Date of Award

6-2020

Degree Name

MA in History

Department

History

College

College of Liberal Arts

Advisor

Andrew Morris

Advisor Department

History

Advisor College

College of Liberal Arts

Abstract

In the fall of 1921 oil workers of the San Joaquin Valley faced a post-war economic slump, wage cuts across the board and an increasingly hostile attitude of oil operators towards consultation with the federal government on labor relations. They voted to strike, and the next day eight thousand workers walked off the fields. Strikers crafted an image of “patriotic unionism,” underpinned by a faith in the federal government and the ideology of the American Legion. The strike did not end in gruesome class warfare like had been seen months earlier in the coal mines of West Virginia, but rather in ideological confusion and despair. The oil workers movement never fully embraced a class identity; instead it embraced the burgeoning conservative identity of Americanism. This effectively hobbled the growth of the movement. Upon the strike’s conclusion there was no mass pull to the left on the part of oil workers in the San Joaquin Valley, despite the fact that their movement’s design and identity had gotten them nowhere. On the contrary a portion of workers and supporters of the strike turned to the nativism of the Klan. Overall this project looks to complicate the narrative of “us vs. them” in labor history by analyzing workers’ identities, and also looks to contribute to the ever-evolving discourse on how historians should track American conservatism as a social force.

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