Theodore Roosevelt and the Labor Movement

This thesis examines three separate incidents that help reveal Roosevelt's attitude toward the workers' movement. The anthracite coal strike of 1902 shows Roosevelt at his best. In that crisis, he seized the initiative by bringing labor and capital to the negotiating table. He proved to be a successful mediator in what contemporaries saw as the most significant strike in American history. Scarcely one year later, Roosevelt rejected labor's appeals and effectively ended the closed shop in the Government Printing Office. At the same time, he still defended the union's right to exist in the government service. Finally, the Goldfield miners strike of 1907-1908 offers a less flattering view of the President. Here, Roosevelt quickly dispatched federal troops to maintain order at the request of the Nevada governor before determining whether they were actually needed. The troops strengthened the operators' hand. The strike was broken and the miners union was destroyed in the process. Despite Roosevelt's disparate stands, this thesis attempts to demonstrate that there was an ideological consistency to his actions. He supported a worker's right to join a union and hoped that employers would recognize that unions could play a responsible role in society. To him, this was merely a matter of justice and fair play. However, Roosevelt could never tolerate unions that challenged his authority. Like many other Progressives, the President feared militant sectors of the labor movement. He was convinced that they were violence-prone and could never act in a responsible manner. This conviction guided Roosevelt's actions, since the maintenance of order was paramount to the President. Roosevelt's activities during the anthracite strike, the Government Printing Office dispute, and the Goldfield conflict need to be seen in this context. Only then can we truly understand the paradoxical relationship between Roosevelt and the labor movement.