The historical discussion recounts organizing efforts from as far back as the early 1800s and includes reviews of some of the most contentious labor disputes in American history--including the Haymarket affair, the Homestead strike
, the Pullman strike, and the wave of strikes that dominated the post-World War II era.
Long was from Pittsburgh, a city with a history of economic exploitation and labor unrest, and this history is central to the poem as it grapples with infamous events such as the 1892 Homestead Strike
, capitalist figures like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, and anarchist Alexander Berkman, who attempted to assassinate Frick during the strike.
Taking the Haymarket riots, the Homestead strike
, and the revolutions in Russia and Spain as anchors, Gornick presents Goldman's personal and political journey in accessible terms that could be useful to readers new to the subject of Goldman or anarchism.
For example, the Haymarket Tragedy and the Homestead Strike
are mentioned only in passing.
Gough's fiery campaign against alcohol in the 1850s and beyond; the tumultuous Ku Klux Klan riots in Worcester in the 1920s; Abby Kelley Foster's anger at not being allowed to vote and her subsequent refusal to pay property taxes on her Mower Street property in the 1870s; Emma Goldman and the plan cooked up on Providence Street to assassinate James Frick, head of the Carnegie Corporation, for his role in the deadly Homestead strike
, and any number of other items.
This is followed by Shays' Rebellion in January 1787; the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill on May 12 1848; the Battle of Antietam beginning on September 17, 1862; the infamous Homestead Strike
in July 1892; President McKinley's assassination on September 6, 1901; the Scopes monkey trial in 1925; Elvis Presley's appearance on Ed Sullivan's television show; and, finally, the murder of three civil rights activists on June 21, 1964.
He does so with remarkable sensitivity, blending minutely observed details like artists and paintings, the old aviary, the Homestead strike
and the Pinkerton thugs called in by management, the documents for his parents' cemetery plots, the old buildings and the familiar figures who peopled them, gone now like "the Syria Mosque Razed to Make Space for Parking":
The Homestead strike
in 1892-- when Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie sought to break the unions that were threatening the profits of their steel company--is perhaps the best-known example.
People on labor's fighting side like to remind themselves that "the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice." Pittsburgh was a fine place to ponder that turn on Martin Luther King's observation--this city where the A.F.L.'s predecessor was founded as well as the C.I.O.; where blood ran in the national rail strike of 1877 and the Homestead strike
of 1892; where the mixed curse of postindustrialism (underemployment and clean air) is on vivid display.
Paul Krause has written an extremely interesting and important book on the Homestead strike
of 1892, which pitted the steelmakers Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie against the largest trade union in the United States at that time, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers.
The Haymarket Riot, Homestead Strike
, Pullman Strike, Coeur d'Alene, Telluride, Wheatlands Hops, Ludlow Massacre, Steel Strike of 1919, and the sit down strikes of the 1930s plus many more testify to the obvious existence of profound social discontent.
Krause clearly demonstrates that the Homestead strike
marked the culmination of years of conflict between an industry bent on achieving efficiency and job control and workers equally determined to protect their job rights and standard of living.