STANFORD M. LYMAN is Robert J. Morrow Eminent Scholar and professor of Social Science at Florida Atlantic University. A specialist on Asian American studies, minorities and sociological theory, he is the author of Chinese Americans, The Asian in North America, and Chinatown and Little Tokyo: Power, Conflict, and Community among Chinese and Japanese Immigrants in America. His most recent book is Postmodernism and a Sociology of the Absurd and Other Essays on the "Nouvelle Vague" in American Social Science.
The general public in this country, unfortunately, does not know or understand the Chinese. This is due partly to the remaining effect of the propaganda against the Chinese during the anti-Chinese agitation here, but primarily to the present prevalence of certain elements in this country, which makes this knowledge and understanding impossible.
J.S. Tow, The Real Chinese in America (1923)
There must be candor in disclosure, honesty in inquiry and resolute determination in attack, or we will fail again, as we have so often failed before.
C. Eric Lincoln, Race, Religion and the Continuing American Dilemma (1999)
A SPECTER IS HAUNTING AMERICA'S LABOR HISTORIANS: It is the apparition of the Chinese worker. Long gone from his once insecure place in the fields, factories, industries, mines, and railways on the western frontier, as well as from the shoe and cutlery manufactories where he once served as a short-term strikebreaking laborer in the Northeast, the Asian immigrant from what was once called the Middle Kingdom is today being raised from the ignominious grave to which earlier labor historians had consigned him. But now he serves as a foil in an ongoing debate over whether organized labor's history contains a rich heritage of left-multiracial virtues or a clandestine legacy of right-racist vices. Arrayed on each side of this battlefield of words and documents, accusations and counter-charges, are some of the finest minds and some of the newest Ph.D.-minted members of the historians' profession. Those who seek honor for a non-racist labor heritage are led by the late Herbert Gutman and count among their number Eric Arnesen, Bruce Laurie, Leon Fink, Alan Dawley, Alex Lichtenstein, Daniel Letwin, and numerous other epigoni. Those who examine the patterns and consequences of white working-class racism are a dissident element among labor historians, and include Herbert Hill, Alexander Saxton, David Roediger, Nick Salvatore, Noel Ignatiev, and Gwendolyn Mink, among others. To this force and counterforce must now be added works addressing the role of the Chinese workers and the anti-Chinese movement in the annals of American labor history. In support of the followers of Gutman there has recently appeared Andrew Gyory's Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act;1 while several works on labor matters within and affecting America's Chinese by Peter Kwong2 stand in virtual but unstated opposition to the former's roseate thesis, as do portions of the research conducted by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Herbert Hill.3
When it comes to bringing the Chinese back into the history of organized labor in America, followers of Gutman must fight on two fronts. For it is an undisputed fact that America's first labor historians took great pride in the role played by organized labor's exclusion of the Chinese worker not only from the United States but also and equally significantly in his (and her) exclusion from trade union membership and eviction from jobs once dearly held. E. Salyer is thus quite correct when she observes, in a blurb written on the back cover of Gyory's book, that "he challenges the standard interpretations which have stood for years and become incorporated into the 'textbook' versions of American history." Although Salyer has exaggerated the extent to which standard textbooks had adopted the outlook of the previous generation's labor annalists, she is referring to Gyory's attempted repudiation of the thesis about Chinese workers and organized labor's response, best represented in a statement made by the much revered Selig Perlman in 1922:
The anti-Chinese agitation in California, culminating as it did in the Exclusion Law passed by Congress in 1882, was doubtless the most important single factor in the history of American labor, for without it the entire country might have been overrun by Mongolian labor and the labor movement might have become a conflict of races instead of one of classes.4Whereas Perlman and such other traditional labor historians as John R. Commons5 and Philip Taft6 justified the anti-Chinese actions taken by America's incipient trade union movement by treating their only slightly bowdlerized versions of the rhetoric employed by the Sinophobes as part of the Zeitgeist, Gyory -- as the disciple who voluntarily accepted Gutman's challenge that someone accommodate the issues in the Chinese question to the theses central to the "New Labor History"7 -- insists on denying that white workers and their labor institutions were possessed by a vigorous and pervasive anti-Chinese animus.
To simplify his argument, Gyory lumps his opponents into a single category. He passes lightly over Perlman's statement on the matter, and is equally complacent over related comments made by Commons, Taft, and such other labor historians as Joseph G. Rayback and Gerald R. Grob. But, immediately, Gyory conflates their perspective with that of such present-day critics of the racist practices of organized labor as Herbert Hill,8 Roger Daniels,9 and Ronald Takaki,10 -- each of whom might be said to have agreed with the traditional labor historians that the anti-Chinese attitude and actions of the formative national labor movement were central aspects of its development, but, unlike the latter, each of whom denies that this perspective and those actions were good, proper, ethical, or necessary. Gyory aims some of his most withering fire at Gwendolyn Mink. In 1986, Mink had argued that white workers' support for Chinese exclusion had become "a peculiar bridge between unionism and national politics."11 In Gyory's opinion, Mink has erred most egregiously by "repeatedly stressing, with virtually no original evidence, that workers in the eastern United States backed the cries of their brethren in California and that their support for Chinese exclusion thereby 'nationalized labor politics' "; however, even worse, Gyory retorts, Mink has echoed "the work of [Alexander] Saxton and [Herbert] Hill and anticipated that of [David R.] Roediger."12 Rejecting the findings of laborite Sinophobia in studies done decades earlier by Mary Roberts Coolidge,13 Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer,14 and Stuart Creighton Miller15 -- each of whom Gyory criticizes for adopting and elaborating upon what he regards as a false "national racist consensus"16 on organized labor's history -- Gyory counters with a postmodernist deconstruction of the racist process, viz., "race is . . . constructed differently at the same time by people in the same social class."17 And, given his assumption that this assertion is a heretofore unrecognized truth, Gyory states, "Workers' myriad attitudes toward Chinese immigration demonstrate . . . and reveal the dangers of generalizing too broadly about the extent and uniformity of racism in any single group."18
But, if the workingmen and their associations are not the leading sources of America's anti-Chinese movement, then who are the culprits? Gyory's answer is, as Leon Fink19 writes in a blurb appended to the cover of Closing the Gate, one that "rescues our understanding of the tragedy of Chinese exclusion (and by extension other American racial practices) from the glib generalities reliant on a resort to 'racist culture' in favor of a painstaking -- if painful -- account of specific political agency." That "political agency" is specified by Gyory: "The single most important force behind the Chinese Exclusion Act was national politicians of both parties who seized, transformed, and manipulated the issue of Chinese immigration in the quest for votes."20 And thus begins his investigation, one that seeks nothing less than a "not guilty" verdict for the now nearly century-old indictment charging that America's labor movement has been scarred by its support for Sinophobic as well as other forms of a virulent racism.21 Should Gyory succeed in his endeavor, he will not only relieve America's labor movement of its stigmatizing anti-Chinese heritage, but also (if we read between the lines of Fink's parenthetical statement above) absolve that movement of charges that its organizational practices restricted African Americans, Hispanics, and women, reducing the benefits that might have been gained from interracial solidarity and cooperation.22 Eliminating its racist legacy might even succeed in returning the image of America's labor movement to that presented in 1891 by Edward and Eleanor Marx-Aveling.23 More relevantly, it would provide an enormous assist to the posthumous fulfillment of Gutman's project: treating a broadened understanding of the class struggle as the unifying feature of America's labor movement, relegating labor union racism and workers' gender prejudices to insignificance.24
GYORY HAS CHOSEN TO UNDERTAKE A DAUNTING TASK. Leaving aside debates over whether the labor movement was (and, perhaps, still is) racist, whether the exigencies of the times justify or fail to lend adequate support to the exclusionary position taken by the major unions, and whether workers did or did not hold to the same outlook as their own union leaders, there still remains the scholarship on this and related questions carried out by sociologists and historians of the Chinese, a body of research to which any labor historian should attend. Of these, Gyory did pay special attention to one work: Chinese Immigration, a well documented analysis of American Sinophobia, published in 1909 and written by sociologist Mary Roberts Coolidge (1860-1945).25 A scholar-activist who launched modern sex research,26 demonstrated in behalf of women's suffrage, authored the first major work on the domestic and marital lives of middle class women,27 and conducted first hand investigations of the social and cultural life of the Native Americans of the Southwest,28 Coolidge's study of the Chinese question has long been recognized as a forerunner of critical engagé research on this topic. For Gyory, it is of utmost importance to restrict the findings of Coolidge's "California thesis," which, as he summarizes it, "blamed workers, and particularly Irish immigrants, for fanning the flames of racial hatred." Hence, he complains about the fact that "Coolidge's thesis has remained the dominant explanation for Chinese exclusion," bemoans the fact that "[s]ucceeding generations of historians have refined but not overturned her argument," and proclaims, without presenting a scintilla of evidence in support of his statement, that Coolidge's Chinese Immigration is "marred by class-prejudice, numerous inaccuracies, and a polemical tone."29
The "succeeding generations of historians" to which he must be referring would have to include Elmer Sandmeyer, as well as such social scientists as Rose Hum Lee, Betty Lee Sung, and Peter Kwong. With the exception of his unpersuasive denunciation of Coolidge's exposé of the corrupt practices of American port officials in China,30 and his dismissal of Sandmeyer's study as one that though "a more scholarly and balanced account" than Coolidge's, "essentially reaffirmed Coolidge's thesis,"31 Gyory does not address the arguments about labor and racism contained in the works by these investigators of Chinese life in America. However, their findings deserve at least a hearing, if not a central place, in studies of the Chinese workingmen and working women. His neglect of these works is a glaring omission; it violates what is perhaps the single most important tenet of the New Labor History -- viz., the demand for a "rich and detailed study of the many varieties of past American working-class experiences."32 Unless, that is, Gyory intends to evict the Chinese worker from the annals of American labor history! But more on this point below.
