible; deadline November 10
  • Research paper due: November 29 (service learning reports will have a different due date)
  • Final exam:  TBA

NOTE: Recording lectures or class discussions is allowed only under special circumstances and with the express permission of the instructor.


Observation Paper instructions and events

Research Papers topics



Week 1:
9/29: Thinking about class

Week 2: (read Freeland, Plutocrats, 1-87, 141-187)
10/4: Thinking about capitalism and labor
10/6: Industrial revolutions

Week 3: (read Freeland, Plutocrats, 188-228) (read Green, Death in Haymarket,  1-52)
10/11: Work and opportunity in 19th century America
10/13: Chicago: Gateway to an industrializing America

Week 4: (read Green, Death in Haymarket,  53-191)
10/18: Socialism, Anarchism, and early unions
10/20: Three Gilded Age labor movements

Week 5 : (read Green, Death in Haymarket, 192-320) 
10/25: Death on the Job: Occupational Health Then and Now 
10/27: MIDTERM

Week 6 : (readings for research projects) 
11/1: Born Red: Washington State’s radical labor heritage
11/3: Managerial Revolutions and the Era of Corporate Capitalism 1890-1930

Week 7: (readings for research projects)
11/8: 1930s Big Bang: Towards Balanced Capitalism
11/10: The Wagner Act and the rise of the CIO

Week 8: (read Bulosan, America is in the Heart, 1-151) 
11/17: Gender at work: sexual divisions of labor

Week 9: (read Bulosan, America is in the Heart, 152-327)
11/22:  Race at work: the political economy of race and immigration

Week 10: (read Course Reader part 2)
11/29:  Taming Labor: From social movement to business unionism
12/1:  The Great Dismantling: From balanced capitalism to globalized financialized capitalism

Week 11: (read Course Reader part 2)
12/6:  Deindustrialization and the new labor movement
12/8:  Political economy, class, and race in the 21st century 


LABOR EVENT OBSERVATION PAPER (Observation Paper details)

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: November 10

See observation paper 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 7-10 page report. 

Here is information about the topics and methods of Research Papers


Catalog Description: 
The history of workers and class formation form early industrialization to the present. Emphasizes the interaction of class with race, ethnicity, gender, and political culture within the context of American economic development. Explores the role of unions, labor politics, and radical movements.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:52pm