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Scholarship by a new generation of social historians has transformed the writing of California history, just as the "new social history" began reshaping the study of American history in the 1960s. The essays in this volume represent some of the best recent scholarship in the field of California social history. Their focus is the experiences and activities of California working people.

While no one book can do full justice to the wide range of research on California social history, this focus on working people represents one of the most important new tendencies in the writing of California history as a whole. As David Brody and Peter Stearns have noted, the compartmentalization of social history into various subfields such as labor history, urban history, family history, women's history, demography, and ethnic study has been largely eroded. [1] In terms of working-class history, this has been a two-way process: Labor historians have broadened the scope of their work far beyond the narrow institutional aspects (usually trade unions) of working people's experience, whereas social historians have focused in microscopic fashion on the lives of working people from a "bottom up" perspective in a way that few did before the 1960s. Although a new social history of California developed somewhat belatedly, nowhere has the convergence of labor and social history produced richer yields by the mid-1990s.

This book presents a chronologically and topically balanced overview of the history of working people in California. Chronologically, the contributions range from Douglas Monroy's recent study of the California Indians to Mike Davis's account of the transformation of Fontana from a thriving blue-collar community in the 1940s to a commuter suburb of Los Angeles


by the late 1980s. Topically, in addition to including new contributions on such celebrated episodes in California working-class history as the Workingmen's party of California and the San Francisco longshore strike of 1934, the book aims to redress the neglect of women and racial and ethnic minorities in traditional California history textbooks.[2]

Principles other than chronology, great events, and the representation of female and minority working people also determined the selections. Working people who were hidden from history were not merely victims of inexorable forces, but were important actors who found various ways of exerting countervailing power to protect their interests—and in doing so profoundly shaped the history of California. The means by which workers fought back were sometimes institutional, through unions and political parties, and sometimes much more subtle and complex, as Devra Weber's essay demonstrates in the case of Mexicana farmworkers.

This book is aimed not only at specialists but also at readers with little knowledge of California history. Introductory comments preceding each essay provide important background information. For readers wishing to pursue the topic further, a list of suggested readings follows each chapter.

As a general introduction to the book, it is important to examine the reasons why the new social history did not have a serious impact on the writing of California history until almost twenty years after its emergence elsewhere, in the mid-1960s. The following pages assess the work of an older generation of California labor historians, in terms of both their methodologies and their contributions to our knowledge. The discussion describes the ways in which the new social history of California is reshaping our understanding of the Golden State's history, with reference to some of the most important books, including studies by some of the contributors to this anthology. It also draws attention to significant gaps that remain in our knowledge of the state's social history.

The name Carey McWilliams recurs throughout much of this introduction. No figure looms larger in the study of California's social history. Yet he was a lawyer and journalist by training, not a historian. His most important work was published between 1939 and 1949, a period during which McWilliams wrote prolifically about California history. Four of his books were so significant that they were reprinted several times in the 1960s and 1970s. [3] McWilliams culminated a decade of astonishing productivity in 1949 with his classic California: The Great Exception . To this day, no book in the field of California history comes close to rivaling his synthesis.


McWilliams's interest in California social history began in the early years of the Great Depression: "The sense of social excitement was contagious," he wrote in his autobiography, "at long last that curious numbness and political paralysis of the first years of the Depression was rapidly giving way to a sense of rebellion." His experiences as head of the Division of Immigration and Housing from 1939 to 1942 in Governor Culbert Olson's "new deal" administration heightened his interest in California history: "No experience did more to shape my political point of view than this brief engagement with labor. It pushed me beyond the liberalism of the period in the direction of a native American radicalism with which I could readily identify." McWilliams also stressed that his appointment greatly deepened his interest in California's racial and ethnic minorities. [4]

In short, no work on California social history can ignore the accomplishments of McWilliams. It is most ironic that although he laid the groundwork for the new social history of California, it took almost forty years for historians to build upon it.

Since the late 1970s, the study of the California working class has burgeoned. In a 1986 review essay, Michael Kazin observed that a "widening stream of recent books and dissertations has greatly augmented knowledge of various sectors of the state's work force in different periods of its history." [5] Of the eighteen recent monographs cited by Kazin, only five had been published as books; the remainder were doctoral dissertations. Since 1986, ten of these dissertations have been published, and several have won major book prizes. Other important books and many articles have also been published since, not to mention numerous dissertations on many aspects of California social history.

Even before the 1970s, however, California's rich, complex social and labor history should have offered fertile ground for social historians. California's population has been one of the most racially diverse of any state; during the 1870s, the California Workingmen's party presented a serious challenge to the political status quo in the Gilded Age; during the Progressive Era, the labor movement in San Francisco wielded more power than labor in any other American city; the San Francisco general strike of 1934 was one of the most dramatic episodes of the turbulent 1930s. In the 1960s, the mystique associated with California since the gold rush intensified, as the Golden State became the nation's trendsetter culturally, socially, and politically.

