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HSTAA 353 A: Class, Labor, And American Capitalism

Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:30pm - 2:20pm
LOW 105
James Gregory
James Gregory

Syllabus Description:

Class, Labor, and American Capitalism


Professor James GregoryCartoon20030618horsey.gif

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

TA: Jordan Craddick

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.


  • 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
  • Course Reader available at Ram Copy


Midterm, final, 3 page labor event observation paper (double spaced) , and 7+ page research project (double spaced) , 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 project (30%), labor event report (10%), class participation/reading responses (15%). 


  • Midterm: April 28 (Thursday)
  • Observation paper should be turned in as early as possible; deadline May 10
  • Research paper due: May 24 (Tuesday)
  • Final exam:  To be arranged.



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: Death on the Job: Occupational Health Then and Now
4/28:  Midterm

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, 1-103) 
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, 104-218)
5/17: Gender at work: sexual divisions of labor
5/19:Race at work: the political economy of race and immigration

Week 9: (read Bulosan, America is in the Heart, 219-327) 
5/24:  Taming Labor: From social movement to business unionism
5/26: The Great Dismantling: From balanced capitalism to globalized financialized capitalism

Week 10: (to be assigned)
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 10.

See the Observation Papers 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 page for full descriptions of each.

Mapping American Social Movements Project

This online project based in the History Department explores the history and geography of many social movements including labor movements, civil rights movements, women’s movements. We are building timelines and mapping the activities of these movements. Work on this project involves reading newspapers online or on microfilm and collecting articles about campaigns, strikes, and other events. The 7+ page paper will be based partly on secondary sources (books) and partly on original research in contemporary newspapers. You may have an option to publish some of your work if the quality and subject matter are right for the project.

See the list of topics and instructions on the Research projects page.



We have arranged with the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center for service learning positions with the following organizations:

  •  Labor Archives of Washington, UW Library
  • UNITE HERE! Local 8
  • APACE (Asian Pacific Islanders for Civic Engagement
  • 21 Progress
  • Tent City Collective
  • League of Women Voters
  • Community Alliance for Global Justice

 Most will require 5 hours work each week. Your grade for this assignment will be based in equal parts on work performance and your final paper. This will be a report about the organization and how it operates. It will be based on your observations and you will hopefully also have a chance to interview one or more officials of the organization. It should be 7+ pages in length.

 More information: visit the Carlson Center web site at and find the link to Spring Service-Learning classes.

You can log in using your UW Net ID to browse positions. For this class, service-learning registration takes place Wednesday March 30-Friday April 1.

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)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:52pm