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Labor History Up To 1860


How Did Unions Come About?

When all people were savages, they managed to stay alive by using their brains and brawn. Neither would have been enough to keep them from being much more than tiger food if they hadn't also had the wonderful instinct of cooperation. Early human beings came together in cooperative groups that were barely able to subsist and avoid the tigers by helping one another. The idea that savages robbed their own tribesmen or raped the tribe's women is nonsense. They could never have survived without total cooperation. Unionism is inherent in human genes.

Five or six thousand years ago, human beings began to be so good at subsisting that they began to produce more than they could immediately eat. They had domesticated animals and began agriculture, so a surplus was produced and they didn't have to spend their days foraging. Being eaten by tigers was less of a problem and humanity began its supremacy over nature. Humanity also separated into different layers depending on their relationship to production. Some of them took the essentials of production, basically cattle, and kept the new surplus of wealth for themselves. Everybody else had to work for them. Keep in mind that this was a good thing, because there was now a surplus of basic necessities like food. Slavery became the main way of getting work done, but that was also an advance because the slaves were basically captured from weaker tribes. Prior to this new division of labor, tribes just murdered their captives, as they had no use for them. People began to live longer and better.

Those who ruled the slaves used superstition as a central method of control. They told their slaves that God had made them rulers, and that the slaves should stay in their place and do a good job. The rulers intensely disliked it when people challenged some of their superstitions, as Georgiano Bruno and Galileo Gaililee did. But science had to overcome reaction in order for progress to be made (then and now.) If superstition had not been forced backward, humanity would not have been able to advance to new levels.

But we did advance, each time by fighting against our rulers. Slaves were eventually freed and became serfs. Serfs rebelled against their princes and kings and became free workers. Free workers went on to organize themselves in various ways, including in unions, and fought against the newest version of the rulers -- giant corporations.

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Mexican-American Labor Was Not Great 1790-1860

Mexican-American Labor all started in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The main elements of this historical development are the expansion of Mestizo's society, the beginnings, of classes under a colonial regime, the continuation of migration.

All of these took place in Mexico. Farmers that raised cattle and mining productions were assigned to a particular task, mostly as laborers. This labor frontier continued to expand all through central Mexico.

The people that had a better education on doing technology, farming, or being a settler. Throughout Mexico their labor was basic. Mexico authorities made an expansion to the North. All the Mexican employees worked for Anglos. By 1810, they constitute special subculture , a social element beyond the law. Other workers migrated up North to avoid special taxes and other obligations.

The scarcity of labor there meant that occupations were only open to workers of all social and ethnic backgrounds, the only conditions they had were to be able to perform and do the job.

But, as far as this chapter, the Mexican's labor was bad for the Mexican people. What I don't understand, is why did the Anglo workers make more money than the Mexican workers? They both did the same job.

As I see it, back in the days, labor was not good at all !

                                                                                    --Chela Gonzalez (Age 14) June 20, 1999

 Reported from book: Gomez-Quinones, Juan, Mexican-American Labor. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 1994.

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Texas Unions Began in April, 1838

From "The Labor Story" published by the Texas AFL-CIO: "Texas' first labor unions organized just a few years after the arrival of the Anglo pioneers." It says that the Texas Typographical Association was founded in April, 1838, and carried out a successful strike that same year. They won a 25% wage increase! Printers and carpenters founded locals on the eve of the civil war. The oldest union in the United States that has never undergone re-organization is Galveston Carpenters Local 7.

Skilled craftsmen were able to get mechanics' lien laws passed in 1839, 1844, and 1875. Many workingmen's associations were identified with German immigrants who tended to be against slavery. Other Texans disliked the unions for that reason.

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Why We Say "Scab"

The Lexicon of Labor has an excellent history of the term; it was used in England by 1590 for a "despicable person in the Colonies "it meant a shirker since 1690 and by 1806 acquired its current labor connotation. The phrase "to scab on" has been used since 1917.The term originally is from the Scandinavian scab and is "akin to the Latin scabies/scabere, mange, to scratch; and has meant a crust over a wound in English since the 13th century."(The Lexicon of Labor, New Press,1998),p.160.

--Bruce Cohen, Worcester State College,

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Dallas Founded, 1842 (or so)

John Neely Bryan established a trading post at a shallow part of the Trinity River and convinced families from nearby Fort Bird to move in. The spot was on a long-established trade route where a new road was planned. Later on, they named it Dallas. A Kentucky organization was, at the same time, setting up a proposal to move 600 settlers into the area. They would be known as the Peters Colony.

Across the river from Dallas was Hord’s Dairy, which later on became the City of Oak Cliff. East Dallas was a separate city started by progressive Europeans. In the early 1850s, hundreds of progressive Europeans established a socialist commune just west of Dallas. All of these settlements, and a bunch of others, are known today as Dallas, or as parts of the Dallas Metroplex.