But, despite the allure of California's history and its contemporary preeminence, the new social history of California appeared somewhat belatedly. Although during the late 1960s some California historians showed


increasing interest in the study of racial and ethnic minorities, [6] the new social history did not make a major impact on the writing of California history (or, moreover, on the study of the American West) until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Indeed, Jackson Putnam stated, perhaps somewhat harshly, in a review essay published in 1989 that "California social history of the modern type is so undeveloped that it is scarcely in its infancy." [7] Certainly by the mid-1980s, the new social history of other regions—New England in particular—was much more developed than that of California, so much so that a new generation of California historians consciously sought to emulate many of the models and approaches adopted by their Eastern counterparts.

Several factors account for the slow and uneven development of the new social history. Historians of California, and also of the American West, remained mired in traditional approaches to their region's history much longer than the historians of perhaps any other region of the country. [8] Most important, historians of California and the American West were, with few exceptions, unable to exorcise the ghost of Frederick Jackson Turner.

The Turnerian straitjacket circumscribed California and Western history in various ways. By definition, it narrowed the conceptual and methodological framework that underlay the study of all regions of the American West. In a related fashion, it encouraged historians to limit the range of topics they studied. As Patricia Limerick observes: "Turner was, to put it mildly, ethnocentric and nationalistic. English-speaking white men were the stars of his story; Indians, Hispanics, French Canadians, and Asians were at best supporting actors and at worst invisible. Nearly as invisible were women, of all ethnicities." [9] The Turnerian preoccupation with agrarian settlement and "folk democracy" hardly spurred historians to study the role of labor and working people in many of the "instant cities" of the West. Turner's influence also caused historians to neglect the twentieth century. Finally, and perhaps most damaging, Turner's insistence that there was something unique about the character of the development of the American West bred a chauvinism and a parochialism among western historians that were hard to shake.

This chauvinism and parochialism were nowhere more evident than among California historians, who for many years portrayed "the state's history as a romantic anecdotal story featuring famous and heroic events: Cabrillo's voyage of discovery in 1542, the Serra Portola expedition in 1769 . . . the gold rush of 1849, the completion of the transcontinental railroad. . . "[10] In particular, the rapid development of California following


the gold rush encouraged a self-congratulatory and celebrationist perspective on the part of California historians. The increasing preeminence of California after World War II helped to perpetuate this outlook in an era when such historical provincialism was becoming increasingly anachronistic. Even Carey McWilliams, who had a very jaundiced and critical perspective on California history, insisted that the state's history was the "great exception." [11] Ironically, McWilliams, who did more than any other contemporary historian to address social issues and questions of social conflict, contributed unwittingly to the mythology that surrounded California history.

Most California historians before the 1960s wrote from an ideological perspective very different from that of McWilliams. They clung to a consensus view of history even at a time when a new generation of historians, influenced by contemporaneous events in California, was subjecting this view of American history to considerable scrutiny and criticism.

Although the writing of California history before the 1960s was dominated by traditional and conservative approaches, with studies written by and for "affluent white men . . . [who] predictably dwelt on the achievements of that group while overlooking the experiences of others," [12] a few California historians attempted (in E. P. Thompson's famous phrase) to rescue the "inarticulate" from oblivion and the enormous condescension of posterity. Writing in the tumultuous 1930s, Carey McWilliams treated the role of labor and the state's many ethnic groups in considerable detail and with great sympathy in his classic book Factories in the Field (1939). In the introduction, McWilliams was quite explicit about the purpose of his book: "It is intended as a guide to the social history of California, an attempt to dispel a few of the illusions and to focus attention on certain unpleasant realities." [13]

Brilliant as McWilliams's work was, it focused primarily on the plight of California's migrant agricultural workers. When McWilliams wrote a chapter on the California labor movement as a whole ("California Labor: Total Engagement") in his book California: The Great Exception (1949), he was forced to rely heavily on the work of Lucile Eaves and Ira Cross. In the tradition of many labor historians until the 1960s, both Eaves and Cross were labor economists. Eaves's book A History of California Labor Legislation (1910) traced the roots of protective laws from the state's beginnings. Much broader in scope was Ira Cross's History of the Labor Movement in California (1935). To this day, Cross's work is indispensable because of the breadth and meticulousness of his research. It does, however, contain many of the limitations associated with the "old" labor history.


Cross concentrated primarily on chronicling the story of organized labor and dramatic episodes in its history. Such subjects as unskilled workers, women, minorities, and changes in the nature of work and the structure of the work force received comparatively little attention. In addition, Cross's book focused heavily on San Francisco, as he recognized in his own preface: "An attempt to do full justice to the efforts of those persons in each community who have been moved by a sincere desire to improve the lot of the working class, would require the writing of many volumes." [14] Finally, Cross's work failed to integrate California's labor history with the important history of dissenting political movements at the state and local levels.

