Chad Pearson on Klansmen, Employer Vigilantes, and Labor Suppression in the Long Nineteenth Century

This month’s episode takes listeners back in time to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time of significant labor unrest. At the time, employers, often with government support, went to great lengths to put down dissent, including employing violent tactics such as whippings, kidnappings, shootings, and imprisonment. Among those that helped to spear-head this violent suppression of workers and their allies were groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Law & Order Leagues, and Citizens Alliances. Though usually discussed separately, all of these groups used similar language to tar their lower-class challengers as menacing villains and deployed comparable tactics to suppress them. Calling into question a narrative of business management in this period centered on the adoption of scientific management principles and welfare capitalism, Pearson illuminates the repressive, and often terrifying, tactics undergirding industrial-labor relations at the turn of the 20th century.

Check out the episode here!

Chad Pearson is a Principal Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of North Texas. He is the author of Capital’s Terrorists: Klansmen, Lawmen, and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2022) and Reform or Repression: Organizing America’s Anti-Union Movement (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). He is also the co-editor of Against Labor: How US Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism (with Rosemary Feurer; University of Illinois Press, 2017). His published work has appeared in Counterpunch, History Compass, Jacobin, Journal of Labor and Society, Labor History, Labour/Le Travail, and Monthly Review.

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