Gyory does not bother to mention, much less refute, Rose Hum Lee's statement that America's Chinese immigrants "were excluded from skilled occupations by the labour unions' concerted efforts to bar them from shoe, textile, and tobacco making, heavy machinery and other industries."33 Nor does he acknowledge the comparative point to be made with respect to the allegation that Chinese workingmen were a peculiar species of "cheap labor," although Betty Lee Sung had done so some 31 years before his book was published: "The greatest antagonism against Chinese immigration in former years was directed against the threat of cheap labor. Not that the Chinese were different from other immigrant nationalities in this respect . . . But it was felt that because of the greater endurance and efficiency of the Chinese laborer, he was a threat to the job tenure of the white laborer."34 Moreover, Gyory fails to recognize what Peter Kwong has shown, viz., that the American Federation of Labor and its affiliated unions continued their hostility to the Chinese worker35 well into the 20th century. "Capital," writes Peter Kwong in his recent and devastating critique of the conditions under which undocumented workers live and labor in the United States, "counts on labor's traditional racism and exclusionary practices, for it recruits precisely those whom organized labor excludes."36
On December 17, 1943, Congress approved H.R. 3070, entitled "An Act to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Acts, to establish quotas, and for other purposes." It became Public Law 199, thus ending 61 years of prohibited entry for Chinese.37 Gyory, who claims his "book answers a simple question: Why did the United States pass the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882?" insists and seeks to demonstrate that "most workers evinced little interest in Chinese exclusion," and that "Organized labor nationwide played virtually no role in securing the legislation."38 In effect, when, in the same paragraph, he quotes an otherwise unidentified midwestern congressman declaring, "To protect our laboring classes . . . the gate . . . must be closed,"39 Gyory seems to be implying that the laboring classes were being protected from something -- Chinese immigration -- of which they had no fear and little concern. But not even his own distorted picture of the events leading up to the passage of the Exclusion Act will sustain this remarkable thesis. However, even if one were to accept the latter thesis for purposes of discussion, it would still be necessary to account for organized labor's persistent pursuit of exclusion after the original law had been enacted, a pursuit that continued up to and including the Congressional debates over H.R. 3070 -- during which, to give but one example, Lester M. Hunt of the Teamsters' Union argued that the repeal was being "instigated by the communists and that Congress was being coerced into passing the bill"40 -- and to which the American Federation of Labor offered "stiff opposition."41 Gyory has not attended to this profoundly important question. His investigation ends in 1882, 61 years short of where it should have gone.
THERE IS A TRIADIC STRUCTURE TO GYORY'S ARGUMENT. Its architectonic is that of a three-legged stool upholding New Labor History's precepts as set forth by Gutman42 and elaborated upon by David Montgomery43 and Leon Fink.44 One leg purports to show the white workingman's commitment to an antiracist abolitionism, an antislavery emancipatory outlook, and a position not unlike that of the postwar Reconstructionists. Because they were steadfast in these beliefs, Gyory insists that the white workingmen of the East Coast were either hostile to, indifferent toward, or only occasionally aroused to action by the anti-Chinese rhetoric and Sinophobic prejudices of both their West Coast compatriots and their labor movement's own leaders. Instead of race prejudice, Gyory insists there was manifested a vague but powerful toleration of worker solidarity amidst ethnic diversity. As he would have it, it was that sense of interracial union that was manipulated by unscrupulous politicians who turned the legitimate fears of these workingmen into support for the exclusion of Chinese from the United States. The second leg of Gyory's argument gives substance to these fears by reviving the "coolie" thesis, viz., the belief that virtually every Chinese who set foot on America's shores was an involuntary, "imported contract laborer." Denying that this epithet and allegation were products of an anti-Chinese stereotype, Gyory virtually elevates the anti-coolie hysteria of the 19th century to a place in the rational belief system of white workers as well as an appropriate rationale for public policy. The third leg consists of a subtle arrangement of the temporal aspects of labor history such that organized labor's anti-Chinese activities after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act are omitted altogether, in effect treating them as matters of minor significance, events outside the scope of Gyory's study, and thus outside the question of labor's responsibility for the treatment and condition of the Chinese labor force in America. Each of the legs of this three-legged thesis is dependent on the other two, and each deserves critical attention.
However, as a New Labor Historian concerned not to over-generalize a group's beliefs, Gyory might have inquired whether there in fact existed a common and uniform attitude toward abolition among the antebellum white working classes, and whether that same uniformity of thought and conduct had held during the postwar period. The evidence on this matter has long been available. It will not support such a thesis.
That a persistent, pervasive pro-abolitionist stance did not characterize the outlook of white workingmen has been demonstrated in numerous historical investigations. Indeed, insofar as antebellum attitudes toward African Americans carried over and were projected onto Chinese workers, they were not of a kind that would likely lead to an opposition to exclusion. Paul Goodman has noted the diversity in the responses of white workingmen to abolitionism -- "a small number joined the movement, others sympathized and signed anti-slavery petitions that did not commit them to immediatism, but many more remained indifferent or hostile and bitterly prejudiced toward free African Americans." Moreover, Goodman goes on to observe that "Most anomalous were the radical, egalitarian workingmen who flocked to the Jacksonian Party in coalition with slaveholders and planters who held them and all free labor in contempt."48 Nor was this much different in New York City where, even before the Draft Riots of 1863, white laborers "feared not only the competition of Negroes in the skilled trades but also the loss of social status which resulted from associating with them."49 In 19th-century Chicago, as Eric L. Hirsch's investigation has emphasized, "Anglo-American workers often accepted a hegemonic ideology promoted by the largely Protestant middle and upper classes . . . Nativism and antiradicalism were part of the ideology . . . "50
For Irish workers, the majority of whom would become the mainstay of the pro-exclusion forces, it is simply not true to say, as Gyory does, that later studies merely adapted Coolidge's so-called "California thesis" to the national scene. Rather, recent studies show that the complex civic, occupational, social, religious, and marital situation of the Irish workers is related to their decision to move against first the African Americans, then the Chinese.51 Essentially, the Irish workers were moved by racially-based status considerations. Unlike black slaves and many free Negroes, the Irish had the right to vote, to join political parties, to seek niches of influence, power, and control in urban politics -- each providing a competitive advantage in the struggle to get ahead in America; each threatened by identification and association with those non-whites who had been declared aliens ineligible to citizenship in the United States, i.e., blacks in 1857,52 Chinese in 1878.53 What the Irish and other European immigrants sought and gained was not only what Roediger, inspired by W. E. B. DuBois, calls the "wages of whiteness,"54 but something more comprehensive, the social, moral, and civic status of white men.55 Thus, the rejection by the Irish miners of Pottsville of Daniel O'Connell's 1842 exhortation that the Irish workers "treat the colored people as your equals, as brethren";56 thus, the antebellum Irish parade to New York City's polls shouting "Down with the Nagurs!";57 thus the spread of anti-Negro assaults in what began as the New York City draft riots of 1863 to Albany, Troy, Yonkers, Hartford, and Boston -- and, in New York City, to attacks on Chinese peddlers suspected of having liaisons with white women58; thus James Brewer Stewart's observation that "the unskilled Boston dock worker was always quick to repulse any challenge to his sense of fraternal 'whiteness' with the Winthrops and the Adamses"59; thus the Catholic anathema pronounced on California's Chinese workers by the metis priest Father Bouchard;60 thus Denis Kearney's vitriolic verbal volley heaping invective on Chinese domestic servants for imperiling the jobs deserved by Irish women;61 and thus the addition of the long-queued, cunning "heathen Chinese" to the repertory of low-brow Irish vaudeville.62 The Chinese became not merely the indispensable enemy63 of Irish workers' opportunities, but also morally inferior people, those farthest down, but, more significantly, the people to be kept out of the labor movement and the country itself.
Gyory's "politicians" thesis pales into insignificance if one compares its explanatory value with that of John Kuo Wei Tchen's briefer but even more comprehensive investigation of the origins and development of exclusionism among the Irish of New York City.70 Tchen presents a socio-cultural analysis that comes closer to E. P. Thompson's demand for the inclusion of popular culture features of workers' lives,71 extends the "whiteness" studies of Roediger and Ignatiev, and combines these with a showing of how ideologies supporting race and gender hierarchies were fitted together to form a Sinophobic and exclusionist orientation. "Irish competition with blacks and Chinese undoubtedly existed," he concedes, " . . . yet it is not a sufficient explanation for Irish anti-black and anti-Chinese feelings and actions." 72 Added to job competition, Tchen points out, was the rise of fears about "amalgamation," already present in the New York City riots of 1834 and 1863, but exacerbated to a much higher degree by the appearance on New York City newsstands of David Goodman Croly's and George Wakeman's pseudo-scholarly, sensationalist pamphlet, Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the White Man and Negro.73 The few Irish-Chinese marriages that had occurred in the early decades of Chinese arrival in the city came to be regarded thereafter as a threat to white civilization. Further, Tchen shows, after Irish minstrels, comedians, and actors began to add scathing stereotypes of Chinese to their popular variety shows in the Bowery, in the process providing Irish workers with a legitimation of their belief that there was a people further down in the social and moral scale than themselves -- further down, that is, than the Anglo-American Protestants held them to be -- they facilitated their own ascent into the economically and politically privileged "white" race, leaving behind both black laborers and their erstwhile fellow workers, the Chinese. "The Irish did not magically become white," Tchen points out. "Irish men were able to become Americanized by actively participating in racial masquerades of the established political culture . . . , by so doing they became increasingly viewed as 'white.' "74 And, employing general fears of race mixing and Sinophobically stereotyped low-brow cultural displays, New York City's Irish Catholics could "defuse longstanding Anglo-American and European-Protestant hatred toward them . . . [by] symbolically displac[ing] such low valuation placed on them onto an even lower group."75 Precisely "because they had prerequisite talents and skills for entering into New York's commercial stage culture just at the point of its expansion, the Irish were in a unique position to enhance their own image in mainstream society while creating new 'heathens' to displace their longstanding negative image."76 Thus Tchen, carrying forward themes developed earlier by Ignatiev and Roediger, provides elements of "the cultural background that made possible the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act."77
Gyory's assertion that white workers were moved in both their attitudes and their responses to former slaves and to Chinese immigrants by the ideals of abolition and Reconstruction, is further contradicted by the evidence amassed by historians. Thus, Howard Rabinowitz concludes his comprehensive empirical investigation of what happened to the freedmen-and-women during the actual postwar quarter century on a doleful note: "For the majority of urban Negroes . . . the first 25 years after the war were years of frustration and disappointment. The year 1890 found them at the lowest levels of the economic ladder with little prospect for improvement."78 Organized labor, observes Eric Foner, in "its own conception of equality remained in many respects thoroughly conventional. Composed mostly of artisans and skilled industrial workers, unions proved unwilling to expand their membership beyond the ranks of white men." Moreover, he goes on, "In California, where indentured [sic!] Chinese immigrants by 1870 constituted a quarter of the wage labor force, the agitation for their exclusion, more than any other issue, shaped the labor movement's development."79
But were the Chinese workers so different from white laborers in their aims and efforts? Gyory, in effect abandoning any attempts to understand the culture of the Chinese worker, displays no interest whatsoever in such social, economic or community-wide institutions of the Chinatown Chinese as clans, Landsmannschaften, or labor guilds.80 Nor does he give any recognition to such Chinese individuals as the crusading newspaper editor and progressive opponent of exclusionism, Ng Poon Chew,81 or to the founder-editor-publisher, in 1883, of the first anti-exclusionist East coast Chinese newspaper, Wong Chin Foo,82 who appropriately entitled his short-lived but influential publication the Chinese American (Hua Mei Xin Bao). In any true labor history of the late 19th century, Wong Chin Foo should be included, for he was the principal leader of the Chinese community's attempt to overcome the citizenship provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and in 1892 founder and secretary of the Chinese Equal Rights League of America, an association of English-speaking Chinese dedicated to securing the civil rights of all Chinese in the United States. According to the New York Times, the League's members "wore American clothes, . . . patent leather shoes and white neckties,"83 thus displaying openly the lie of unadaptability broadcast nationwide by the spokesmen for the white labor unionists.