Several useful contributions, much in the genre of Cross's work, were made to California labor history in the 1950s and the 1960s, including Grace H. Stimson, Rise of the Labor Movement in Los Angeles (1955); Louis B. Perry and Richard S. Perry, A History of the Los Angeles Labor Movement, 1911-1941 (1963); Robert E. L. Knight, Industrial Relations in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1900-1918 (1960); and Philip Taft, Labor Politics American Style: The California State Federation of Labor (1968). In 1966, David Selvin published Sky Full of Storm: A Brief History of California Labor . While this book was revised twice in the next fifteen years, it amounted to little more than a synthesis of the old, institutionally oriented labor history of Cross and his successors. Selvin did not have at his disposal much of the new California social history that might have enabled him to write a book transcending the paradigms of the old labor history.

For all its limitations, however, it would be unwise to dismiss the old institutional labor history. Indeed, as Howard Kimeldorf has recently argued, the "new labor history" overreacted to the old, and the time has come again to "bring unions back in." [15] This applies with special force to California. To be sure, the organized labor movement never embraced more than half of the nonagricultural work force of the state, and, in various periods such as the 1890s and the 1920s, its influence was minimal. Moreover, many segments of the organized labor movement held reprehensible views on race and women, were indifferent to the plight of unskilled workers, and were actively hostile to such radical movements and causes as the Wobblies, the Socialists, and the progressive agenda and activities of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Nevertheless, from the 1850s, although its power waxed and waned, the California labor movement was a significant countervailing influence that contested vital issues at the workplace and in the legislative arena.


The union movement was a major force in San Francisco during the 1880s, and in the early twentieth century it was probably more powerful there than in any other city in America. This power diminished by the mid-1910s, but the 1930s saw the revival of the California labor movement, heralded by the San Francisco general strike of 1934. This strike is vividly described by Bruce Nelson in his contribution to this book. The outcome of the strike helped to rekindle the labor movement not only in San Francisco but also in other areas of the state.

It is essential to recognize that during the early twentieth century the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in California and its constituent unions were quite autonomous from the national AFL and the international unions. [16] In most respects, the AFL in California was more progressive than the national AFL. In San Francisco, the AFL attempted to organize unskilled workers and women workers in certain occupations and vigorously engaged in political action. As Michael Kazin's contribution to this volume indicates, even the San Francisco Building Trades Council, the aristocracy of labor, took many positions that were considerably more progressive than those of Samuel Gompers and the AFL nationally. My own work on Humboldt County shows that AFL unions launched the first international union of lumber workers and achieved remarkable success for a while. Not only did the Humboldt County labor movement engage in active and independent political efforts, but several leaders and many rank-and-file members were Socialists. [17]

Of course, AFL unions, umbrella organizations, and the California State Federation of Labor can be criticized for either excluding or neglecting various categories of workers and for failing to use their strength in San Francisco to spread unionism to other parts of the state. Several mitigating factors must be kept in mind, however. First, the California State Federation of Labor had limited funds with which to expand unionism in the early twentieth century, [18] although it did lend some measure of support to unionism elsewhere in the state. Second, even in San Francisco, the labor movement was constantly threatened by powerful employer organizations founded primarily to crush unionism. [19] Third, as the work of Eaves, Nash, and Taft in particular shows us, the AFL was quite effective as a legislative lobbying group and was responsible for passing and defending a host of important labor laws. [20] And, by the 1940s, the AFL was also active in both extending and defending many of the social welfare reforms of the New Deal era, such as unemployment insurance, affordable housing and rent control, state-supported child care facilities, and health insurance. [21]


As Carey McWilliams noted, another distinguishing feature of the California labor movement was the level of its political engagement. In the 1870s, the California Workingmen's party caused one of the greatest upheavals in the state's political history. The Workingmen's party was not just a San Francisco phenomenon but a political movement that arose (in many instances independently) in at least forty of California's fifty-two counties. Although anti-Chinese sentiment played a significant role in the life of the San Francisco Workingmen's party, it is important to appreciate, as I argue in my essay on Humboldt County, included in this volume, that factors other than anti-Chinese feeling inspired the Workingmen's party. In most California counties, the party offered a strong anti-monopoly critique of California—denouncing the role of land speculators, railroad magnates, and corrupt politicians—and called for the eight-hour day, employment on public works during hard times, free access to education for all, a state commission to regulate railroad rates, a state income tax, and other reforms that presaged those of the Populist movement fifteen years later.

The links between the organized labor movement and the vibrant California Populist movement were not as close. In the wake of the Working-men's party challenge, the Democratic party took a fairly strong anti-monopoly position, and labor politics were (in Alexander Saxton's words) "institutionalized" in San Francisco after the demise of the Workingmen's party. [22] Elsewhere, the California Populist movement attracted considerable support from working people, including urban workers.

