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Robber Barons and Wretched RefuseEthnic and Class Dynamics during the Era of American Industrialization$
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Robert F. Zeidel

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501748318

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501748318.001.0001

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Harmonic Dissidence

Harmonic Dissidence

Immigrants and the Onset of Industrial Strife

(p.12) Chapter 1 Harmonic Dissidence
Robber Barons and Wretched Refuse

Robert F. Zeidel

Cornell University Press

This chapter discusses how developments during the preceding thirty years, culminating in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, set the stage for future immigrant-related labor strife. During those years, American industrialization began in earnest, engendering a host of socioeconomic changes. Increased large-scale production led to a growing demand for workers, and when the domestic labor force could not meet employers' needs or would not accept their offered wages, business leaders turned to immigrants. The pull of American economic opportunity, coupled with the paucity of that which was available in the Old World, attracted the first waves of industrial-era aliens. Coming from a host of foreign nations, their presence would create an increasingly heterogeneous population. This in and of itself troubled some Americans, but industrialization also spawned the creation of a nascent proletariat, an effectively permanent working class. As tensions rose between it and the agents of capital, culminating with the Great Strike, employers increasingly emphasized a connection between foreigners and worker radicalism. Business leaders recognized immigrants' essential contribution to American commercial growth but also identified the foreigners and their imported ideologies as the reason why the United States appeared to be on the eve of destruction. Associated developments would shape succeeding decades of ethnically influenced and class-based economic tensions.

Keywords:   Great Railroad Strike, labor strife, American industrialization, labor force, immigrants, working class, foreign workers, worker radicalism, business leaders, American commercial growth

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