In contrast to the argument Gyory is advancing, labor historian David Montgomery, in his occasional but pointed mentions of Chinese workers, has in effect argued that the latter showed themselves -- by their willingness to labor long and hard at dangerous tasks under life-threatening conditions,84 and, even more to the point, by their ability to organize themselves into labor guilds and proto-unions that were willing to and did in fact go on strike -- to have the very characteristics that should have made them candidates for recruitment into the burgeoning labor movement. Although Professor Montgomery is not the first to take note of the fact that "when laborers unionized as laborers . . . their organizations were based on ethnic ties," he should be credited with being one of the few who observe that "the context of the exclusion movement also inspired purely Chinese unions of cigar makers, jean makers, and laundrymen."85 Moreover, Montgomery does not treat these Chinese labor guilds as antithetical to the aims or the organizational structure of the white workingmen's associations of that era, but rather, he compares them favorably to those formed by Greek and Italian workers.86
But, Montgomery's studies go even further, in effect undermining much of Gyory's argument. Montgomery published his findings more than a decade before Gyory had produced his. Of great significance in this regard, is Montgomery's analysis of Chinese-initiated work stoppages and strikes, and his reports on the Chinese laborers' willingness to participate in the very unions whose white members scorned their efforts, rioted against them, and clamored for their exclusion from both the labor market and the country. "Although few in America were aware of it at the time, [the Chinese working on the Central Pacific section of the Transcontinental railway] staged, in June 1867, one of the largest-scale strikes of the century."87 As Montgomery goes on to observe, demanding a wage comparable to that being paid to white workers, insisting on a ten-hour day, and calling for abolition of whipping for those who quit, the Chinese refused to leave their makeshift tents for a week, won their wage demands, and returned to work. Anti-Chinese violence in Vancouver, Tacoma, Seattle, Denver and Los Angeles, as well as the wholesale expulsion of the entire Chinese community from Humboldt County, California, nevertheless continued as one element in the white workingmen's campaign of ethnic cleansing of the labor market.88 "White workers and farmers," Montgomery asserts, "who flocked to the Pacific Coast in search of high wages and fertile valleys quickly and virtually unanimously came to look on first the Chinese and later the Japanese as the carriers of poverty and social decay."89 And, in direct contradiction of the thesis that Gyory is espousing, Montgomery points out, "The labor movement itself played a leading role in the struggle to exclude Chinese and Japanese from American life altogether."90
Strasser, pressed over and over again by Chairman Hewitt as to the precise nature of his opposition to Chinese immigration, insisted, "I am not opposed to the Chinaman, or any nationality; but I am opposed that John Chinaman or anyone else should be imported here as a coolie under contract. I don't agree that the Chinaman must go. I cannot agree with that, because you might as well say that someone else must go. That is wrong; I cannot agree to that. I am not in favor of that; but I am in favor not to tolerate the direct importation of coolies by contract." When Hewitt asked him, "You won't allow anyone to be brought here under contract?" Strasser replied, "I am opposed to it."95 However, Gyory's attempt to relieve Strasser and most of the East Coast white workers from the charge that they possessed and were possessed by a generalized Sinophobic bias will not survive closer scrutiny.
Perhaps, first, it ought to be noted that, despite all the posturing before Congressional committees and other public venues, the opponents of contract labor succeeded, as the wording of the Chinese Exclusion Act plainly shows, in prohibiting the coming to America of all Chinese laborers, whatever their contractual condition: "sec.15. That the words 'Chinese laborers," wherever used in this act, shall be construed to mean both skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining."96 Indeed, subsequent renewals of the act enlarged the meaning of the term "laborer" to include salesmen, clerks, buyers, bookkeepers, accountants, managers, storekeepers, apprentices, agents, cashiers, physicians, restauranteurs, and laundry operators,97 hardly "coolies" by any stretch of the verbal imagination, no matter how it might be attached to this kind of rhetorical imagery. Moreover, the original act and subsequent as well as earlier judicial rulings, put two additional burdens on Chinese who wished to emigrate. The first was denial of citizenship: Section 14 of the Act provided "That hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict with this act are hereby repealed."98 Four years earlier, in the Federal District Court proceeding In re Ah Yup, a Chinese immigrant alien was declared to be "Mongolian," and being, therefore, neither "white" nor of "African nativity" nor "African descent," to be ineligible for citizenship in the United States.99 The second burden took the form of an extension of legal disabilities already applicable to Chinese men to their wives: "The wife of a Chinese labourer," observed Huang Tsen-ming, Associate Justice of China's Judicial Yuan in 1936, "or a Chinese woman not previously a labourer, who married a Chinese labourer, was held to have or acquire the status of the husband, and was not permitted to enter the United States."100 Just as Chief Justice Taney had in 1857 denied United States citizenship to Dred Scott and all other African Americans, foreclosing for them the possibility of being included in the Constitutional compact embracing "We, the people,"101 so, in the court ruling of 1878, ratified by section 14 of the Exclusion Act in 1882, did the justices and legislators do the same to Chinese immigrants. While the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution revoked the Dred Scott ruling on African Americans' citizenship, Chinese immigrants in American would not become eligible for naturalization until such a provision was included in the repeal legislation of 1943. Organized labor from either the East or West Coasts did nothing to aid in the repeal of this law, and in fact did much to encourage its continuance. To give but one telling example: In 1924, Hugh Frayne, a New York representative of the A.F.L., told the Congressional committee holding hearings on immigration restriction, "Labor is for the entrance of suitable immigrants from all nations except the Asiatic ones."102
Gyory seeks to re-attach legitimacy to the fear that a "coolie trade" from China would swamp America and subvert the aims of its progressive labor movement. In this sense, his thesis seems to support the argument made by Perlman and quoted at the beginning of this essay. However, he doesn't want to attribute this apprehension to white workers if it is considered a racially prejudiced stereotype; rather, he wishes to assign it to the white workers as a prescient perspective if it is based in fact. Thus, although in his text and in a footnote citation103 he indicates that he must know about Persia Crawford Campbell's distinction between the "credit-ticket" system, by which a great many Chinese came to America,104 and the coolie trade proper, outlawed by poorly enforced American laws of 1862 and later years,105 by which Chinese were brought to Peru,106 Cuba,107 the British West Indies,108 and other areas where exploitation of Asian laborers was the order of the day,109 he purposefully allows this distinction to be obscured and glossed over, making 19th-century Chinese immigration to the United States appear to be but one more instance of the nefarious and multi-faceted coolie trade. Hence, Gyory places a greater emphasis on the "Koopmanschap affair"110 -- an ultimately abortive scheme hatched at a convention of planters meeting in Memphis, (1869), whereby about 200 Chinese were inveigled, shanghaied, or kidnapped from the interior of Guangdong province and brought to New Orleans by Cornelius Koopmanschap in order to supply the South with agricultural laborers111 -- than on the more common means by which Chinese came to this country. For example, when Gyory recounts that in the three years before the Chinese exclusion law was passed, fears were noised in the press and by white labor agitators, warning that the Chinese were moving eastward into the workplaces of white laborers, he opines that "The ghost of Koopmanschap hovered ominously," and that in effect the white worker was being told "You are replaceable, and your replacements are ready."112 Just as, earlier, Gyory, having discussed the meaning of the word "coolie," had posed a series of rhetorical questions: --
But were all Chinese who signed contracts 'coolies' and 'almost slaves'? Could an impoverished Chinese man sign a contract and not be a 'coolie'?And then answered them: "Possibly, probably, but no one knew for sure."113
-- so, in his discussion of the fears attending the rumors of a "Chinese labor invasion" of the East, rumors spread by Sam Quong, a recent immigrant, Mrs. Timothy Sargent, a promoter of Chinese domestic services, Gifford Parker, a merchant in the China trade, and planter Henry Scharett, he concedes, "There may have been little truth to their statements, but no one could be sure, and in the end it really didn't matter." 114 But, of course, it was possible to ascertain the truth then,115 and it did matter then -- to the Chinese who were to become the victims of these base canards, and to the white workers who should have been able to figure out for themselves, since they were not told by their leaders, that dividing the working class into excludable and eligible workmates on the basis of race would do untold damage to labor solidarity and the need for workers to speak to capital in a multi-ethnic but single voice.116 And it should matter now to Gyory in particular and to labor annalists in general. For the unrepentant mendacity of the charges hurled at the Chinese by both the rank and file and the leaders of the American labor movement continue not only to dirty labor's escutcheon but also to falsify labor history itself. What yesterday's white workers need is not a new form of historiographical exoneration for their racist misdeeds, but rather an acknowledgment of the role they played in the anti-Chinese movement and a recognition of the proactive effects their involvement in the "Chinese Question" had on both Chinese life chances in the United States and the labor movement itself. These desiderata, sad to say, Gyory does not provide.