The saga of San Francisco labor and the Union Labor party is well known. Michael Kazin sheds fresh light on why the Union Labor party wielded such power during the early twentieth century. He offers a complex analysis of the political ideology of the labor movement and its roots in the nineteenth-century dissident tradition. Less well known is that union labor parties were formed in many other towns and cities in California and that the Socialist party received a significant vote in many towns.

After the Progressive Era, the link between labor and dissident electoral political activity was weaker, for the labor movement in the Golden State was on the defensive, as it was nationally. During the 1930s, however, working people within and outside the organized labor movement supported several radical movements or initiatives, including Upton Sinclair's End Poverty in California (EPIC) campaign, the panaceas of Francis Townsend, and the Ham 'n' Eggs initiative. [23] The social basis of these political rebellions needs further analysis, but they unquestionably had a significant working-class constituency, especially in southern California. [24]


Bitter factionalism within the California labor movement and the strict adherence of most of the state AFL leadership to the conservative national policies of the AFL prevented the organized labor movement from playing a more visible and decisive role than it might have otherwise done in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. However, as Marilynn Johnson describes in her essay for this book, a coalition of labor forces made up the CIO, dissident elements in the AFL, and civil rights activists embraced a progressive social-democratic agenda in Oakland during the late 1940s and met with early electoral success. The extent to which similar alliances were forced elsewhere warrants further study. The organized California labor movement, despite having to combat a fierce anti-union offensive from the late 1930s onward, was remarkably effective in defeating a series of anti-labor electoral measures, including three "right-to-work" initiatives between 1938 and 1958.

In assessing the achievements of the old labor history and the contributions that an institutional approach can make in the future, it would be foolish to overlook the work of such historians as Eaves, Cross, and Taft. While their prose is sometimes arid and the story dull, these histories provide a useful narrative framework and are the result of painstaking primary research. Institutional labor history can be productively combined with some of the approaches of the new social history. [25] This is most ably demonstrated in the essays contributed to this book by Vicki Ruiz and Dorothy Sue Cobble. In writing about the workplace struggles of waitresses in San Francisco, for example, Cobble gives us meticulous institutional labor history while also using categories such as gender, race, and class to illuminate many facets of the waitresses' work and union experience, not the least of which was her finding that these women possessed a fierce pride in their craft.

If we are to fill some of the yawning gaps that remain in our knowledge of the history of California working people, we are going to need studies that do not neglect institutional aspects of the labor movement's history. The "old" California labor historians concentrated primarily on San Francisco in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. Notwithstanding the work of Stimson and the Perrys, we know far less about the history of the labor movement in Los Angeles, and even less about its history in countless small towns and cities throughout the state. We even lack a thorough narrative account of the history of the California labor movement, including San Francisco itself, in the period from the 1920s to the 1950s. We know a lot about certain unions, strikes, and episodes, but no one has attempted to piece the information together.


The new California history has begun to explore many noninstitutional aspects of the lives of working people. It follows the path trod in the late 1960s and early 1970s by a vanguard influenced by historians such as David Montgomery and Herbert Gutman. Nowhere was this path more clearly defined than in Gutman's groundbreaking 1973 article "Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America," which called for a redefinition of the parameters of labor history and, in effect, for its marriage to social history and other subdisciplines of history. Rebelling against "the traditional imperial boundaries that have fixed the territory open to American labor historians for exploration," Gutman accused an older generation of labor historians of spinning "a cocoon around American workers, isolating them from their own subcultures and from the larger national culture." The narrowly economistic assumptions of these historians "caused the study of American working class history to grow more constricted and become more detached from larger developments in American social and cultural history and from the writing of American social and cultural history itself." [26]

To unravel and explore the experience of California working people, social and labor historians began to examine the lives of these people from a much more microcosmic perspective than did the previous generation of historians. To a significant extent, this has been accomplished by focusing on the working class from the standpoint of a particular community, an occupation, or a racial or ethnic group, usually within a relatively limited time span. The old social or labor history had revealed that, regardless of the author's sympathies, studies that were sweeping in their chronological, geographical, and occupational breadth deterred the historian from tapping a diverse array of qualitative and quantitative sources that could help to analyze numerous aspects of working-class life. The use of community and case studies was, moreover, especially fruitful when applied to California history because of the state's racial heterogeneity and the size and diversity of its economy and geography.

Like their counterparts elsewhere, the new California social historians, wary of the celebrationist and consensual framework of their predecessors, also probed for evidence of social conflict, whether studying the plight of Native Americans before the gold rush or the situation of black workers in the shipyards of California during World War II. They have shown that the California working class was not simply a passive victim of teleological forces; rather, within certain limits, it played a significant role in shaping its own destiny.

