Thursday, January 21, 2010

AFT "Tools for Teachers"

We received a Google Web Alert regarding posting of the following webpage. What of this "Tools for Teachers" description is historically correct and what is incorrect?:

" ... Despite their hard work, the Chinese still faced discrimination. They experienced more difficult conditions than the white workers while receiving less pay for their work. In 1867, the Chinese workers organized a strike demanding higher pay and safer working conditions. The officials ignored their demands and forced them the workers to return to work."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Historical accuracy matters, especially in the classroom when teaching young children who may lack the skill to distinguish history from propaganda. Honor the memory of the heroic Chinese transcontinental railroad workers by telling their story with historical accuracy.

The Central Pacific Railroad's treatment of the Chinese workers is not an example of discrimination, but exactly the opposite – an excellent example of the necessities of a free market economy forcing people to overcome their prejudices and provide equal treatment to get the job done.

A reporter for the San Francisco Newsletter, May 15th, 1869, described the final moments of the celebration at Promontory: CPRR management and Superintendent "J.H. Strobridge, when the work was all over, invited the Chinese who had been brought over from Victory for that purpose, to dine at his boarding car. When they entered, all the guests and officers present cheered them as the chosen representatives of the race which have greatly helped to build the road ... a tribute they well deserved and which evidently gave them much pleasure."

The conditions building a railroad in the 19th century wilderness were very hard, but were experienced the same by workers of all races. The Chinese workers received equal pay, about $30 in gold coin per month, same as caucasian railroad laborers. Not aware of any primary source evidence that there was ever a demand for "safer working conditions" during the strike for higher wages.

1/21/2010 9:41 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Don Snoddy"

I'd say they had this confused with the coal miners strike and subsequent Chinese Massacre at Rock Springs in 1887. And even then it wasn't the Chinese who struck, but were brought in as strike breakers.

This sounds too much like unionizing, which I doubt happened in 1867 anywhere.

1/21/2010 10:22 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Well, I suppose it tells part of the story. As I recall, sometime around that time (1867) Chinese wages did go up – indications are that the strike DID actually result in some benefits to the Chinese workers. By the end of construction in 1869 they appear to have been receiving pay (in official wages paid) nominally comparable to what basic White unskilled workers were receiving, and of course actual wages depended on what job the individual worker was doing - and whether or not it was considered "skilled" work – true whether the worker was Chinese or White. It's true their overall wages were generally somewhat lower – especially when considering that board was included in White worker's benefits, and not in the benefits that the Chinese received. (The flip side is that the Chinese ate their own familiar foods, and had a much healthier diet as a result.)

Overall, yes, the Chinese faced discrimination – as has nearly every emigrant and/or ethnically different population (including, for instance, the Irish in the Eastern US, or Hispanics in the West – to say nothing of Native Americans, to name only a few). And such prejudices are most certainly NOT unique to the US, nor even particularly White, as a quick look around the world (both historically and today) will show. Look at Koreans in Japan, Tibetans and other minorities in China, the many wars between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, or the genocide in Rwandan – just a few examples. For that matter, prejudice against the "different" and the "outsider" is not even uniquely human – it is in face very common throughout the animal kingdom. One could argue that the prejudice that the Chinese faced was maybe worse than some other groups faced, but not as bad as some others faced.

As with any such brief statement, it grossly simplifies the real story, reducing life experiences into mere soundbites of information.


1/21/2010 6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a question on Yahoo answers: "How did the Central Pacific Railroad Company treat their workers?"

1/25/2010 9:24 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The CPRR established the world's first multi-location health maintenance organization to provide healthcare for its workers who accepted western style medicine. The Chinese had their own herbal doctors, one of whom, Yee Fung Cheung, saved the life of former California Governor and CPRR President, Leland Stanford's wife. The CPRR provided food for their workers, except that the Chinese workers provided their own Chinese food which was actually more healthy.

1/25/2010 9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, caution to students.

6/10/2010 6:21 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related discussion.

1/18/2013 2:07 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages