Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Labor unions--United States--History; Labor unions--Public relations--United States;


In the vast historiography on the American labor movement workers have been treated as noble artisans, brave unionists, martyrs to the cause of unionization, and losers in the triumph of the “free market”. They have not been treated as historians producing their own stories. In crafting their own narratives labor activists acted as historians, reaching beyond recent events to contextualize their struggles and create a narrative that would mobilize both labor and non-labor audiences behind their goals. They offered a vision of the past as leading to present or recent problems and framed unions or labor solidarity as the solution to these problems in a progressive narrative. Labor movement leaders attempted to frame their struggle using ideas of history, tradition and patriotism. They framed themselves as standing within a progressive American historical tradition and as the true defenders of American rights and values against wealthy oligarchs who sought to subvert and destroy those values.

This work examines three instances of laborers producing their own history: the Paterson Strike Pageant, the response to the Ludlow Massacre, and the Tarrytown Free Speech Fight. The Paterson Strike Pageant created a bottom-up people’s history of the strike which represented industrial conflict writ large. The Ludlow Massacre became infamous for the massacre of strikers’ families resulting in an outcry from the labor movement. In the framing of this event labor activists used ideas of tradition and patriotism to cast themselves as true Americans fighting against an oligarch. Both of these events were attempts to create an effective narrative. The Tarrytown Free Speech Fight demonstrated the effort made to link labor and tradition. This event also showed that while labor’s historical narrative experienced a degree of success; the same arguments could be turned back upon labor. Tarrytown represented a failure of the messengers. Their opponents were easily able to portray the anarchist and IWW protesters as radical which resulted in hostility towards them.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of History

First Advisor

Brian Roberts

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (iii, 130 pages)



File Format