This research has involved much more than simply documenting epi-


sodes of resistance. It has entailed examining in great depth the social, economic, and cultural universe of working people. Race, class, gender, and culture have been examined both as important subjects in themselves and as forces shaping patterns of working-class resistance and accommodation. James Gregory's essay in this anthology is a model of how the analysis of a subculture (in this case, that of the "Okies") can explain much about the political values and responses of working people.

The greatest achievement of the new social history of California, however, has been to enhance our knowledge of the social and cultural world of the state's racial and ethnic minorities. During the 1980s, for example, several important books began to portray California Indians as something more than victims of a demographic holocaust—differing from the earlier view so forcefully and influentially expressed by Sherburne Cook. [27] The very title of Albert Hurtado's book Indian Survival on the California Frontier (1988) proclaimed the author's differences with Cook. Hurtado acknowledges that contact with whites in the gold rush era resulted in a "demographic disaster," but he insists that "Indians were not merely passive victims of white rapacity. While Indian populations were rapidly declining, the survivors adapted to novel circumstances." And, he concludes, "that any Indians survived is testimony that abhorrent conditions can produce courage and strength in people, a tribute to the persistence of mankind." [28]

Hurtado examined the vital contribution of Indian labor during and immediately after the gold rush in more detail than anyone else has done to date. George Phillips also stresses the adaptability of Indian culture and the Indians' resistance to oppression. [29] The complex interplay between Indians and Hispanic and Anglo cultures and the resultant patterns of resistance and accommodation are major themes of Douglas Monroy's book Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California (1990), from which he has extracted an essay for this anthology. Monroy and Hurtado both emphasize that the ruthless exploitation of California Indian labor occurred in the context of the internationalization of the California economy during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. James Rawls is also conscious of the California Indians' place in the global economy and stresses the important role of Native American labor in the gold rush era. Rawls, however, views the California Indians much more as victims and is more concerned with chronicling how and why the Europeans and Americans developed such negative images of them. [30] Rawls's approach was highly influenced by his mentor, Winthrop Jordan, whose book White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the


Negro, 1550-1812 (1968) transcended the boundaries of social and intellectual history and became a model for a younger generation of historians studying race relations.

While ambitious attempts have been made toward a synthesis of California Indians' history, our knowledge of other minority groups has been enhanced primarily by case studies focusing on a particular racial or ethnic group in a community or occupational context, usually within a specific time frame. This has been especially true in the field of Chicano studies. In his book The Los Angeles Barrio: A Social History, 1850-1890 (1979), Richard Griswold del Castillo uses a wide range of quantitative data to explore in rich detail the social history of the emergent Los Angeles barrio, with attention to the familial and occupational structure of the community. Focusing on the period from 1900 to 1930, Ricardo Romo's book History of a Barrio: East Los Angeles (1983) picks up the story where Castillo leaves off. Romo successfully places his subject in the wider context of Chicano history, writing one of the best accounts of the forces that impelled the massive migration from Mexico early in the twentieth century.

Complementing Romo's and Castillo's work, but even more ambitious chronologically and geographically, is Albert Camarillo's Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrios in Santa Barbara and Southern California, 1848-1930 (1979). Not only does this study cover almost a century, it also compares the experiences of Chicanos in Santa Barbara with those of Chicanos in San Bernardino and San Diego. The central thrust of these books has been to examine why Chicanos became a subordinate economic group while exploring the resiliency and adaptability of their culture. This is also the primary theme of George Sanchez's recent and highly acclaimed book Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 (1993). [31]

In choosing occupation as their primary focus, Vicki Ruiz and Patricia Zavella have greatly added to our knowledge of the lives of Chicana cannery workers as well as providing many insights into the important role that Chicanas played in the California labor movement from the 1930s. [32] Likewise, Devra Weber's book Dark Sweat, White Gold: California Farm-workers, Cotton, and the New Deal analyzes the experience of Chicano agricultural workers and their role in the upheavals of the 1930s. The extent and the quality of research on the social history of California Chicanos in the post-World War II years do not quite match up to the work done on the preceding years, however. Useful scholarship concerning Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers has been published—see, for


example, Cletus Daniel's essay in this volume, which provides an excellent overview—but the definitive works on the subject remain to be written. [33]

The historiography on Asians in California, especially the Chinese and the Japanese, has followed a similar trajectory. Throughout the 1960s, scholarship focused on the racism to which these groups had been subjected, from the rabid sinophobia of the California Workingmen's party to the internment of the Japanese during World War II. While some historians, such as Varden Fuller, Carey McWilliams, and Lloyd Fisher, examined the crucial role of Chinese and Japanese immigrants in California agriculture, they focused on Asian workers as part of the state's farm labor supply and, like other historians of California Asians, made relatively little attempt to examine internal social history.