Although contract labor was by no means unknown in other sectors of the labor market in the United States,117 it was alleged to be a peculiar feature of Chinese immigration. To be sure, from time to time, the importation of Chinese under fixed contracts was proposed in order to supply certain regions with low paid agricultural workers -- the three outstanding instances being the abortive "Coolie Bill" proposed in California in 1862,118 the antebellum pro-slavery "fire-eaters" attempts to seize Cuba, make it a slave State, and, as an added bonus, import portions of that Spanish colony's small Chinese population as "warrantee" workers on Mississippi's plantations,119 and the aforementioned Koopmanschap affair,120 which in fact was the final and failed large-scale attempt to substitute Chinese for Freedmen on the South's plantations.121 However, much like the Chinese indentured in the Caribbean in the same era,122 the few Chinese who were brought to the South in the post-Civil War era resisted confinement to their proposed serfdom on plantations, settled as shopkeepers in small Southern towns such as Greenville, Mississippi, and served for decades as middlemen proprietors selling goods to blacks, brokering commercial and occasionally local political relations between blacks and whites and, in the Delta region, inter-marrying with African American women and parenting what would become bi-racial families.123 These Chinese were hardly a threat to the white workers who organized against them. Moreover, many of these Chinese went to court demanding their civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution124. In 1927, to take one example from many that might have been chosen, one Chinese family, with the support of the community, brought an unsuccessful suit to the United States Supreme Court seeking desegregation of Mississippi's white/colored school system.125 The Chinese coolie, as envisioned in the paranoia of the Sinophobes, and in the portrait of him provided by Gyory, was for the most part, a figment of the white racist's fertile and fetid imagination, an element in the propaganda taken up not only by politicians -- as Gyory would have us believe -- but also by organized and organizing labor's leaders regardless of party affiliation -- as a reading of the Proceedings of the Asiatic Exclusion League would reveal.126
The actual means by which most Chinese immigrated to the United States was by incurring a debt, i.e., by purchasing a "credit-ticket" in order to pay for their transoceanic passage, and, perhaps, provide for their basic needs when they first arrived. "Two middlemen systems evolved," write leading Chinese American historians Him Mark Lai, Joe Huang, and Don Wong in their careful analyses of the means by which Chinese peasants and workers could depart from China and journey overseas, in order "to facilitate emigration." In one, the "credit-ticket" system, "passage money was advanced to the emigrant who then repaid his debt after arrival in the new land"; the other -- the coolie system proper, it might be called -- "involved emigrants signing term contracts of service in foreign lands in return for their passage." The distinction in practice was familiar to the peoples of Southeastern China, whose husbands and sons made up the bulk of Chinese going overseas. In the latter system, "Chinese were frequently tricked or coerced into going abroad. Cantonese called these dealings maaijeutzai, meaning "selling pigs."127 In the former, although abuses were not unknown,128 there was more than a semblance of free and voluntary migration. "During the nineteenth century," writes Liping Zhu, "the majority of Chinese immigrants came to the United States by means of the credit-ticket system . . . [But] other poor peasants simply signed a contract with either the Chinese merchants or foreign agents, who paid all expenses for transit to the United States in exchange for their labor for a certain period, which varied from two to ten years. These people were the so-called contract laborers."129 However, Zhu goes on to emphasize, "From the beginning, the majority of Chinese pioneers to the American West were free."130 And, unlike Gyory, who, in his attempt to denigrate Coolidge's comments on the consular service's corrupt practices, appears to be willing to accept the consular service's analogy of contract labor to slavery,131 Zhu points out, "Unlike African slaves, the Chinese migrated to the United States voluntarily."132
Indeed, Chinese migrated to the United States in several different ways. Not only were there a small number of attempts to recruit contract labor from China, but also there was a more widely used debt-based approach to immigrating, not unlike the "padrone" system used by European workers who journeyed to America.133 In the Chinese case, Chinatown associations rooted in clanship or district of origin acted as both labor brokers and debt-collectors.134 But, in addition, there was a certain amount of utterly free and individualized migration, as has been emphasized in Tchen's pathbreaking study of New York City's pioneer Chinese.135 Thus, the coming of Chinese to the United States should be contrasted to, say, that of those who went to Cuba in the early period, where, in the 1850s and for two decades thereafter, "From an economical point of view, the Chinese became the first viable alternative to the African slaves . . . [until, that is,] the Chinese empire's cancellation in 1873 of the agreement that had authorized the traffic in coolies . . . " Moreover, in later years, "Spaniards, Chinese, and white and black Cubans served as [railroad] stokers, brakemen, and day laborers . . . [such that the Cuban labor-force's ethnic heterogeneity] at first [held] back the creation of a homogeneous class awareness."136 Denise Holly, who carefully re-examined the Chinese Yamen's Cuba Commission Report of 1876, concluded:
It is estimated that one million Cantonese left the two provinces of South China between 1840 and 1875, the majority coming from Kwantung . . . The majority departed as free workers for the mines of California, Canada, or Australian Queensland, and for the French, Dutch, and English plantations of Southeast Asia. Some Cantonese were recruited by Surinam and other Dutch possessions, and the English and French islands such as Mauritius and Réunion. Of the total number of emigrants, roughly 100,000 persons signed contracts to work in Peru, and 142,000 went to Cuba.137And two more points are worth mentioning in order to lay to rest -- hopefully once and for all -- Gyory's raising of the coolie charge against the Chinese who came to the United States. Contrary to his claim that a great many Chinese were "imported" under contract into the United States, especially during and after the years when the Transcontinental Railway138 was being constructed, it is to Robert G. Lee's discerning investigation into the origins and discontinuities of Chinese immigration to the United States that Gyory should have turned -- for Lee shows, inter alia:
While the Central Pacific did recruit laborers beginning in 1867, it had already hired many of its workers from among the Chinese already in California. After the completion of the trans-continental line in 1869 the Chinese still remained active in rail construction throughout the West, but there is little evidence to suggest that the other lines recruited fresh labor from China but rather used the massive work force laid off by the Central Pacific.139Gyory also makes much of the fact that Calvin T. Sampson -- the owner of the ladies' boot and shoe factory in North Adams, Massachusetts, in behalf of which he sought to break a strike by white workingmen belonging to the Knights of St. Crispin -- negotiated a three year contract with Kwong, Chong, Wing and Co., a San Francisco-based enterprise, that Gyory calls "a Chinese emigrant agency." Kwong, Chong, Wing and Co. supplied "75 steady, active, and intelligent Chinamen" to act as strikebreakers.140 But were the Chinese shoemakers of San Francisco "coolies" in the pejorative sense of that word that the white workingmen and Gyory favor? Rather than acquiescing to the white workingmen's protest -- and praising those among the latter who differentiated between favoring the coming of individual Chinese workmen and opposing Chinese contractees,141 a distinction that was not made by the National Labor Union in its resolution of 1869142 -- Gyory might have inquired into the nature and workings of the Chinese boot and shoe industry in San Francisco, from which the strikebreakers were drawn. Had he done so, he would have discovered, as Joel Franks's well-researched history of that city's 19th-century Chinese shoemakers shows, that "neither a trade union tradition nor labor militancy were foreign to their experiences."143 In fact, before the 1870s Chinese shoemakers had formed their own labor guild, the Li-Sheng Tang. In 1876 Chinese shoemakers engaged in a violent job action, demanding, among other things, a return of the money given to a contractor who had placed 750 of their fellow workers with two Euroamerican firms. In this action the Chinese strikers not only went out in open defiance of Yee Chung and Co., the contractors, but also directly opposed the actions taken by the "Chinese Six Companies," i.e., the community-wide confederation of traditional associations that held sway over Chinatown's denizens for decades and that supposedly kept all Chinese in supine thralldom.144 During the 1880s there was more strike activity by Chinese shoemakers. "In the summer of 1887, 300 Chinese initiated a work stoppage in many Chinese-run firms . . . [seeking a daily] pay raise of $1.15 to $1.40 . . . full wages without being compelled to pay board to their employers," and, in some cases, cessation of the practice of fining workers for failing to meet the daily production quota, an end to night work, and the right to work in production groups composed of fellows from their own clan, village, or region. Of these demands, the compromise eventually reached allowed the workers to board themselves, but neither a wage increase nor the end of "mixed" work crews, nor any of the other demands were granted. To break the strike, it should be noted, one of the Chinese firms brought in white strikebreakers. Franks likens these Chinese shoemakers to the more poverty-stricken members of the English working classes celebrated by E. P. Thompson;145 Gyory, who as a disciple of Gutman is supposedly inspired by Thompson's pathbreaking work, makes no mention of them.146
If Gyory would have followed Gutman's precept, which the latter borrowed from Sartre and associated with a similar statement by Thompson, viz., that "the essential question . . . is not what has been done to men and women but what men and women do with what is done to them,"147 he, that is, Gyory, might have looked much more closely into Paul C. P. Siu's magnificent, posthumously published monograph, The Chinese Laundryman: A Study in Social Isolation,148 wherein he would have discovered the deeper meaning and the long-lasting effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act on those Chinese classified as excludable aliens and declared ineligible for U.S. citizenship, i.e., those who had to make a life in the face of organized white labor's extraordinary hostility to them. In confining his effective establishment of the boundary of the working class to white laborers, Gyory has moved labor history retrogressively to what David Roediger calls the "unexamined and indefensible proposition that the white males under consideration were somehow the 'American working class'."149 He thus has imposed one more exclusion on the Chinese in addition to that inflicted by the Exclusion Act -- ejection from membership in, as well as the history of, the American working class.
It is David Montgomery, contrary to the arguments advanced by Gyory, who takes notice of the fact that "The unions and the Knights of Labor in the Far West not only lobbied for legal prohibition of Chinese immigration but also, after passage of the Exclusion Act of 1882 unleashed an 'abatement' campaign to drive Chinese by force away from mines, ships and lumber camps and formed a League of Deliverance, which attempted to compel all San Francisco employers to replace Chinese workers with white union members."153 White workers' hostility to Chinese workers continued even after the latter had conducted such strikes and threatened work stoppages as a successful cigar makers' job action in 1884 and an unsuccessful drive for a closed shop in 1885.154 Indeed, the Chinese successes in these struggles may have increased white workers' hostility toward them.155 And this hostility extended well into the 20th century and into other areas of work, including the kinds that seemed ripe for radical multiracial class actions. Thus, Calvin Winslow writes: " . . . [O]n the Pacific Coast, waterfront workers were mostly white. Chinese were excluded, and African Americans were relatively scarce until World War II."156 Labor's support for racism was ubiquitous.
