Self-defeating racism in Utah's early labor movement
- This is Old News, where we backtrack into the past. As Labor Day approaches, we're looking at how workers here fought and what they were up against.
- In 1885, the Knights of Labor were up against their own bigotry.
Driving the news: The Knights, who were the first national labor federation, organized a boycott in Ogden against anyone they thought was too nice to Chinese people.
- They targeted a number of people who were previously sympathetic to the Knights, burning the tenuous goodwill they had established.
- In central Utah, white coal miners trapped a group of Chinese workers in a boxcar and sent it careening down a canyon.
Zoom out: Campaigns to "expel" Chinese workers were escalating throughout the West, including the killings of at least 28 Chinese miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in September 1885.
Details: Although the Knights of Labor disavowed the massacre, less than two weeks later they revived their calls to expel Chinese workers — and ramped up anti-Chinese rhetoric in Ogden, where fewer than 100 Chinese people lived.
The intrigue: The Knights of Labor, while amassing about 800,000 members nationally, had more precarious ties in Utah.
- Mormon leaders saw the group as secretive, and potential rivals, writes historian J. Kenneth Davies.
- Meanwhile, the ties to violence supplied plenty of legitimate objections in both the religious and secular press.
What happened: When the Knights printed their list of "Chinese-friendly" Ogdenites to boycott, the railroad town had enough.
- The Ogden Herald finally deemed the group's efforts there a failure.
- Employers, well aware of the animus at play, explicitly threatened to bring in Chinese workers as strikebreakers, all but guaranteeing division would continue.
Yes, but: In their zeal, the Knights pushed at least one of their boycott targets toward a more forward-thinking conclusion.
- Chinese and white workers should be paid the same, Ogden realtor Joseph West wrote, "destroying the bitter competition now existing between these races."
Previously in Old News:
- ⛏️ Xenophobic union-busting in the 1922 coal strike
- 🗞️ How Utah media spun an anti-union brawl in 1913
- 🛶 John Wesley Powell's crappy night
- 😈 How Lucifer took over a Utah newspaper during the satanic panic
- 📸 A photo history of Utah's impressive and bizarre Pioneer Day floats
- ⛷️ The great Alta freak-out of 1873
- 🍸 A big step toward booze
- 🎉 Ogden: More fun than Salt Lake City for at least 143 years
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