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Struggle in Smugtown: A History of Rochester’s Working Class

October 27th, 2010

Shawn Wilkinson, a friend and member of Reconnect Rochesterexternal link, recently tipped me off to this documentary; Struggle in Smugtown. “Smugtown” is the not-so-flattering nickname given to Rochester by newspaper writer G. Curtis Gerlingexternal link and also the title of his book Smugtown, USA. The “Struggle” refers to that of the working man and woman. I think you’ll find this to be a fascinating look into the social and economic history of our little town.

Watch all 15 segments of this film
(including this one on Transportation in Rochester).

FLOUR CITY

Digging the Erie Canal, constructing aqueducts; boatbuilding and barrel-making; flour mills make Rochester America’s bread-basket; the coming of the railroad.

FLOWER CITY

Nurseries replace mills, flowers replace flour; nursery workers organize; nursery land becomes Highland Park, a refuge for urban workers.

ACTIVISTS

Fugitive slave Frederick Douglass publishes The North Star, fights for black workers rights; Lewis Henry Morgan studies Iroquois culture, develops theories of social organization; Susan B. Anthony advocates for women’s suffrage, equal pay for equal work.

SCHOOLS

Rochester’s early struggles over integration; vocational education, the Mechanics Institute; the training of teachers and disparity in their pay.

EARLY UNIONS

Workers join the Rochester Workingmen’s Assembly, the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor, the Rochester Central Trades and Labor Council, the Building Trades Council.



TRANSPORTATION

First horse-drawn, then electric streetcars facilitate Rochester’s growth and connect the city to its region; street railway workers’ struggles.

SHOES & CIGARETTES

Threatened by mechanized production, workers in the “leather swamp” join the Knights of St. Crispin, the Knights of Labor, the Boot and Shoe Workers Union. Women at Kimball’s cigarette factory organize and strike.

LENSES & FILM

Skilled optical workers at Bausch & Lomb, Kodak; Lewis Hine photographs child labor.

CLOTHING

Thousands of immigrant workers in sweatshops and factories struggle, organize; Ida Breiman, striker, murdered; Rochester button industry.

SOCIALISTS

Anarchist Emma Goldman, socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs; discussions at Labor Lyceum; settlement houses “Americanize” immigrant workers.

WAR, DEPRESSION, NEW DEAL

WWI, repression of immigrant workers; the Great Depression, relief efforts for city’s unemployed; recognition of workers’ right to unionize spurs CIO organizing drives.

POST-WAR PROSPERITY

Workers struggles following WWII; city’s municipal workers organize, are fired, conduct General Strike; economic development; newspapers, both union and anti-union.

CIVIL RIGHTS

Workplace and housing discrimination lead to 1964 race riot; FIGHT takes on Kodak.

SHIFTING ECONOMIES

Job-flight to South and abroad threatens manufacturing; public employees and health care workers organize; struggles over privatization, plant-closings, safety and health in the workplace.

COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY

Organized labor’s role in sustaining a viable Rochester through a Living Wage, community support campaigns, labor-based cultural programs, political action.

This 45 minute documentary is available on DVD and distributed by the Ronald G. Pettengill Labor Education Fundexternal link

Copies are available for $19.95 plus $2.50 shipping from:

The Pettengill Labor Education Fund
30 North Union Street,
Suite 302
Rochester, NY 14607

Tel: (585) 454-5550
Fax: (585) 454-7711

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 at 7:19 pm and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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