In 1885, the Dallas Morning News extended itself from Galveston to Dallas. They took an active part in running the city in the interests of big businesses and against working people, especially against unions. For more on them, click here. In 1935, the Citizens’ Alliance, which included the leading newspaper, was established as the de facto government, and they ran the town expertly. After their first big project, the 1936 State Fair, Dallas took its place alongside Houston as a top city of the state in population and influence. For a longer history, click here.


Shortening Working Hours Was Always Top Priority

Socialists Moved to Texas

Louis Reinhardt, "The Communistic Colony of Bettina 1846-8." Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol III, July 1899 to April 1900. Apparently Rudolph Kleberg Jr interviewed Louis Reinhardt, one of the first settlers in De Witt County. Reinhardt said "This colony owed its origin to the efforts of Prince Solms-Braunfels, Baron von Meusebach, and H Spies, each successively holding the office of general agent of the Adelsverein. Adelsverein, according to the footnote, was a "Union of Princes" incorporated to promote German colonies in Texas.

"A communistic society was organized of which friendship, freedom and equality were the watchwords." Prince Solms had recruited advanced students at universities of Giessen and Heidelberg. Only one of the company, a cook, could speak English. Landed at Galveston July 17, 1847.

They treatied with the Commanches under Santana for land, and the Indians kept the bargain. He mentioned that members of the amicable WACO tribe had been poisoned by cowboys, and had thereafter become hostile. Also mentioned that some Mormons came through on their way to settle in Fredericksburg.

"In the summer of 1848, our colony of 'Bettina' went to pieces like a bubble." Because nobody would do the work!

Interview was taken 9/7/98, when 10 of the original company were still alive.

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Utopian Socialists Infused Dallas Population

If one were starting a labor history tour of North Texas, they might want to begin with the monument located on the Stevens Park Golf Course near the intersection of Ft Worth Cutoff and Hampton in Dallas. It commemorates the European Socialist Commune that was begun on the site in 1854. Or tourists might want to visit the graveyard on Fishtrap Road, just a few blocks north of Singleton, where their graveyard is still kept. Hundreds of skilled craftspersons and artisans were stranded in Dallas around 1860. They made up about 1/3 of the Dallas population. Many of them became progressive leaders of the city. One was the Mayor. Dallas’ leadership in cultural affairs dates from the times of those special socialist immigrants.

Every treatment I have heard or seen of the progressive Europeans who came to Texas ends around 1860. Inevitably, the demise of these utopian experiments is laid to their poor farming ability. But the entire story of Texas during and after the Civil War is 99% distorted into a peaceful account of people who easily adjusted to new situations.

It’s much more likely that the anti-slavery European progressives were simply run out of business by the reactionaries of the Confederacy. There was some fighting at La Reunion over the conscription law, and a number of the utopian settlers in Comfort were killed as they tried to get to Mexico. Is it just a coincidence that virtually all of the utopian socialist experiments in Texas ended in the same year that the Confederacy took over?

For some reading on La Reunion, see my section on “Reds” in Texas.  click here.

Gil R Glover wrote some good stuff on La Reunion and early Dallas history. Click here.


City Fathers Lynched Dallas Blacks in 1860

Right before the Civil War, a considerable part of downtown Dallas caught fire. Nobody knew who to blame, but some Methodist ministers from the North had been in town recently, so the fair-minded citizens of the tiny town decided to punish all the African-Americans in Dallas County. They were whipped! Three Black men, one of whom may have been seen talking to the Northern preachers, were lynched on the riverbank just outside the town. The River has since been moved. The site today is shaded both by the colossal concrete of major freeways and by the shame of our own history. See Michael Phillips for more.

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Texas Workers Mine Salt

Grand Saline, Texas, about 1 hour east of Dallas on Highway 80, has an operating salt mine. About 300 people work at the mine and mill, 1 mile south of town, and it's said to be the best employment in the area. Their union is called International Chemical Workers, according to the guide at the Salt Palace museum at the main intersection of the town. Grand Saline has 2,630 people.

Cherokees had settled in this part of Mexico. They regularly boiled off the fluids in the marshes and took the residue to Nagodoches for sale. It was high quality salt. After the Cherokees were driven off their land, it was sold by the State of Texas. The part known as Jordan's Saline, after an early surveyor, was bought in 1859 by Samuel Q. Richardson. Richardson sunk a well and set up a more sophisticated evaporative process. He fought in the Civil War, was appointed County Judge, and also founded the town of Richardson, which is now contiguous to Dallas. Some of the iron vats used to boil water are still on display in the town. One is by the Salt Palace and another is by the Railroad Caboose two blocks away.

Evaporative salt works finally gave way to a modern mine in 1931, after Morton Salt Company had bought out previous owners.

The town of Grand Saline was established in 1872 when the Texas and Pacific Railroad came from Marshall to Dallas, passing through the salt area. The Salt Palace is at the town's stop light. Inside is a wonderful little free museum. The outside of the building is made of salt, and there is a big chunk of rapidly eroding salt out front. A historical marker notes the town's second big claim to fame: it is the birthplace of famous aviator Wiley Post.

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