Date of Award

2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Nathan Godfiied

Second Committee Member

Marli F. Weiner

Third Committee Member

William Baker

Abstract

The industrial working class began the middle decades of the twentieth century with unlimited hope and possibility but ended them fraught with disillusionment and dismay. This marked a disjointed experience as optimism for the future gave way to disenchantment. With the ratification of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 and the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, hundreds of thousands of workers across the United States became union members. The euphoria that this initial burst of unionization created, however, could not be sustained throughout the post-World War II years. The Cold War, McCarthyism and later the onset of de-industrialization ushered in new phases in working class history marked by the gradual ineffectiveness of the working class to shape domestic policy. In order to provide better insight on the potential, achievements, and disappointments of the industrial working class in the twentieth century, this study examines a community-based leather worker's union-Local21-in the small New England city of Peabody, Massachusetts, from 1933 to 1973. Eighteen miles northeast of Boston, Peabody was considered the leather capital of the world in 1919 when it employed 8,600 people in 106 tanneries and produced more leather in a year than anywhere else in the world. Because of their importance in the early and midtwentieth century, Peabody and its leather workers offer an insightful case study for understanding the working class during a transformative period. Growing out of community unrest during the New Deal era, Local 2 1 persevered through the darkest days of the national union movement after World War I1 and remained a communitybased union intent on creating a more democratic culture-a culture based on a moral economy stressing the needs of the working class individual over corporate profits. Even though the union's gains did not totally alter the social and industrial landscape of Peabody, for a brief time Peabody leather workers gained a measure of power that allowed them to have a voice in reshaping their workplace and community.

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