Laboring in the Magic City: Workers in Miami, 1914-1941

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"Laboring in the Magic City" examines the development of class relations in the tourist Sunbelt city of Miami, Florida, from the World War I-era until the eve of WWII. It contributes to the historical scholarship of class relations in the United States by demonstrating how employers and workers continually negotiated economic and political power in the development of the twentieth century city. Specifically, the dissertation explores why Miami's labor history was marked by apparent peaceful class relations--that is, despite successful union activism and other forms of persistent class struggle, the city has not been remembered or imagined as a place where continual or virulent class conflict occurred.

Central to my analysis is the concept of harmony discourse -- a worldview that assumed the existence of harmony rather than continual conflict among the classes in matters of economic development and social order. The importance of this perspective is that it challenges historical interpretations that too often assume employer hegemony and worker complicity in the existing political economy. My study thus seeks to infuse new life into the study of class by demonstrating an active and vibrant citizenry existed in Miami, one shaped by both individualistic values of self-interest and by communalism. Harmony discourse represented an engagement with capitalism that remained critical of its results, of the ordering of power, and of the organization of society. At the same time - given the vital role that black workers and middle-class professionals played in the local political economy -- race relations are central in my dissertation. Harmony discourse shaped relations between the white and black communities, and thus reinforced capitalistic relationships while also allowing for internal challenges of existing social structures.

"Laboring in the Magic City" is a study of how workers and business interests defined opportunity. It is a story of workers involved in real though at times subtle struggle across a variety of fronts: the workplace, the political arena, community affairs, and in leisure. The dissertation seeks to return to a study of class with a fresh perspective that transcends triumphant deference to and righteous condemnation of capitalism.