However, both Gyory's dismissal of the massacre at Rock Springs in 1885, as well as Montgomery's sanguine statement about labor conditions there two decades later, deserve further attention. In fact, shortly after the white laborers' violent uprising that left over 40 Chinese dead, drove the rest out of their homes and torched the town's Chinese quarters,162 the officers of the Union Pacific Coal Department that had first introduced Chinese workingmen into the Wyoming mines, determined to rid themselves of all of the latter and as many as possible of the unionized white workers as well, replacing both with nonunion Mormon miners and, more significantly, with new labor-saving machinery. A good number of the Chinese had already fled or would soon flee to China, while others moved to what they hoped would be a safer haven in San Francisco. Nevertheless, a few Chinese remained in the area, for 13 years protected by federal troops from continuing white workingmen's depredations.163 The reports of the Dillingham Commission on immigrants in industries in the western states of the United States, published in 1911, pointed out that in Wyoming in 1908 there were but 23 Chinese miners at one mine and that this group was "practically all that are employed in the [entire] State."164 On August 30, 1885, two days before the riot, there had been 331 Chinese and 150 whites in the Rock Springs coalfield, and two months later -- before the Union Pacific commenced in earnest its 15-year program of ethnic cleansing against the Chinese -- the number of Chinese coal miners had actually risen to 532 while the number of white workers had dropped to 85.165
The Dillingham Commission went on to observe that the "race present in largest numbers among the foreign-born was the Japanese," numbering 512.166 When the Commission took note of the fact that the "mining communities in Wyoming present a somewhat unique situation with regard to the relations between the various races," it evidenced this anomaly with the statement that "Even orientals are eligible to union memberships, and the relations engendered by the association which such membership entails are almost fraternal." The Commission reported that "Japanese and Chinese wear their union buttons with pride and are given the same treatment as other races."167 However, this portrait of workers' racial harmony and equality is undercut by the fact the "Chinese and Japanese . . . races live apart from the others in 'bunk houses' provided for them," by the Commission's notice that "Natives and north Europeans are preferred in all cases by the operators for supervisory and other positions of responsibility," and by the fact that in contrast to European miners, the number of Japanese so employed was "decreasing."168 Indeed, as Herbert Hill had documented, the coal mine operators were not the only ones unhappy with the dearth of whites and the presence of numerous Asian mineworkers in the region; in 1902 the United Mine Workers had unleashed a vituperative campaign in behalf of extending Chinese exclusion and followed that with a program of opposition to Japanese immigration.169 The comity that both the Commission and Professor Montgomery say prevailed in Wyoming in 1908 was indeed an exception to labor's usual anti-Asian stance. But, as Yuji Ichioka's well-informed study of the labor-and-race issue at Rock Springs shows, the exception was the product of unique circumstances and did not set a precedent for labor-race relations in other venues: "Local conditions dictated the policy of admission [of Asian workers] in spite of . . . the union's antipathy to Japanese labor . . . Thus this notable exception to organized labor's exclusion of Japanese [and other Asian] labor was not the result of labor solidarity."170
Of course, adherents of Gyory's thesis are likely to dismiss this discussion of the Rock Springs riot and its aftermath by pointing out that he is for the most part willing to concede the racism of western white workers, while insisting on the nonracist perspective of the latter's compatriots on the East coast. But, even here, he is on shaky ground. Frederick Rudolph, a historian of the incident in North Adams, Massachusetts, where 75 Chinese shoemakers were brought to break a strike at the Calvin T. Sampson Shoe Company, (the incident that is the starting point for Gyory's investigation), on the basis of his painstaking analysis of what actually happened and what the consequences were, concluded: "Sampson . . . had provided the eastern workers with a laboratory which produced an indoctrination in opposition to Chinese labor and unstinting support to all efforts at Chinese exclusion." 171 And one more point: Whereas Gyory insists it is the politicians who took the lead and the unions that lagged behind in the opposition to Chinese immigration during the pre-exclusion years, Montgomery offers an important instance in New York City when that order was reversed: "Sensing that its opposition to black enfranchisement was . . . costing more votes than it was winning, especially among German workers . . . the Tweed Ring switched its target to the Chinese. In 1870 it joined the unions in a huge rally against the immigration of 'coolie labor' to the United States."172 And, finally with respect to this aspect of Gyory's thesis, it might well be remembered that no less a figure than Selig Perlman had pointed out that "The National Labor Union came out against Chinese immigration in 1869, when the issue was brought home to the Eastern wage earners following the importation by a shoe manufacturer in North Adams, Massachusetts, of Chinese strike breakers"173 and that, writing to the same point, John R. Commons and his colleagues observed, "The general agitation which this action [i.e., the bringing of the Chinese shoemakers to Massachusetts] provoked among all classes of labour served to bring the national labour movement into closer sympathy with the California point of view." Commons et al., went on to note, "At the next convention of the National Labour Union in 1870 the general labour movement was ready to take the step from merely advocating the prohibition of Chinese importation to demanding total exclusion."174 Gyory's Eastern workers had not been then, and are not now, above reproach.
To Gyory the passage of the exclusion act was "a cheap panacea" for politicians, but for the white workers of 1882, "it was plainly the best they were going to get . . . Half a loaf -- even not of their own choosing -- was better than none."176 The loaf they wanted, he argues, was an enforceable law prohibiting the importation of contract labor from anywhere in the world. However, when, in 1885, as Gyory points out in a footnote, "Congress finally acceded to workers' demands and passed the Foran Act, outlawing contract labor . . . the law proved difficult to enforce and [was] largely ineffective."177 But, since neither the white workers, nor Gyory in his role as spokesperson for their instant mind set, could know that the Foran Act would be so deficient, why didn't white workers clamor immediately for repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, in effect trading in the half-a-loaf that they had only grudgingly accepted in return for the whole? Of course, nothing of the sort happened, and claims that neither law was accomplishing what it was supposed to led Congress, with labor's unstinting support, to revise and extend the Chinese Exclusion Act over and over again, making it one of what Lucy E. Salyer calls the "laws harsh as tigers."178
In point of fact, labor's leaders became so influential in the administration of the exclusion laws that, except for the appeals granted to Chinese by the Constitution-conscious judges of the Federal courts in California and the Pacific Northwest,179 and the Chinese workers' protests and boycotts of American goods in both China and America's Chinatowns,180 they might have succeeded in driving the Chinese out altogether: From 1897 to 1902, Terence Powderly, former head of the Knights of Labor and an outspoken Sinophobe, served as Commissioner General of Immigration and in 1900 was placed in charge of appeals arising out of the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its subsequent modifications. Two years later, he was replaced by Frank P. Sargent, grand master of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and a friend of Samuel Gompers, the notoriously anti-Chinese leader of the American Federation of Labor, who served until 1908, and he in turn was succeeded for the next five years by Daniel Joseph Keefe, president of the longshoreman's union and a former vice-president of the AFL.181 The alleged and much vaunted independence of white workers from their own leadership in fact came to nothing. Except for its possible influence on labor history, much the same might be said of Gyory's opus.
By and large, the men who founded, administered, lobbied, and conducted the meetings and conventions of America's labor unions favored the elimination of the Chinese worker from the labor market as well as the exclusion of the Chinese people from the United States. Gyory does not engage in a sustained analysis of these leaders and of their system of controls over the rank-and-file, and such omissions as these give implicit support to his belief in the class-rather than race-oriented populist consciousness of the latter. However, he does mention such leaders as Samuel Gompers, Terence Powderly, and Adolph Strasser, carefully downplaying or avoiding altogether their Sinophobic statements, writings, and programs. There is no shortage of material on these matters, so what follows can only be illustrative and will be presented in relation to Gyory's thesis.
. . . [W]e were contending against a menace to our trade [that] federal legislation alone could remedy. In 1878, of forty thousand cigar-makers in the entire country at least ten thousand were Chinamen employed in the cigar industry . . . California did not have authority to exclude Chinese workmen and Federal law was needed. Our International recognized that though competition with Chinese cigar-makers was then confined to the [Pacific] coast, the cigar industry of the East had to compete with the industry of the West in all markets, but alone it was not strong enough to secure protective legislation. During several strikes in the East, we had to meet the threats of employers to import Chinese strike breakers. This was an element in deciding the cigar-makers to give early and hearty endorsement to the movement for a national organization of labor unions, for the help of all wage-earners was needed in support of Chinese exclusion.185That Gompers perceived the labor problem as a race problem is made clear not only in the words used to refer to non-white, non-Anglo workers in his autobiography, but also, and more viciously, in the pamphlets he wrote on the Chinese question and in his efforts to eliminate the Chinese presence from the American labor market both before and after the passage of the exclusion act.
From the mid-1870s Gompers would make opposition to Chinese immigration a central plank of his labor union platforms. He admired the adoption in 1875 of the "white label" by San Francisco's white cigarmakers. When, on November 8, 1877, the New York World reported, falsely as it turned out, that 300 Chinese cigarmakers would be brought to New York City as strikebreakers, Gompers addressed a meeting of the Cigar Makers' International Union, saying "he desired that a warning should be given that if the manufacturers imported any large number to New York they would be responsible for any violent action that might be taken to protect their wives and children, and provide them with bread."186 In November, 1881, Gompers and his fellow unionists lent their support to a resolution reported one month later: "declaring the presence and competition of Chinese [laborers] with free white labor as extremely dangerous and demanding the passage of laws entirely prohibiting their importation."187 But, less than a year later, the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited their immigration.
