Liberalism: The Malleable Word
Since the inception of the United States, the ideals of liberalism have fueled the American People to progress both economically and socially. Although most historians can agree with this aspect of Liberalism, the actual definition varies with different point of views. Arguably, from the 1940s to the 1970s liberalism in America allowed for the progression from a socially and financially worn out America to a world-power nation. Jack Metzger, Steve Estes, Betty Friedan, and Jefferson Cowie all wrote about postwar liberalism, yet their definitions of liberalism vary. In the overarching umbrella of liberalism, each author conveys a contrasting definition of the term. In Metzgar’s Striking Steel, the author proposes a definition of liberalism through the idea of collectivism. Metzgar uses his father’s and his own knowledge about the unions, specifically the steel and the coal miners’ unions, to convey his definition of liberalism. Metzgar’s opening remarks recount an argument with his father in which his father viscously curses the union workers, yet when his son bring up the fact the he should be thankful his father responds with, “you’re right about the union […]. We owe them, you and me (Metzgar, 4)”. Metzgar’s focal point revolves around the concept of explaining why people forgot about the importance of the union. With this point in mind, he assesses the working conditions faced by his grandfather versus the working condition his father faced. His grandfather lost both his arms, yet the compensation and insurance that the company offered was infinitesimal compared to the actual damage. Thanks to unions like the CIO and UMW, not only did working conditions improve but wages increase allowing the worker to not only make the minimum to be able to purchase basic necessities but it also gave the workers choice on how to spend their money. Metzgar’s father saw the labor contract as more than just a paper, “the very impersonality of the labor contract as a binding document was the foundation of his freedom and dignity, and a great deal of peace of mind as well (Metzgar, 36)”. Metzgar describes his family life after the Steel Strike of 1959 as a true middle class citizen. Not only did the new income allow them to spend money on items of want rather than items of need, the income gave them a sense of what it is to be humans, which in turn is a liberal movement. Metzgar went about it to describe it in a collective way, meaning that the movement, as a whole, was for the betterment of not just a worker but also any worker who would ever have a job in a factory. Under the umbrella of liberalism of the 1950’s, racial discrimination needed an attack in order for a much needed change. Steve Estes’s “I Am a Man!” talks about the Sanitation Strikes in Memphis. Racial discrimination made this strike unlike any other labor strike; “Low wages and poor working conditions in the Memphis Public Works Department of the 1950s and 1960s were a direct result of racial division in the workplace (Estes, 156)”. Estes goes on to describe the role of racism as the propeller for action, yet his definition of liberalism is seen as an individualistic approach. The strike described resonates with “I am a man” and not “we are men”. The overall goal for the strike was to end racial discrimination in the workplace, so the strike had to fight for the black individual. Estes even mentions that previous strikes on the workplace only sought improvement for the white workers only, “when white workers fought for raises, they usually demanded higher wages for whites only (Estes, 155)”. The mayor of Memphis, during the strike, displayed a paternalistic relationship with the African-American strikers. The term “boy” symbolized years of racial empowerment, and the fact that the mayor believed that he knew best was the ultimate sign of oppression. Not only was there a need for an improvement in the workplace but...
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