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Title:Men Of The Steel Rails: Workers On The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, 1869-1900
Author(s):Ducker, James Howard
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):History, United States
Abstract:This study of Santa Fe Railroad employees examines the lives of men whose day-to-day exertions constituted the contribution to the country of one of the nation's railroad giants. In the late nineteenth century railroading was not only the industry with the largest number of employees, but it also hired men for a wide variety of tasks. Therefore, it is difficult to characterize a typical railroader's work. Some labored regular ten hour days while others came and went according to the train schedule and all were affected by the seasonal surges and lulls in traffic. Most held relatively accident-free jobs, but those employed as switchmen or brakemen were very likely to meet injury or death.
The relationship between the Santa Fe and its workers was not one of constant conflict. Both corporation and employees exhibited similar postures toward Populist rate-making. The company's top management attempted to insure fair treatment of employees by its far-flung officers and adopted a host of paternalistic practices including the establishment of reading rooms, assistance in social functions and a hospital system. Corporate officials looked upon these measures as leading to a more reliable work force. For their part, most workers placed a high value on some of the company's paternalistic programs and undertook relatively few strikes.
Payrolls, taxrolls and censuses reveal that job turnover and geographic mobility generally were most marked among the young, low-paid, unmarried, property-less and in those times and places where frontier roughness prevailed. However, men in certain occupations were especially prone to moving because mobility was sometimes necessary for promotion.
Santa Fe employees in a division center were to some extent a community unto themselves. They did intermingle in their neighborhoods and social organizations with others of their own class. In small towns of under a few thousand in which they were only a minor element of the population, railroaders formed close ties with other townsmen and this brought community support to them in times of strikes. In exceptional cases Santa Fe employees composed a third or more of a town's work force and their political and economic power easily coaxed general support for strikers. But in most division centers railroaders could at best hope to have the sympathy only of those in the working class. However, local society and power were centered in the small-business men and professionals who had little social contact with railroaders and over whom the workers had no leverage. As a result most towns rendered slight assistance in strikes and railroaders could feel alienated from the full scope of their communities.
Unions gave structure to working class society. Union membership meant recognition by one's peers and brought with it benefits such as assistance from brother members when on the road looking for work or when sick, injured or laid off. Brotherhoods, abetted by their women's auxiliaries, also attempted to reform and educate members and organize an entertaining round of social activities. The better-organized unions on the Santa Fe succeeded in winning concessions from the company. Yet, except for a period of corporate weakness around 1890, the Santa Fe defeated workers who took adamant stands against the company. Given a backdrop of strike failure it is a wonder that as many took the risk of walking out. On the Santa Fe the young were the most prone to strike. Moreover, evidence from Santa Fe strikes suggests the importance of the irrational force of peer pressure in workers' strike movements. In this context, the union as a center for peer group identification and mobilization sometimes proved crucial.
Issue Date:1980
Description:477 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8026484
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-13
Date Deposited:1980

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