Working People of Holyoke I: Commitment to LearningIn 1990 William F. Hartford, an independent scholar, published Working People of Holyoke: Class and Ethnicity in a Massachusetts Mill Town, 1850-1960. His book is a detailed study that helps one understand how workers in Holyoke's factories principally paper and textile mills gradually, and with plenty of setbacks, arrived at somewhat improved wages and working conditions, only to see the mills close as owners shifted production south, where wages were lower.
The passage below, from Chapter 6, touches on learning activities one dimension of the workers' efforts to improve their lives in the years after 1905.
As they struggled to preserve some semblance of independence [i.e., having an independent voice in community affairs], trade-union respectables [as opposed to "saloonists," who tended to have a relatively casual connection to the industrial workforce] displayed an intense commitment to learning, not only for themselves but for all working people. The Dynamiters [a group of Holyoke trade unionists who met every Saturday evening] regularly badgered the state legislature to appropriate funds for university extension classes, and individual members ... periodically organized adult-education programs for local wage earners. Even more important than these efforts was the meaning that trade-union respectables attached to education. In their quest for knowledge they were not seeking to emulate or impress the local bourgeoisie. Rather, they saw learning as a valuable resource that could be used to engage life's problems. The Dynamiters thus maintained a file of the Congressional Record and other reference sources that members consulted to frame legislative petitions, contest the actions of local authorities, and challenge the assertions of visiting academics who, as the Springfield Republican's Sunday correspondent observed, "came [to Dynamiters Hall] hotfoot for argument and got it good and plenty." [p. 127]
In Chapter 7, Hartford offers an example from the mid-1920s of one of the more formal programs sponsored by the Dynamiters Club:
A course on "Labor Problems in Modern Society" conducted by Paul Douglas, then a professor at Amherst College, covered such topics as wealth and income distribution, recent wage movements, family-allowance systems, unemployment insurance, and the history of organized labor. During discussion periods, particpants debated whether centralized labor markets reduced unemployment, why welfare capitalists [owners who adopted a paternalistic approach to labor relations] so often opposed worker organization, and what impact technological innovation had on trade unionism, among other questions. [p. 169]