With seasons that often stretched across continents, and a diverse and cosmopolitan group of employees, the circus was a startlingly unique mobile, transient, and global workplace. This article focuses on the significant worker activism in the circus during the late 1930s and early 1940s, particularly as it intersected with labor organizations. In 1938, nearly sixteen hundred laborers with the Ringling Brothers Circus staged a sit‐in to protest unfair wages with the help of the AFL. But they were shocked when the circus responded by shutting down for the season, leaving every worker out of a job. The 1938 circus strikes were at the tail end of a long history of negotiations and disputes. These various protests, led by a global workforce of sideshow performers, canvasmen, and high‐paid stars from the center ring directly led to the modernization of the circus, along with its subsequent decline. This has larger implications for understanding early globalized workforces and the historic roots of employer responses to demands of a globalized working class.

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