Gompers' fulminations against the Chinese, together with demands for stricter prohibitions on their immigration, did not cease after the Chinese Exclusion Act had been adopted. Fearful that the law would not be administered with appropriate acuity, Gompers presided over a meeting of the Federation of Trades and Labor Unions at which the organization's committee on legislation suggested that "a supplementary act" would be needed in order to ensure "the strictest enforcement of the present Anti-Chinese law."188 On August 17, 1893, Gompers wrote to John O'Brien, an AFL organizer, applauding the latter's petition urging a more vigorous enforcement of the Geary Act of 1892, the law which had extended for another decade, and made more stringent, the provisions of the original Chinese Exclusion Act.189 Six months earlier, Gompers had written to Hermann J. Schulteis, one of the clerks who had served on the U.S. Immigration Commission and who had authored the Commission's Report on European Immigration to the United States, suggesting that because the "Immigration, the Alien Contract Labor and several other laws which were enacted through the efforts of our organizations should at least have men to execute them who are known to be in sympathy with those laws . . . [that] in the appointment of men to fill those positions it certainly seems reasonable that the views of the Executive Officers [of the AFL] should be consulted and met."190 These wishes would be granted later with the successive appointments of Powderly, Sargent and Keefe to head the agency. On April 4, 1894, in a letter to U.S. Vice-President and former Democratic Congressman from Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, Gompers suspended the subterfuge that Gyory would have his readers take to be both valid and reasonable, namely that organized labor opposed the immigration of Chinese labor solely on the ground that the latter came involuntarily as imported contract workers. Hoping to prevent ratification of the proposed China-U.S. treaty of 1894, Gompers observed:
The Scott Exclusion Act  and the Geary Law [1892, upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 1893, by a vote of 5 to 3,with Justice Harlan absent] were not passed in response to maudlin sentiment nor a national antipathy . . . They became laws . . . at the earnest demand of the toiling masses of our country . . . It is needless here to discuss the impossibility of the amalgamation or assimilation of the Chinese in America with our people. That has been so clearly demonstrated as to need no elucidation at my hands . . . In the name of more than half a million of organized working men and women of America, I enter my most solemn protest against the ratification of the Treaty by your Honorable Body, and earnestly hope it will be rejected.191The treaty was ratified, however. In subsequent years, Gompers would not only oppose American expansion into the Pacific because more Chinese would become part of the labor force, but would also attempt to evict from their jobs Chinese already at work in America. When, in 1898, the House of Representatives was considering a bill authorizing the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands, Gompers protested to Thomas B. Reed, Speaker of the House, reminding him that "It [had] required more than twenty years of constant organization, agitation, and education to legislatively close the gates of our country to the Chinese"; claiming, beyond all considerations of fact, that of the 100,000 inhabitants of those islands there were 50,000 contract laborers of whom approximately 80 percent were Chinese and Japanese; and predicting that the "annexation of Hawaii would . . . obliterate that beneficent legislation and open wide our gates, . . . [threatening] an inundation of Mongolians to overwhelm the free laborers of our country."192
Although -- because he favored Chinese exclusion over both imperialism and the "open door" policies enunciated during the McKinley - T. Roosevelt presidencies193 -- Gompers failed in his attempts to thwart the ratification of the China Treaty of 1894, halt the takeover of the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, and prevent the annexation of Hawaii, he was more successful in forcing union-sponsored cooperative industries to fire their Chinese workers. Thus, in one instance from 1897, Gompers chastised the Columbia River Fishermens Protective Union No. 6321, chartered by the AFL in 1894, for allegedly reneging on its promise to "have your work done exclusively by white labor . . . [and for having] entered into a contract with a Chinese boss to furnish the labor . . . [such] that now they are all Chinamen who are working there" . . . [as well as for posting a notice] that 'no white labor need apply.' " The union quickly surrendered: Sofus Jensen, an AFL organizer and the union secretary with whom Gompers had lodged his complaint, wrote back that while the story of the posted notice was false, the union had replaced "Chinese and coolie labor" with "American workmen."194 The eviction of the Chinese worker from nearly every industry to which he and, in lesser numbers because of the restriction on Chinese women coming to America, she, had contributed would continue apace, abetted and coerced by white workers' strikes, until by 1911, there were few if any Chinese to be found in any of them, as the Dillingham Commission's statistics would show.195
As the 20th century dawned and with it the possibility that the already once-renewed Chinese Exclusion Act would expire, Gompers worked tirelessly to secure permanent exclusion. In February, 1902, he testified before the Senate Committee on Immigration, insisting that "the exclusion of Chinese laborers from the United States is asked for by all of the wage workers of our country, particularly all the organized wage earners, regardless of any section of the country from which they hail and in which they are located."196 And once again, but even more vehemently, he buttressed his argument with an attack on the social, moral, and civic aspects of Chinese society and culture:
The presence in our country of a people entirely out of harmony and training with American comprehension of liberty and citizenship, who are alien to our customs and habits, as different from us in political and moral ideas as it is possible for two peoples to be, who are so thoroughly grounded in race characteristics that even the generations born and reared among us still retain them, can not but exercise a most demoralizing effect upon the body politic, the social life, and the civilization of the people of our nation.197And, lest the Senators not be informed about the unsalubrious effects that Chinese immigration had already inflicted and would continue to inflict on America unless their coming was halted altogether, Gompers set forth a parade of horribles drawn, he claimed, from facts about the Chinese situation of the State of California:
All impartial observers agree, and official reports confirm it, that the condition of affairs in the State of California, the people of which had and still have to bear the brunt of this Asiatic contamination almost incredible to our people, in which gambling hells, opium joints, dens of iniquity and vice [abound,] are but superficial evidences of a moral standard as degrading in its exhibition as it is demoralizing by its contact.198A number of exclusionist measures were laid before the Congress in 1902, but Gompers found most of them wanting in severity and scope, including the one that eventually secured passage and the signature of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1902, together with Hermann Gudstadt, Gompers co-authored the most infamous of his screeds on the matter, Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion. Meat vs. Rice. American Manhood Against Asiatic Coolieism. Which Shall Survive?199 (Perhaps it is needless to say, given his ideological stance, that this farrago of lies and tendentiousness is not mentioned in Gyory's text, notes or bibliography). Setting all claims of racial tolerance, ethnic empathy, or labor solidarity aside, the two veteran Chinese exclusionists reiterated and embellished with purple prose every accusation that had been made against Chinese immigrants, insisting on their mendacity, their womanless and hence immoral life style, their willing submission to cheap labor contracts made in China, their murderous intra-communal conflicts, and, lest these not be sufficient to undermine any notion of their worthiness to come to the United States, Gompers and Gudstadt added a new charge, viz., that Chinese male immigrants seduced chaste, prepubescent white girls and boys into drug addiction and prostitution:
Passing through the upper end of Kearney street, in the vicinity of [San Francisco's] Chinatown, after nightfall one may see a number of what were once men and women, but are now but mental and physical wrecks of humanity. . . . Who and what are these beings, and why are they seen only in San Francisco, one of nature's most favored cities? . . . Some time in the past these poor, miserable, and degraded wrecks were the beloved children of fond parents . . . They have become what is known in the parlance of the street as "dope heads" -- opium fiends in the ordinary language. In some manner, by some wily method they have been induced to use the drug. Time was when little girls no older than 12 years were found in Chinese laundries under the influence of opium. What other crimes were committed in those dark and fetid places when these little innocent victims of the Chinamen's wiles were under the influence of the drug are almost too horrible to imagine . . . [T]here are hundreds, aye thousands, of our American boys and girls who have acquired this deadly habit and are doomed, hopelessly doomed, beyond a shadow of redemption. Better death a hundred times than to have become a victim of this worst of all oriental opium habit.200
Gyory, who denies that Sinophobia infected much of the white working class and seeks to separate the thoughts and deeds of the rank and file from those of the trade union leadership, omits the latter from his investigation. In so doing, he does a disservice to the candidly stated beliefs of the white workers. To take one example, the Report of Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1905, includes the following:
[We make] no pretense that the exclusion of Chinese can be defended upon a high ideal, ethical ground . . . Surely, America's workmen have enough to contend with, have sufficient obstacles confronting them in their struggle to maintain themselves in their humanizing movement for a higher and better life, without being required to meet the enervating, killing, underselling, and under-living competition of that nerveless, wantless people, the Chinese.201The effectiveness of Chinese exclusion, coupled with the latter's forced expulsion from the agricultural and urban labor markets, led Gompers to turn his exclusionist/evictionist attention to another Asian people, the Japanese, and to nip in the bud a possibility that they might form a labor alliance with working-class Mexicans. In 1886, it had been estimated that seven-eighths of the work being done in California's vineyards and orchards was being carried out by Chinese.202 However, a series of race-baiting strikes by rural and urban white workers, beginning in 1893, had driven most of the Chinese from the fields.203 By 1911, 29 years after the Chinese Exclusion Act had been passed, Japanese, Korean, Mexican and a few southern and eastern European workers had replaced the once-thriving rural Chinese labor force in California. "The Japanese," the Dillingham Commission reported, "are at present the predominant race of hand workers in most districts, because they are present in large numbers and migrate most easily having few family ties and little property to keep them in one community."204 Their family ties, however, would soon be strengthened by shashin kekkon ("picture marriage") and their settlement on the land as small holders hastened as they sought to overcome the obstacles created by California's and ten other States' Alien Land Laws.205 However, the outcome of the Oxnard strike of 1903 and the hostile stance toward Japanese and Mexican agricultural laborers taken by Gompers and the AFL surely did much to convince the non-white, non-Anglo workers that labor solidarity meant little when race matters loomed in the minds of the union's leadership.
To put the matter briefly:206 Rural Japanese and Mexican agricultural laborers had organized a union, The Japanese-Mexican Protective Association, (JMPA), in the early months of 1903. On March 18 of that year, the union, composed of 800 Japanese and 400 Mexicans, struck the Western Agricultural Contracting Company, (WACC), protesting WACC's hiring through contractors (a common practice over which Gompers supposedly justified his opposition to Chinese immigration), payment in goods rather than money, and threats of a wage cut. The strike turned violent and eventually ended with a compromise agreement. When JMPA and another Japanese union applied for charters from the AFL, Gompers wrote the secretary of the local labor council: "If you think it wise that the Japanese be organized, you may do so, but no charter will be issued to them by the American Federation of Labor nor can they be accorded representation in an affiliated Central Labor Union." The local organizer protested this action as well as an earlier letter from Gompers that had insisted "That this charter is issued to you [Mexicans] with the express understanding that under no circumstances shall you take into your union any Chinese or Japanese." Gompers would not be moved, however; not even when F. C. Wheeler, an AFL district organizer, angrily wrote the union's national secretary, quoting the Mexican workers' statement that "We had a hard bitter fight and now when our victory is absolute and complete you ask us to deny our Japanese brothers the same right we ask for ourselves. We will not do it. We will stand by the men who stood by us." Gompers would later assure the secretary of the Honolulu Trades and Labor Council that the AFL had "steadfastly refused to issue charters to organizations composed of Japanese laborers." Lest anyone suppose that Gompers was pursuing some working class ideal in jettisoning the JMPA from the AFL, note his remark, reported in the September, 1905 edition of the American Federationist: "the caucasians are not going to let their standard of living be destroyed by negroes, Chinamen, Japs, or any other."207
GOMPERS' HOSTILITY TO ASIAN WORKERS WOULD CONTINUE THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE. In his autobiography, Gompers recalls an unforgettable if hasty trip he made into San Francisco's Chinatown. In that memoir, Gompers indicates the prejudicial source of his opposition to Chinese immigration. Class was not the issue.
I made a trip through Chinatown -- not the especially prepared route for tourists. It was an awful experience with all its hideousness. I had read Dante's Inferno, but Chinatown seemed to me a greater horror with its reeking smells, the human wrecks, gambling and mad licentiousness. The picture burned into my mind that night came to me vividly throughout future years when Chinese immigration was under consideration.208So sure was Gompers that Asiatic immigration constituted a major threat not only to American labor but to American society that, from 1905 until his death two decades later, he entertained dark suspicions about some kind of evil force at work to thwart his exclusionist efforts.209 Thus it was that in his autobiography he recalled meeting a man -- never named -- who informed him of a vast conspiracy whereby unknown numbers of Chinese were being smuggled illegally into the United States with the connivance and collusion of a clandestine network of district attorneys and court interpreters. Moreover, after his chosen enforcer, Immigration Commissioner Terence Powderly, told him that he had been ordered to "cease his activity" with respect to exclusionary enforcement, and Frank Sargent, Powderly's successor, had become so disenchanted with his inability to bring a halt to the illegal entry of Chinese that he gave up governmental service and returned to his presidency of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Gompers became convinced that there were "Some . . . Federal officials . . . responsible for this smuggling [who] were so high up in administrative circles that they were able to prevent enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Law."210 Moreover, these officials, he claimed, were not only exercising control over the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but also operating out of the Department of Commerce and Labor.211 A few years later, when Woodrow Wilson had become President of the United States -- and, as Gwendolyn Mink shows, the AFL had begun to conduct a "politics of union preeminence," entering into a relationship with the Congress and the Executive Office that, on the one hand, "regarded social insurance and wages and hours laws for men . . . as hostile incursions by government," while, on the other, sought "policies that would promote its own autonomy"212 -- Gompers shifted the focus of his heated exaggerations, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy (i.e., the very trio of qualities that Richard Hofstadter calls the "paranoid style" that has so often modified American public policy debates213) to a recently formed opponent of exclusionism, the National Liberal Immigration League, which, he insisted, was being financed by "the Hamburg-American Steamship Company, the Campagnie Générale Transatlantique, and the Steamship Companies and industries generally that found a financial profit in employing cheap immigrant workers."214 Members of Congress were sufficiently impressed by Gompers' argument, made in behalf of the Burnett Immigration bill, already vetoed by President Wilson, to reintroduce the measure in both houses and overturn the President's second veto by a two-thirds majority.215 On the Chinese question Gompers never repudiated his statement of 1894 in which he declared his opposition to the "evil effect of [the] Chinese invasion: [a] people . . . who allow themselves to be barbarously tyrannized over in their own country, and who menace the progress, the economic and social standing of the workers of other countries, cannot be fraternized with."216
Lest one take up Philip Taft's position that Gompers' Sinophobia was merely a representation of the attitude of the day, one might contrast Gompers' statement above with that of Jacob A. Riis, who traversed New York City's Chinatown at about the same time. Riis took note of the poverty, "dismal dreariness," "forbidding partitions," opium parlors, gambling dens, overworked peddlers, "teeming tenements," and womanless condition of the Chinese immigrant laborers. But, where these would lead Gompers to call for exclusion of the Chinese, the same conditions inspired Riis to call for more not less immigration from China:
This is a time for very plain speaking on this subject. Rather than banish the Chinaman, I would have the door opened wider -- for his wife; make it a condition of his coming or staying that he bring his wife with him. Then, at least, he might not be what he now is and remains, a homeless stranger among us. Upon this hinges the real Chinese question, in our city, at all events, as I see it.217It is a true tragedy of scholarship that Gyory failed to consider this argument, failed, that is, to see that Chinese workers were as integral a part of the labor force as the Irish workers he lauds.
