by Jeremy Manczuk-
The St. Louis Labor History Tour is a walking tour highlighting the major labor disputes in St. Louis from the American Civil War and the Railroad Strikes of 1877 through the struggles of Harold J. Gibbons and the Teamsters Local 688 to provide health care for underprivileged workers from the early 1940s until the mid-1970s. The nearly-thirty page tour booklet was edited by Rosemary Feurer with sections written by David Roediger, Marilyn Slaughter, Lon Smith, and Dina Young. The tour booklet, which can be found at the website of Northern Illinois University, covers two geographical areas – downtown St. Louis and several locations in North St. Louis along Highway 70.
Despite the abundance of authors The St. Louis Labor History Tour is remarkably consistent. Regardless of site or event each contributor attempts to explain and examine the most serious questions surrounding the field of labor history. Each section investigates the working class of St. Louis and their attempts to improve “their workplace and society.” In response, as the booklet’s authors demonstrate, the elite and capitalist classes struggled to maintain their control over the issues of work and the direction of St. Louis society. The failures of the working class – most prominent is the lack of inclusivity – are also well-documented. Overall, the textual portion of the tour is informative, persuasive, and, most importantly, it holds its subjects – all of them – accountable for the city they helped to create.
Although many of the locations on the walking tour no longer exist – and those that do are almost all used in a different capacity than they were when the events depicted in the tour occurred – it is, I believe, worthwhile to actually walk the route of the tour rather than simply read the text. As we have learned throughout the length of this course in Public History – in both the readings and our discussions – it is important to not think of history as something that exists merely in the past with no repercussions for or connections to the present. This sense of historical continuity is addressed in the conclusion of the booklet as well. Although we are in the “midst of the development of a new ‘global’ economy,” Feurer claims, “solidarity is developed in face to face contact at the local level before it can be imagined at a broader level.” It works, I think, the other way as well. In order to make sense of – or benefit from – the decisions and consequences of the past, it can only help to imagine the present as tied intricately to the historical events being analyzed.