Friend or Foe? Cross-Class Alliances and the War on Urban Poverty

This panel explores the struggle against poverty in the twentieth-century United States by focusing on the myriad institutions through which Americans sought to remake urban capitalism and end inequality. By pushing labor historians to look beyond the traditional arenas of working-class politics and trade-union activity, it reveals the surprising variety of institutions–religious, workerist, business, middle-class, nonprofit, and consumerist–that have sculpted the debate about poverty and its proposed remedies. The four papers consider a range of urban environments, from segregated Chicago to de-industrializing New Bedford, as well as a spectrum of anti-poverty organizations, from neighborhood nonprofits to expansive federal agencies. In the process, the panel reveals the vital contributions—including financial might, political capital, mass mobilization, and ideological influence—these institutions have brought to the battle against inequality. But it also examines the potential compromises and co-optations that resulted from cross-class alliances. And ultimately, it hopes to reveal the variety of institutional and organizational forms that have shaped the modern fight against inequality.

Creative Destruction from the Ground Up: The Struggle for a New Industrial Regime in Massachusetts, 1930-1953
Shaun S. Nichols

Private Grants, Public Purpose: Nonprofit Capacity in Boston’s War on Poverty
Claire Dunning

Bringing Selma North: Race, Religion, and Community Organizing in the Late 1960s
Casey Bohlen

Manpower Inc., Temporary Labor, and Long-Term Unemployment in the 1960s
Louis Hyman

Jefferson Cowie will serve as chair and commentator for the panel.

About the Kalmanovitz Initiative

Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor develops creative strategies and innovative public policy to improve workers’ lives in a changing economy.