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Social Conflict Theory: Boyz in Tha Hood and Freedom Fighters in Steel

By:   •  December 9, 2014  •  Essay  •  1,913 Words (8 Pages)  •  3,034 Views

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Karl Marx is credited with creating social conflict theory. The basis for this theory is the idea that there are different social classes within society, and for the purpose of keeping this paper short, I will only give a brief overview of this concept. Social classes can be separated into two very basic groups, the dominant group and the submissive group, and the dominant group of people uses their power to oppress the weaker group of people. This oppression comes in multiple forms such as, lack of economic resources, absence of political power, and unequal educational opportunities. As a result, the dominant group of people are able to exploit the weaker group of people for their own gain. Therefore, the dominant groups are able to retain power, while the lower group of people has unequal access to opportunities which keeps them in a powerless position.

Many examples of this theory can be found within modern society today. Social conflict theory is still present all around us; two excellent examples are the movie Boyz n the Hood and the book Black Freedom Fighters in Steel. Both of these resources also illustrate that race is often a determining factor for social stratification. Consequently, each of the six African American characters highlighted in this paper will start out as disadvantaged, but there is a silver lining for the characters to be discussed in this paper. The societal class system that exists in the United States of America is not a completely fixed system, individuals, and even entire groups of people, are able to better themselves through, perseverance, hard work, education, and honesty. Each of the characters portrayed in the movie and book document the struggle of lower class individuals to better their position in society.

Few people will ever be able to say that their life work benefitted an uncountable number of people all across the country. George Kimbley, William Young, and John L. Howard are three individuals who can make such a statement. This is due to their contributions to the labor movement. More specifically, each of these men worked in the

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Steel Mills of Northwest Indiana and they helped to establish a union that guaranteed fair labor practices for men and women of all races and ethnicities. As a member of Local 20 Gary Area Sheet Metal Workers Union I spent almost a decade of my life working for a union shop before taking a withdrawal to pursue a higher education. Therefore, the historical importance of the labor movement is a story close to my heart. It is unfortunate that the dominant group, described above in Karl Marx's social conflict theory, has been largely successful in creating negative public opinion about unions, as well as, diminishing the power and population of union workers. For that reason, I am glad that this class gets to read and learn about the Black Freedom Fighters in Steel.

The men appear in the book in chronological order starting with the oldest man, George Kimbley who arrived in the Calumet Region in February 1920, shortly after his release from the U.S. Army. He settled down in Gary hoping to find a job in the Steel Industry. When George arrived, most of the African American workers in the region who had done heavy labor on the original construction crews were gone. They had been chased out of town by a series of campaigns against unemployed blacks and immigrants, and the ones who remained faced a racially charged environment and demoralized workforce due to a failed strike attempt in 1919. As a result, black workers and union leaders with socialist views were blamed for the failed attempt. This reflects the elite's determination to crush union organizing by isolating labor groups and creating mistrust amongst the workers. For black job seekers, the months after the strike created a window of opportunity. Kimbley got a valued job at the Sheet and Tin Mill where he secured himself niche by never turning down a job, no matter how hard, dirty, or low-paid. He had found a way to make it: work hard, be honest, and get folks to like you.

George Kimbley could have never predicted how far his hard work, perseverance, and positive attitude would take him. He would become the first Gary African American to sign a

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membership card with the Steelworkers' Organizing Committee (SWOC) in 1936, and George would be the first black rank-and-file steelworker to be appointed to the SWOC staff in the Chicago/Northwest Indiana District in 1938. Kimbley, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, had a simple dream to work hard and be left alone, but when he discovered the power of union organization; he found an instrument for social change, and in turn transformed the labor movement for countless groups of people.

William Young was an impressive looking man according to those who knew him. He stood tall, spoke well, and carried himself with dignity. Bill Young found employment at the Inland Steel Company in 1922 where he made rails for the transportation industry. He describes the early conditions as intolerable. "From what I read about slavery," Young noted, "there was very little difference between it and working at Inland." There were very few blacks at Inland when Young hired in, and he was the only black worker in his department. The Mill preferred to hire Mexicans because they worked hard, did not speak English, and lacked community support that had already been established by other ethnic groups. Despite this company preference, Young figured out that a worker could keep a job at Inland if he learned the equipment and did whatever job was required. Like Kimbley, he listened carefully and worked hard. Eventually, management began to rely on William to train newer employees. Through educating himself, he learned how to operate five or six different kinds of machines, and when the union came into Inland in 1937, Young was immediately promoted to a skilled job previously unavailable to him. Bill Young remained employed by Inland for more than half a century. His tenure spanned so many social, political, and economic changes that it is impossible to encompass this man's life in a paragraph. But, an accurate statement would be to say that he became a success story. William Young was a founding member of the SWOC lodge and USWA 1010, and beginning in 1937 till retirement, Young continuously held leadership positions within the union and Inland Steel.

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John L. Howard dedicated forty-two years to active involvement in the labor movement in an effort to improve economic conditions


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