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HSTAA 353 A: Class, Labor, and American Capitalism

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
RAI 121
James Gregory
James Gregory

Syllabus Description:

Professor James Gregory
           Office Hours: Tuesday 3:30-5:00 
             Smith 312B;  543-7792;   

Teaching Assistant Andrew Hedden  
          Office Hours: By Appointment                                                    Smith M268; 543-7946;  

See pages at left for lecture slides, research paper instructions, sample exams, and other materials 

[Course earns w-credit and satisfies the diversity and I&S requirements. It is a core course for the Labor Studies minor]


The course explores 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 while seeking to understand what is 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.


  • 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
  • Jonathan Rosenblum, Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement



Midterm, final, 3-page labor event observation paper, and 7-10 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. We will set aside time each Thursday to discuss the readings.


  • Project description (one-page): April 23 (Tuesday) 
  • Midterm: May 2 (Thursday)
  • Observation paper should be turned in as early as possible; deadline May 9
  • Research paper due: May 21 (Tuesday)
  • Final exam:  June 11 (Tuesday) 4:30-5:30 (264 Savery)


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 9. See canvas page for list of events. As I learn about events, I will post them. Feel free to suggest others.


A 7-10 page paper (at least 2,200 words) counts for 30% of the course grade. There are two options for this assignment: (1) an historical research paper on an approved topic; (2) participate in a service learning assignment with an eligible union or poverty program and write a 7-10 page report. A one-page description of your project is due April 23.

Research papers must address an approved topic. I hope that many will choose to work on the history of the 1919 Seattle General Strike. In this centennial year, exploring the many dimensions of this pivotal struggle and the surrounding context is going to be our class project. I have created a list of topics centered on the strike or about communities or organizations touched by the events of 1919. If your paper meets the standards of excellence and significance, you may be invited to publish it on the Seattle General Strike Project online site.

Other approved topics include the following movements: Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), unemployed movements 1930s, United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Filipino labor activism 1930s, Knights of Labor and anti-Chinese movement 1880s, Emma Goldman and Mother Earth magazine, National Woman’s Party.

See the RESEARCH PROJECT & SAMPLE PAPERS page on the canvas site for descriptions of each potential paper topic.

Service learning option: I have arranged with the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center for service learning positions. Most will require 4-6 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 7-10 pages in length. For a list of positions see Carlson Center website. 


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

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

 Week 3: (read Green, Death in Haymarket,  1-159) 
Chicago: Gateway to an industrializing America 
“1877: The Grand Army of Starvation”

 Week 4: (read Green, Death in Haymarket,  160-320)
Varieties of radicalism: Socialism, Anarchism, Cooperation
Knights of Labor vs. American Federation of Labor

Week 5 : (readings for research projects)  
Political economy of race and immigration

Week 6 : (readings for research projects; begin Bulosan, America is in the Heart)  
Born Red: Washington State’s radical labor heritage 
Managerial Revolutions and the Era of Corporate Capitalism 1890-1930

 Week 7: (read Bulosan, America is in the Heart, 1-153)  
Gender at work: sexual divisions of labor
Financial crises: The Great Depression and Great Recession

Week 8(read Bulosan, America is in the Heart, 154-327)
Towards Balanced Capitalism
The Wagner Act and the rise of the CIO

Week 9: (read Rosenblum, Beyond $15, 1-109
Taming Labor: From social movement to business unionism
The Great Dismantling: From balanced capitalism to globalized financialized capitalism

Week 10: (read Rosenblum, Beyond $15, 110-195)
Deindustrialization and the new labor movement
Political economy, class, and race in the 21st century 

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: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:15pm