Since the 1960s, several important articles and works have remedied this deficiency. Among the most significant is Sucheng Chan's This Bittersweet Soil: The Chinese in California Agriculture, 1860-1910 (1986). Broader than its title suggests, the book places Chinese immigration in a global context, sweepingly assesses previous work in the area, and touches on the experience of urban Chinese Californians as well. By making meticulous use of manuscript census data and a host of local quantitative sources, Chan paints a microscopically detailed and rich portrayal of Chinese social and economic life in the state. As she observes in her introduction, most scholars have focused on Chinese immigration and the anti-Chinese movement in California, while most of the work on the social history of the Chinese people in California has examined the urban and nonagricultural Chinese population. Chan's contribution to this anthology highlights the important role the Chinese played in the development of the state's agriculture in the late nineteenth century. Sylvia Sun Minnick's book Samfow: The San Joaquin Chinese Legacy (1988), though not focused exclusively on agricultural workers, is another important study of the social history of the Chinese in California that makes careful use of local sources, especially newspapers. [34]

Comparable in scope to Sucheng Chan's work on the Chinese in California are Yuji Ichioka's The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885-1924 (1988) and John Modell's The Economics and Politics of Racial Accommodation: The Japanese of Los Angeles, 1900-1942 (1977). Various community studies of the Japanese in California have not received the attention they deserve because they have been published by local presses. Valerie Matsumoto's book Farming the Home Plane: A Japanese American Community in California, 1919-1982 (1993) promises to reach a much wider audience, however. Karl Yoneda's


Ganbatte: Sixty-Year Struggle of a Kibei Worker (1983) is a fascinating account of his involvement as an organizer in the Communist party and the California labor movement, shedding light on the involvement of Japanese people and other workers in such causes. Ronald Takaki's Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (1989) and Sucheng Chan's Asian Californians (1991) are invaluable synthetic works; Chan's book provides an excellent annotated bibliography on the history of all Asian workers in the state.

As Rudolph Lapp notes in the bibliographic essay accompanying his general survey Afro-Americans in California (1987), "the research and writing of black history in California is still in its early stages of development" compared to work published on African Americans in the East and the South. [35] Although this observation applies with special force to social and labor history, several influential publications on the social history of African Americans have appeared since the late 1970s. Charles Wollenberg's work reflects a growing tendency to study the social, political, and economic history of African Americans rather than simply focusing on oppression and the struggle for racial equality. [36] His article on blacks in the Bay Area shipyards in this anthology embodies this holistic approach and has influenced other historians studying the significant role of African Americans in the California labor movement during and after World War II.

While devoting relatively little space to the labor movement, Douglas Daniels's Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco (1980) was among the first and most important new social histories of African Americans. Daniels uses a wide array of sources to construct a sophisticated and dynamic portrayal of African American community formation. Of equal breadth and significance is Albert Broussard's Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900-1954 (1993). African Americans' struggle for equality is a central theme, but the book also explores in depth the social, cultural, and political history of the African American community in San Francisco, placing developments squarely in a statewide and national context. Broussard pays close attention to the structure of African American employment and examines the difficult relationship between black workers and the Bay Area union movement from the late 1930s onward. Shirley Ann Moore's forthcoming book To Place Our Deeds: The African-American Community in Richmond, California, 1910-1963 promises to have all the depth and breadth of Daniels's and Broussard's work.

As Gloria Lothrop has noted in a review essay, our knowledge of Cali-


fornia women's history still lags behind what we know about women in many other states and regions. [37] Perhaps the greatest contribution to California women's history has come from the ethnic community and occupational studies of the type described above. Three valuable autobiographies and biographies have been published since Lothrop's review essay. Dorothy Healey's autobiography, Dorothy Healey Remembers: A Life in the American Communist Party (1990), is a lucid and detailed account by one of California's most illustrious radicals, offering especially valuable insights into the role of Communists in the labor movement and the social and political history of California in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Vivian Raineri's biography of Elaine Black, The Red Angel (1991), covers similar topical and chronological terrain and is equally indispensable. Ingrid Scobie's biography of Helen Gahagan Douglas, Center Stage: Helen Gahagan Douglas, A Life (1992), is a rather more conventional biography. Although its subject was hardly a grassroots activist, Scobie's biography says much about the overlapping ideologies of liberal women like Douglas and more radical women like Healey and Black. In recounting the story of Douglas's 1950 senatorial campaign, the book also illustrates the particularly difficult state and national context in which California liberals and radicals had to operate in the late 1940s, as well as going some way toward compensating for the recent dearth of good California political histories of the post-World War II period.