A central plank of what would become the Sinophobic and racialist ideology of the burgeoning AFL was put together by Gompers and Strasser, the latter of whom adopted the insidious "white label" as a national tool, 224 analogizing the fight carried on by white California cigar makers against their Chinese fellow workers to his own ultimately successful effort to expel from that line of work the "tenement scum,"225 i.e., rival socialist cigar makers who had broken with the Gompers-Strasser faction and formed the Progressive Cigar Makers Union. Gyory wishes his readers to believe that Strasser's testimony before the Hewitt Committee favoring the exclusion of all contract laborers from the United States regardless of race -- which he reprints226 -- refutes the charges made by both Herbert Hill and Gwendolyn Mink that Strasser, together with Gompers, to use Mink's way of wording the issue, "defended the anti-Chinese posture of their California colleagues and actively involved themselves in the exclusion movement."227 But, Mink's statement is in accord with the facts on this issue. Strasser took a major part in bringing California workingmen's anti-Chinese prejudices to the east coast locals and to the national executive council of what would become the AFL. On October 27, 1878, addressing a mass meeting of New York City's tobacco workers engaged in the struggle to end tenement house production of cigars, Strasser, according to a news report in the Nov. 5 issue of the New York Tribune,
made a speech in which he said that when the Chinese cigar makers in California began to crowd the whites out of the work, the latter succeeded in passing a State law requiring every cigar factory to affix on each box a union stamp, by which cigars made by white men could be distinguished from those made by Chinese; and the public showed their condemnation of Chinese work by refusing to smoke cigars made by Chinamen.228The Cigar Makers' Official Journal, a monthly publication of the CMIU, established in November, 1875, began to editorialize against Chinese cigar makers on a regular basis after November 8, 1877 when, in the midst of the tenement house work stoppage, the New York World printed the aforementioned false rumor that cigar manufacturers had requested that 300 Chinese cigarmakers be sent to New York City to replace the whites on strike.229 According to the notes supplied by the editor of Volume I of the Gompers Papers, "The journal subscribed to the view generally expressed in the American press of the time that Chinese workers unlike other immigrant groups, could not be assimilated into American culture."230 Thus, the CMIU, over which Strasser presided for 14 years, took a position based not on the generality of working conditions or the universality of class consciousness, but rather one rooted in the assessment of each ethnic group's assimilability. Largely composed of German and Bohemian immigrants, -- whose separate language-based locals Strasser managed to merge -- the CMIU, whose rallies Strasser often addressed in German, had no doubts about the Americanization capabilities of these European workers but no sympathetic concern for the working and living situations of the Chinese laborers in the same industry.
Had Gyory consulted articles on the labor question that appeared in Die Gewerkschafts-Zeitung, a German-language publication that was published for only a few years in New York City and edited and contributed to by Adolph Strasser, Carl Speyer and Hugo Müller, he would have discovered more evidence of Strasser's support for Chinese exclusion. In the formative years of America's trade union movement, this journal had a significant influence not only on its German-reading subscribers, but also on August Sartorius von Waltershausen (1852-1938), a German economist who visited the United States in the 1880s, carefully consulted its pages, and wrote comprehensively and critically about many aspects of the labor movement.231 In 1883, Sartorius published a lengthy essay entitled "Die Chinesen in den Vereinigten Staaten von America,"232 which, while it concluded with support for exclusion, offered what David Montgomery calls "both a thorough account of the harassment and exclusion of Chinese by state and federal legislation, labor movement boycotts, and mob action between 1844 and 1882 and a serious informative effort to analyze the economic and institutional framework of the Chinese immigrant community itself."233 Sartorius had met and talked with Strasser, among others, and adapted his own, already established racist outlook on the allegedly inferior races -- (influenced, as Montgomery reminds us, by the writings of a German social geographer, Friedrich Ratzel [1844-1904], a right-wing National Liberal imperialist and Social Darwinist, who had also visited the United States and written on the Chinese question234) -- to the Sinophobia of the white trade unionists.235 Moreover, Sartorius praised the use of the boycott and the white label,236 tactics championed and introduced to the East coast white workingmen by Strasser, describing with obvious approval how the boycott and the label were combined in a two-fold attack on Chinese cigarmakers:
In the last three years during which the labor movement has made such extraordinary strides in terms of organization, the label system has been more successful than ever, particularly since it has been linked to boycotts. In saloons and shops union members demand label cigars. If the owner or the manager does not supply them, the establishment is boycotted. When he accepts the workers' demands, they make further demands, for instance that he stock only label cigars (i.e., for all smokers). If he does not accede, the workers will again boycott his goods. In the smaller cities, where unionization is strong, this approach has been successful on many occasions.237To understand Strasser's role in the anti-Chinese movement one must examine what he (and Gompers) learned from watching the fractious divisions within two American sections of the International Workingman's Association. Strasser and Gompers were at first sympathetic to socialism and to much of the efforts of IWA Section One, Sorge's largely German group. Sorge perceived as his greatest rival the leaders of the mostly American-born Section Twelve, headed by feminist, spiritualist, and candidate for the Presidency of the United States, Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927), and by the utopian socialist sociologist who had translated and published in Woodhull's and Claflin's Weekly the first English language version of Marx's and Engel's Communist Manifesto, Stephen Pearl Andrews (1812-1886).238 Strasser and Gompers carefully noted how Sorge utilized expulsion and the boycott to rid the American branch of the IWA of its left-wing deviationists.239 Thus, in 1872, when, Woodhull and Andrews formed the Equal Rights Party with Woodhull self-nominated for the U.S. Presidency and African American ex-slave Frederick Douglass as her vice-presidential running mate,240 Sorge appealed to Marx for assistance in ridding the IWA of this wholly unprecedented move. Marx complied, denouncing Section Twelve members as "bogus reformers, middle class quacks, and trading politicians" and Andrews and Woodhull and their followers as "middle-class humbugs and worn out Yankee swindlers in the reform business."241 Section Twelve was suspended and then expelled from the International, the electoral campaign failed, and Sorge and Section One emerged the victors.242 What Strasser and Gompers learned from this incident was that their enemies might also be boycotted and if necessary expelled from the trade union movement. Whereas the Woodhull-Andrews group thereafter "rejected the trade union tactic of winning a larger share of the capitalist pie by controlling access to labor markets and rejecting women and racial minorities from their membership rolls," moving toward "egalitarian and inclusive unionism," Adolph Strasser and Samuel Gompers became two "of the most famous architects of the skill-, race-, and sex-defined trade union model,"243 rejecting their older adherence to socialism in favor of "trade unionism, pure and simple."244 The Chinese worker -- and later other Asian, non-white, and non-Anglo workers -- became the permanent, indeed the ideal enemy, a functional equivalent of the Woodhull-Andrews Equal Rights Party, toward which their Sorgean-derived expulsion strategy was irrevocably directed.245
However, Powderly's own adamant hostility to Chinese immigration is not difficult to document. In part, in his case, it is related to a larger religious division -- the jurisdictional dispute between the Catholic church and various Protestant denominations over the appropriate trade union gospel, ultimately over the salvation of the workingman's soul.248 In California, the Catholic church had chosen to serve its new-immigrant Irish and Italian constituencies and turned its back on Chinese immigrants, its leading local priest becoming a well-known speaker favoring exclusion.249 In the same State -- until the few conversions they were able to effect dampened their ardor250 -- Protestant missionaries, called back from China, took up the cause of the Chinese and also sought to cure their souls.251 With the spread of the anti-Chinese movement to the East, coupled with the migration of Irish Catholics to the Pacific coast, the religio-ethnoracial conflict that threatened to divide Irish Catholic workingmen from their white Protestant fellow workers was heightened but also deflected in great part by the Chinese question.252
Powderly took a leading position on the latter issue when he evicted Chinese workers from his own labor organization. When, in 1887, Chinese assemblies of the Knights of Labor were organized by District 49, Powderly ordered that they be disbanded forthwith, he having already "gone on record as not only opposing Chinese labor but also declaring that Chinese and Japanese were unfit to reside in the United States."253
Powderly's popularity with white workers -- and, later, his coming-to-agreeable-terms with Gompers -- arose in great measure from the rhetoric with which he peppered his anti-Chinese diatribes. Like Kearney -- whom he may have seen as more a disturbing Orangeman than a disgusting rabblerouser -- Powderly's speeches and articles were filled with Sinophobic vitriol. However, to influence his Irish Catholic followers and alleviate the worries of those papacy-fearing Protestant workers who, on most secular matters supported his position, he linked his advocacy of stronger anti-Chinese legislation to the protection and preservation of a generalized Occidental Christian civilization in America. Thus, on January 8, 1892, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle quoted him censuring employers who opposed exclusion: "Standing behind them [i.e., the Chinese] are Christian employers of this land, who would rather import heathen willing to work for barely enough to sustain life than retain a brother Christian at a wage sufficient to live as becomes a Christian. We do not want opium or the Chinese who grow it . . . "254 In the same article, Powderly also aligned his concerns about Chinese immigration with those said to be worrying white laboring men, and, warming to his subject, to those frightened by the prospect of the destruction of the American polity itself. Thus, he warned his readers that "the substitution of the Mongolian slave for the American freeman, the abandonment of home for the street and slum and the final overthrow of the republic," were likely consequences of a weakened exclusion law.255 A decade later, Powderly, having become Commissioner-General of Immigration, and after 1900 in sole charge of enforcing Chinese exclusion,256 was still unsatisfied: "No graver danger has ever menaced the workingmen of America," he thundered, "than that which faces them when the possibility of lowering the bars at our seaports and border-lines to the Chinese is presented."257 Again seeking strengthening of the exclusion law, Powderly laid out his own version of a parade of horribles, a comprehensive and irrevocable indictment of the Chinese whether considered as a people, a sociological entity, or a civilization:
The opposition to the Chinese coolie is not alone because of his race or his religion, but because of the economic position he occupies in this country . . . They do not assimilate with our people, do not wear our clothing, do not adopt our customs, language, religion or sentiments. It is said that the Chinese, if given an opportunity, will become Americanized. The Chinese coolie will no more become Americanized than an American can take on the habits, customs, garb and religion of the Mongolian . . . American and Chinese civilizations are antagonistic; they cannot live and thrive and both survive on the same soil.258
Powderly closed this peroration with a dire prophecy: "One or the other must perish."259
Powderly served not only a five-year term (1897-1902) as U.S. Commissioner-General of Immigration and a one-year term as special representative of the Department of Labor and Commerce to study European immigration problems, but also accepted appointment as chief of the Division of Information in the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, a position he held from 1907 until his death in 1924. In each of these offices he (and his successor Commissioners-General: Frank P. Sargent [1902-1908], grand master of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, and Daniel Joseph Keefe [1908-1913], a sometime vice-president of the A.F.L. 260) came into regular contact with and pressure from Samuel Gompers for whom the relentless pursuit of ever-stricter enforcement of Asiatic exclusion had, as we have seen, become a veritable obsession.261
Gyory, of course, makes no mention of any of this. Having ended his investigation with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, he does not report on how Powderly, Gompers and the other exclusionists were challenged by Rev. Wu P'an-chao (1866-1931), known in America as Dr. Ng Poon Chew, founder and editor of Chung Sai Yat Po, the first Chinese-language newspaper in the United States. 262 Ng, who succeeded in obtaining a reclassification of newspaper editors as educators rather than laborers, toured the United States in behalf of a repeal of the law,263 published an eloquent refutation of the exclusionist position in The New York Times,264 and debated both Powderly and Gompers when, in 1905, they sought an even harsher measure prohibiting the coming of Asians to America.265 Nor does Gyory take account of the study published in 1916, by Tien-Lu Li, Professor of English at Peking University, who, having not only examined the facts and forces associated with the Burlingame Treaty of 1868, the modification of the latter in 1880, the treaty of 1894, the Exclusion Acts of 1882, 1884, 1888, 1892, 1893, 1902, and 1904, the extension of the exclusion laws to Hawaii and the Philippine Islands after 1898, and also critically appraised both the pro- and the anti- exclusionist positions, concluded, "It is no solution of the problem that omits the main . . . question . . . the exclusion of Chinese laborers . . . If the present policy is sound, wise, and in accordance with eternal truth and justice, then let it be pursued and maintained, cost what it may. But it would do no harm to pause and think whether it is."266 A singular shortcoming of Gyory's investigation is that he did not take up the kind of challenge that Professor Li had issued more than eight decades before his book was published.
