Clarence Roberts, Jr.
Slavic immigrant groups, like the Italians from southern Italy, were viewed by “Americans” as being a group comprised mostly of men that were unskilled, illiterate and transient. Slav—in this case Poles (excluding Jews from southern Poland) and Slavaks—were seen as a bigger threat to American institutions that any of the other European ethnic groups. Polish immigrants tended to keep to themselves—whenever possible. They took care to see that their communities were as self sufficient as possible. The Polish immigrant—for the most part—worked in or near the community. They built schools and created social institutions, (fraternal orders) that organized social events within the community. Central to the community was the church. The Catholic Church. This was at a time when the nativist were attacking Catholicism. To the typical Pole living in one of these communities there was absolutely no reason to venture (out) beyond the borders of the community. Everything they could possibly desire was there.
The Slavic immigrants were opposed to the American idea of materialism. Out of fear that these ideas would be taught to their children the Polish groups withdrew their children from public schools (by allowing a high rate of dropouts). These sentiments were quickly echoed by the Slavaks. Since they distrusted American public schools, Poles and Slavaks deemphasized the importance of a formal education and encouraged their sons to seek training in a trade. Most of the Polish boys followed their fathers’ choice of a trade (they usually took their sons to work with them and trained them on the machines that they operated). In communities that could effort to support it, there was a Catholic school available.
As a group of basically unskilled laborers the Slavs took the unskilled jobs vacated by the group that preceded them.
The Slavic groups were not overly ambitious people (or so some thought). Slavic workers, as mentioned, were anti-materialistic. Survival was upper most on their minds. Work was simply a means to an end. Consequently, they opted for lowpaying, but steady unskilled work as opposed to higher pay, but oftentime temporary work. They were a practical people who felt that work should be used to pay bills only. That, if needed, women and children should work to contribute to the survival of the family (old world views that led to wholesale exploitation of child labor).
Slavs lacked upward job mobility. The lack of upward job mobility was not a result of a complete lack of interest in bettering their lot, but in addition to what has already been said, a result of unskilled immigrants coming into a community where the Irish and German—before them—had already secured the skilled jobs. (The latest immigrant group nearly always took the worst, the leasepay and most unskilled jobs available. Meanwhile, the groups before them advances a notch in most cases). Their ability to take the worst jobs and stick with them enabled them to become, by 1900, one of the top two ethnic groups representing employees of America’s leading industries.