To what extent was the history of labor in California different from developments in other states and regions? Writing in 1949, Carey McWilliams had no doubt that, in terms of its "engagement" at the workplace and in the political arena, the history of California working people was exceptional. [38] He stressed that the relative isolation of California from the national labor market enhanced labor's bargaining power and that the state's early dependence on San Francisco as a port gave waterfront unions enormous power. He also argued that because the commerce and population of the state were so concentrated in two large metropolises, and because agriculture and industry were so interdependent until almost the mid-twentieth century, the urban labor movement found unusual allies ("Curious Ducklings"), including the small shopkeeping element, a "large sector of the rural population," and white-collar workers. Finally, McWilliams stressed the degree to which anti-Oriental sentiment "invested labor in California with a political power far stronger than it has ever possessed in any other state." [39]

Almost half a century later, many California social historians share much of this analysis and are able to draw on a larger body of empirical


evidence than McWilliams had to support it. But not all of the sweeping generalizations made by McWilliams in 1949 have stood the test of time. Most debatable are his contentions that labor found allies among "a large sector of the rural population" and that agricultural workers became "integral parts of the labor movement." [40] For reasons that McWilliams explained better than anyone, California's rural proletariat was almost totally unorganized before the 1930s, and the urban labor movement did relatively little to reach out to agricultural workers. Even after the 1930s, at least until the United Farm Workers became established in the 1970s, farmworkers remained poorly organized. In this respect, the state's farmworkers were hardly the "great exception." The militancy and courage demonstrated by California farmworkers in their struggles during the 1930s may have clouded McWilliams's judgment.

Some of McWilliams's other explanations for the allegedly unique character of California labor history were also a little wide of the mark and have been called into question by more recent research. In saying that "there seemed to be something in the air, in the social atmosphere of San Francisco, that prompted workingmen to organize," McWilliams uncharacteristically strayed into the realm of the metaphysical. His assertion that in California "class lines and distinctions were forgotten, and a universal spirit of rough democracy prevailed" contradicted much of his own evidence and reeked of Turnerianism. [41] It is also not supported by much recent empirical work on the social structure of late-nineteenth-century California. [42] Nor does recent research support his generalizations about the importance to the labor movement of the International Workingmen's Association and the Industrial Workers of the World in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [43] Finally, McWilliams never satisfactorily explained the historical weakness of the labor movement in southern California. [44]

As Michael Kazin argues in his article "The Great Exception Revisited," we will need more state and regional studies to determine how different California actually was. Yet some of the recent findings of the new social history indicate that in some areas the social history of California may have been quite parallel to that of other states and regions. If we take, for example, the political engagement of working people during the late nineteenth century, the evidence indicates that strong, dissident third-party movements sprang up in many places, espousing an ideological program similar to that of the California Workingmen's party (although sinophobia did not find a place in their platforms, except in western states). Leon Fink has calculated that during the 1880s "Workingmen's parties of one variety


or another sprung up in 189 towns and cities in thirty-four (out of thirty-eight) states and four territories." [45] While the problem of land monopoly in California heavily influenced Henry George, works such as his Progress and Poverty were as widely and favorably received in states such as Ohio and New York as they were in the Golden State. These radical books were not the product of Californians' propensity to flirt with utopian proposals, as McWilliams argued.

It is true that in the early twentieth century the union movement did not hold such "undisputed sway" elsewhere as it did in San Francisco for a few years. Nevertheless, the labor movement became an important force in many major eastern and midwestern towns and in western cities such as Seattle and Butte, Montana. Moreover, the kind of polarized struggles that took place between labor unions and employers' organizations in San Francisco occurred in many other cities and in many of the extractive industries of the American West.

Even if some of McWilliams's generalizations about the exceptionalism of the California labor movement are wide of the mark, however, his work in California: The Great Exception still provides brilliant insights into some of the distinctive aspects of the state's social history. Nowhere is this more evident than in his analysis of the social, political, and economic implications of California's agricultural economy. McWilliams was one of the first historians to chronicle the rise of a California "latifundia" in the immediate gold rush period. He also recognized the social and political consequences of this development and the unique and pervasive power that agricultural employers wielded in the state. McWilliams explained the paradox of agricultural interests exercising such broad power in one of the most urban states in the country not simply by pointing to the rise of a latifundia but also by explaining the close interdependence of agriculture with many of the state's basic industries, from food processing to transportation and utilities. As McWilliams knew from his first-hand experience as director of the California Division of Immigration and Housing, the power of such organizations as the Associated Farmers went further than their ability to crush farm labor unionism; it extended into almost every corner of California political life and created a hostile climate for working people within and outside the organized labor movement. In this connection, it is worth noting that recent works by historians such as Marc Reisner, Donald Worster, and Donald Pisani show clearly that the parameters of the power wielded by California agribusiness extended far beyond its ability to inhibit agricultural trade unionism. [46]

Only during World War II did California begin to develop an industrial


base that was not essentially a spin-off of agriculture and the state's other extractive industries. During the war, the California labor movement had a brief opportunity to extend its power beyond its primary base in craft unions in San Francisco and Los Angeles and to challenge the hegemony exercised by agricultural and industrial employers since the 1910s. From 1939 to 1947, the value of California manufactured products increased by 256 percent; [47] and between the end of World War II and 1953, almost twelve thousand new plants, representing capital of $3.2 billion, were opened. [48] Total employment in manufacturing increased 67 percent between 1946 and 1958. [49]

Although the labor movement grew at a faster rate in southern California, where manufacturing employment expanded most rapidly, the state's labor movement failed to build a strong base in the manufacturing industries. Indeed, the number of manufacturing workers who were union members declined from 52 percent in 1951 to 46 percent in 1957, and non-manufacturing workers still accounted for 67 percent of total union membership in 1957. On the eve of the AFL-CIO merger, only two of the fifteen largest unions in California were affiliated with the CIO: the auto-workers, which ranked eighth, and the steelworkers, which ranked tenth. [50]

The defeat of the 1958 right-to-work initiative indicated that California labor retained some political clout. But it would be misleading to make too much of this victory. For most of the period since the late 1930s, California labor had been on the political defensive. As Marilynn Johnson's essay in this volume shows, a brief window of opportunity for the labor movement to forge a broad political coalition appeared in the 1940s. A formidable array of obstacles stifled such prospects, however.

Perhaps nowhere was the struggle between the AFL and the CIO more bitter than in California. The strength of the Communists in the northern California labor movement and the lateness of Culbert Olson's attempt at a "little new deal" for California (1938-1942) fueled virulent anti-radical sentiment within and outside the labor movement. To be sure, there existed within the AFL a liberal wing prepared to cooperate with the CIO in the political arena, but the California AFL was no longer the autonomous body it had once been, and AFL president William Green used his power to crush the dissidents. [51] With internecine warfare inside the labor movement and growing anti-Communist sentiment at the state and national levels, the political context was not conducive to the California labor movement exploiting the propitious post-World War II economic climate. By 1946, many of the dissidents within the state labor movement had been dissuaded from following any course that deviated from the policy of the


national AFL and CIO leadership, which tied the labor movement's fate to that of the Democratic party even as many Democrats rushed headlong to support the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act.

Of course, as Mike Davis indicates in the article he has contributed to this book, important enclaves of blue-collar solidarity and unionism persisted in places such as Fontana, although racism, company welfarism, and factionalism within unions served as constraints. More important still, in the case Davis describes, the failure of Kaiser to modernize its steel-making plant in the 1960s doomed Fontana.

By the 1960s, the California labor movement, just like labor nationally, had to contend both with permanent job losses in some of the old manufacturing industries and with modernization and mechanization in others such as longshoring, where the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) was forced to accept containerization. However, two factors held off deindustrialization in California much longer than in most of the nation's industrial centers. First, the continuation of massive defense spending preserved some existing industries such as aerospace. Second, high-tech industries created hundreds of thousands of new jobs in California, especially in Los Angeles County and Silicon Valley.[52]

California's defense-dependent industries sustained a core of blue-collar unionism in the state. But recent cutbacks in defense expenditures threaten to erode the state's manufacturing base. In 1992, the Commission of State Finance estimated that 180,000 jobs had been lost in the previous two years because of Pentagon budget cuts.[53] In 1993 defense industry employment fell by 17 percent, and between 1989 and 1993 aerospace employment alone declined from 374,000 workers to 220,000.[54]

Plant relocations and factors unrelated to the retrenchment in defense spending have also hurt the California economy. A study prepared by the Aerospace Taskforce of the Los Angeles Economic Roundtable predicts that as many as 350,000 jobs in high-tech industries may disappear.[55] All told, approximately one million jobs, most of them in manufacturing, have been lost in California since 1989. Little wonder that the proportion of California manufacturing workers who are organized has shrunk from one-third in 1973 to about 15 percent today.[56]

High-tech employment not directly related to defense industries has hardly alleviated the plight of California workers. Many of the nonprofessional workers in the industry are poorly paid. Increasingly, the unskilled work force is made up of newly arrived immigrant women workers. As Karen Hossfeld shows in her article, the union movement has for the most part taken little interest in organizing these workers. Despite the objective


obstacles to unionizing them, some efforts have recently been made in Silicon Valley; even by conservative estimates, however, Silicon Valley shed almost one-seventh of its work force between 1991 and 1993, which indicates that the prospects for unionization are not bright.[57]

It is ironic that at a time when working people inside and outside the California labor movement face the most formidable challenge to their working conditions and institutions since the 1930s,[58] academic and popular interest in the history of California working people flourishes as never before. The essays in this book reflect this paradox and caution the reader not to make deterministic or fatalistic predictions about the future. At many junctures in the state's history, the destiny of working people appeared equally—or even more—grim. Repeatedly, however, California workers faced with serious challenges have devised both institutional and extra-institutional forms of resistance to combat the tide of seemingly inexorable forces.

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