An unconfirmed rumor has come to my attention that our FBI is well prepared for a World War III in which our major enemy will be China. Detention camps have been secretly prepared in which will be "relocated" all the Chinese in the United States so that they may be screened, and prevented from sabotaging the war effort and signaling Peking with short-wave radios.270Twelve years later, Ming Hai Loo, a 24-year-old Chinese American, residing in Raleigh, North Carolina, was gunned down by two white men who insisted he was Vietnamese and held him responsible for the deaths of American soldiers in Vietnam.271 In 1983, Loren W. Fessler, a journalist who had served as an adviser with Chinese airborne troops during the Second World War, pointed out that "the legacy of anti-Chinese feeling built up in the nineteenth century remained strong all through the first four decades of the twentieth century."272 But, ironically, his statement turned out to be premature. When, after two unemployed Detroit auto workers, on June 19, 1982, beat Vincent Chin, a Chinese American engineer, to death with a baseball bat, calling him a "Jap" and screaming "It's because of you motherfuckers that we're out of work," and a local judge sentenced Chin's killers to probation and a fine of 3,000 dollars each, a federal attempt to charge Chin's murderers with violating his civil rights failed.273 " . . . [H]ate crimes against Asians still . . . [occur]," Choy, Dong, and Hom point out, "testifying to the continued scapegoating of Asians in America during times of economic decline and unemployment."274
Nor is the current version of apprehensions about a "yellow peril" -- the modern usage of a term introduced into the racist rhetoric of the Occident by Kaiser Wilhelm II around the turn of the 19th century275 -- limited to fears about job loss to Asian immigrants or to "outsourcing" of American manufactures to countries where a supply of cheap labor is available. By 1990 the Chinese had become the largest of more than 20 Asian peoples living and working in the United States. Their numbers had grown and the shortage of women among them had been relieved because of such post-repeal laws as the War Brides Act (1945), Displaced Persons Act (1948), McCarran-Walters Immigration Act (1952), Refugee Relief Act (1953), and two of the post-repeal Immigration Acts (1968, 1981).276 One aspect of these changes has been a peculiar distribution of occupations. Foreign-born Chinese are to be found at both ends of the occupational scale: some in well-paying, professional, technical, scientific and hi-tech positions; while others are at the low end, working as waiters, dishwashers, hotel and restaurant workers, and in the garment industry. American-born Chinese are more likely to be found in the white-collar professions or in business.277 Having avoided the blue collar sector where a lingering Sinophobic animus discouraged when it did not absolutely prohibit their entry, however, neither the foreign- or the American-born Chinese professionals have been able to put off the badge of suspicion and distrust the earlier exclusion had done so much to spawn: Thus, the allegations of espionage against government-employed Chinese scientists, engineers, and technicians employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the corrupt practices admitted by two Chinese political fundraisers working in the arena of national politics278 have sent a chill into the ranks of this most successful part of the Chinese American community. "Because of the incidents at Los Alamos," Raymond Ng, a Chinese American engineer employed at the Sandia National Laboratories at Livermore, California, pointed out, " . . . a cloud of suspicion appears to hang over all Asian Pacific Americans."279 One can almost hear echoes of Gompers's and Powderly's warnings about the threat that Chinese civilization poses for America when one reads Caspar W. Weinberger's "Foreword" to the House of Representatives Report of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China ("the Cox Report"), which stated, "Communist China's long march against the United States is as tenacious as it is diverse -- from campaign contributions used to buy influence in the White House, to purchasing an interest in American corporations, to hi-tech spying, [and] to a plain old-fashioned military buildup and threats . . . "280 Further, when it is reported that 450 of the employees at Los Alamos are "foreign citizens," and that this number includes "more than 30 from Russia, China, North Korea, and seven other 'sensitive' countries"281 one senses that Chinese scientists, whether "imported" or American-born, alien or citizen, have become the era's current version of the "coolie menace." Unlike the Irish and other Euroamerican workingmen, whose grandparents sought and achieved the perquisites of "whiteness" by excluding them and scorning their ancestral culture, Chinese Americans of whatever socioeconomic class are transformed into "honorary whites" when denied a place in affirmative action programs, but otherwise and all too often regarded as permanent "immigrants."282 The deeper and more pervasive legacy of the Chinese Exclusion era has been captured by Lisa Lowe when she writes:
A national memory haunts the conceptions of the Asian-American, persisting beyond the repeal of actual laws prohibiting Asians from citizenship and sustained by the wars in Asia, in which the Asian is always seen as . . . the "foreigner-within," even when born in the United States and the descendant of generations born here before.283Gyory's book does nothing to dispel this national memory.
David Roediger has noted that "When [Gutman] attempted to discuss race relations within the working class, a desire to recover antiracist traditions led to straining the evidence and an unwillingness to probe the extent of white working class racism."290 However, although his faults in that regard are clear,291 his commitment to factual-based study caused him to uncover evidence that tended to undermine his unfailing conviction that class solidarity and class consciousness characterized the working class.292 For example, his startling observation that in Protestantism there "was a religious faith that justified labor organization and agitation, encouraged workers to challenge industrial power, and compelled criticism of 'natural' economic laws, the crude optimism of social Darwinism, and even the conformist Christianity of most respectable clergymen,"293 not only introduced a significant role for Protestant ideology in the working-class mentality, but raised the question of the role that Catholic ideas might have played in the minds of white laborers adhering to that religion. Gutman did not explore the implications of Catholic thought for working-class consciousness, although he claimed to have collected data on the subject.294 Had he done so, he might have uncovered how religious tensions within the working class were reduced by fomenting a campaign against Asiatic heathenism.
When Gutman flung down the challenge -- as quoted by Gyory, who accepted it, -- "This event in North Adams needs to be looked at in a fresh light. Who wants to tackle it?"295 -- he might have been posing precisely the kind of research problem that Gyory did not choose to solve. That would have been -- indeed, should have been -- an investigation that, taking Gutman's favorite aphorism, Sartre's statement that "The essential is not what 'one' has done to him,"296 would have pursued the largely Catholic Irish workingmen's story in terms of their anomalous status as objects of both religious and racial bigotry -- and how they sought to overcome their situation by seizing upon the "Chinese Question" and turning their own and other workingmen's attention to the "threat" presented by a "Chinese invasion."297 Putting together their refusal to associate with black and Chinese workers, their boasted identification with a generalized Occidental Christian civilization that would exclude Asiatics, and their adaptation of Sinophobic stereotopy to both their labor actions and their low-brow culture -- i.e., the kinds of facts uncovered in the research carried out by Tchen, Roediger, Ignatiev, and Hill -- these workers trod the path to "whiteness" and full-fledged Americanization. Gyory has not told this story. In his eagerness to exonerate the white working class from its blameworthy participation in the movement for Chinese exclusion, he has given new life to the lie that the Chinese immigrant posed a real threat to white workers' economic, social, and moral well-being.
"All too frequently, and for too long," observes historian and Sinologist Franklin Ng, "the separation of Chinese American history, like that of black history, from immigrant and ethnic history has worked to the detriment of both."298
And, I would add, to the detriment of labor history as well.
Peter Kwong, Forbidden Workers: Illegal Chinese Immigrants and American Labor, (New York: The New Press, 1997).
Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999).
Charles J. McClain, In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
Timothy Messer-Kruse, The Yankee International: Marxism and the American Reform Tradition, 1848-1876, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998).
David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, rev'd. edn., (London: Verso, 1999).
John Kuo Wei Tchen, New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
Despite the fact that Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans fought for the United States in every war in this century, Asian American service personnel continue to experience racist treatment in a variety of forms. See Toshio Whelchel, From Pearl Harbor to Saigon: Japanese American Soldiers and the Vietnam War, (London: Verso, 1999). return
Contents of No. 28