Zeidel, Robert F.
Robber Barons and Wretched Refuse
Ethnic and Class Dynamics during the Era of American Industrialization
Aims and Scope
Robber Barons and Wretched Refuse explores the connection between the so-called robber barons who led American big businesses during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and the immigrants who comprised many of their workforces. As Robert F. Zeidel argues, attribution of industrial-era class conflict to an "alien" presence supplements nativism—a sociocultural negativity towards foreign-born residents—as a reason for Americans' dislike and distrust of immigrants. And in the era of American industrialization, employers both relied on imigrants to meet their growing labor needs and blamed them for the frequently violent workplace contention of the time.
Through a sweeping narrative of the time, Zeidel uncovers the connection of immigrants to radical "isms" that gave rise to widespread notions of alien subversives whose presence threatened America's domestic tranquility and the well-being of its residents. Employers, rather than looking at their own practices for causes of workplace conflict, wontedly attributed strikes and other unrest to aliens who either spread pernicious "foreign" doctrines or fell victim to their siren messages. These characterizations transcended nationality or ethnic group, applying at different times to all foreign-born workers.
Zeidel concludes that, ironically, stigmatizing immigrants as subversives contributed to the passage of the Quota Acts, which effectively stemmed the flow of wanted foreign workers. Post-war employers argued for preserving America's traditional open door, but the negativity which they had assigned to foreign workers contributed to its closing.
- 306 pages
- CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESS
- class-conflict, immigration restriction, imported radicalism, immigration, industrialization
"Robber Barons and Wretched Refuse reveals important points about ethno-racial class relations as central to the dynamics of both workplaces and of attitudes and policies towards immigrants in the industrialized US. There is no comparable existing work."
Katherine Benton-Cohen, Georgetown University, author of Inventing the Immigration Problem:
"Robert Zeidel offers a sweeping history of immigrants and industrialization in an age of immense change. This book shows us that immigrant workers have had hopes, dreams, and points of view that shaped our economy and culture."