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American Labor

Books about Labor

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  1. Black Detroit and the rise of the UAW

    Black Detroit and the rise of the UAW


    The political alliance between the United Auto Workers and the NAACP-led blacks of Detroit blossomed with Walter Reuther's becoming a member of the board of the NAACP and marching with Martin Luther King. In retrospect it seemed to the matchmakers, like R. J. Thomas of the UAW and Walter White of the NAACP, like a marriage made in heaven. But Meier and Rudwick, who have written extensively on black issues, demonstrate that it was a relationship that was forged slowly and painfully through the organizing struggles of the New Deal and World War II. At first, black auto workers resisted unionization. Henry Ford had taken a paternal interest in them and given them more jobs, better pay, and better living conditions than any other employer. With their loyalty to Ford, suspicion of racist white workers, fear of the seniority system, under-representation in union offices, and concentration in the worst jobs, black workers were ripe to be used as strikebreakers. Working through his vicious Service Department (even arming black guards) and through the black ministers whom he had made his agents in the community, Ford was able to use the black workers to undermine the UAW organizing strikes. Gradually, black leaders came to trust union leaders and to realize that the union could be a better friend than Ford. And the UAW slowly began to go beyond expressions of sympathy for black needs and to take responsibility for restraining racism and ending discrimination. Still, their combined efforts were often undermined by racist companies (like Packard) inciting racist workers into ""hate strikes."" Ultimately, it was only when the government--acting through wartime boards--backed the union and forced management cooperation that progress was made. Even so, the 1943 riot about blacks living in the Sojourner Truth Projects was not even about integration, merely about black (rather than white) housing. Meier and Rudwick have used archival materials from all sides to piece together the tortuous path of race and labor relations. If the terrain is not unfamiliar (to readers of, e.g., Foner's Organized Labor and the Black Worker) the topography is new--and significantly revealing. Learn More
  2. Blue Jenkins: Working for Workers

    Blue Jenkins: Working for Workers


    When William "Blue" Jenkins was only 6 months old, he moved with his parents from a Mississippi sharecropper's farm to the industrial city of Racine, Wisconsin with dreams of a new life. As an African-American in the pre-civil rights era, Blue came face to face with racism: the Ku Klux Klan hung a black figure in effigy from a tree in the Jenkins family's yard. Growing up, Blue knew where blacks could shop, eat, and get a job in Racine - and where they couldn't. The injustices that confronted Blue in his young life would drive his desire to make positive changes to his community and workplace in adulthood. This new title in the Badger Biographies series shares Blue Jenkins's story as it acquaints young readers with African-American and labor history. Following an all-star career as a high school football player, Blue became involved in unions through his work at Belle City Malleable. As World War II raged on, he participated in the home-front battle against discrimination in work, housing, and economic opportunity. When Blue became president of the union at Belle City, he organized blood drives and fought for safety regulations. He also helped to integrate labor union offices. In 1962, he became president of the U.A.W. National Foundry in the Midwest, and found himself in charge of 50,000 foundry union members. Labor leader, civil rights activist, and family man, Blue shows readers how the fight for workers' and minorities' rights can be fought and won through years of hard work. Learn More
  3. C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writing

    C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writing


    Mills's letters to prominent figures--including Saul Alinsky, Daniel Bell, Lewis Coser, Carlos Fuentes, Hans Gerth, Irving Howe, Dwight MacDonald, Robert K. Merton, Ralph Miliband, William Miller, David Riesman, and Harvey Swados--are joined by his letters to family members, letter-essays to an imaginary friend in Russia, personal narratives by his daughters, and annotations drawing on published and unpublished material, including the FBI file on Mills. Learn More
  4. Calling Home

    Calling Home


    Working Class Women's Writings

    an anthology edited and with an introduction by Janet Zandy

    'A powerful and uncompromising collection of essays, stories, poems, and oral histories, and more, reflecting the history and personal experiences of workingclass women in America.'--Booklist

    'This unique collection evokes the little-heard voices of the women who form the very underpinnings of our society.'--Booklist

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  5. Class Action: Reading Labor, Theory, and Value (Contestations)

    Class Action: Reading Labor, Theory, and Value (Contestations)


    This text attempts to contest capitalist economics and strengthen workers' organizations while respecting the importance of all members of society. It reveals the numbers of human lives marked for extinction by capitalist ideology and often erased by traditional Marxism. The author explores the plight of homeless and jobless people as an extreme case of how Americans' sense of self-worth has become entangled with the circulation of money and commodities. Learn More
  6. Colorado's War on Militant Unionism

    Colorado's War on Militant Unionism


    James H. Peabody and teh Western Federation of Miners

    by George G. Suggs, Jr.

    'This is by far the best book available on the period of Colorado's great hard-rock labor strikes during 1903-1904. It is a superbly researched and analyzed study. The writing is concise, crisp, and moves steadily ahead toward the tragic climax. WhileGovernor James H. Peabody is the chief villain, Suggs is objective in his examination of both sides and their leadership. Nothing has surpassed this book in the past decade of scholarship.' -Duane A. Smith

    'George G. Suggs, Jr., has written a splendid monograph, rich in detail, that will be extremely uiseful to business and labor historians studying the dynamics of community behavior during strikes and the character of the open shop movement of the first decade of the twentieth century.' -Business History Review

    'Suggs's book remains the state-of-the-art investigation of the pivotal role of state government in the Colorado labor wars of 1903-1904. It is a book whose time has come with the emphasis on conquest, class, and teh role of teh state in the new western history.' -Elizabeth Jameson

    'Suggs's account of the struggle is valuable because his use of the records of the Peabody administration indicates strongly the basic assumption of the governor and his aides that any action, public or private, was justifiable to destroy the union. His intelligent probing of municipal and county records in the strike regions shows how quickly and often illegally teh management dominated citizens alliances, gained control of local government, and then ran roughshod over the economic, political, and legal rights of the union men.' -Journal of American History

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  7. Diary of a Strike

    Diary of a Strike


    by Bernard Karsh

    Foreword by Sol C. Chaikin

    Second Edition

    Diary of a Strike recounts the violent four-month-long strike that occurred in an upper midwest textile factory during the early 1950s.  In this new edition, Karsh identifies for the first time the town (Marinette, Wisconsin), the company (Marinette Knitting Mills), the union (International Ladies Garment Workers, Local 480), and the strike's principal participants, while placing the strike's achievements within the grim perspective of two decades of economic decline.

    Diary of a Strike takes us into the very heart of the organizing process to reveal its effects upon the workers, the company, and an entire community.  Of the original edition, Harvey Swados in The Nation declared it 'a most fascinating story....highly recommended.'  Today, more than twenty years later, Karsh's portrayal of the strike remains a vivid reminder of the social and personal costs that labor disputes exact from us.

    'Normally, when strikes are described, much is left out.  Scholars often lose the human drama, the sacrifice, the courage, the disappointment, the joys, even the humor.  Reporters, too, miss much of what a labor dispute is all about- the ebbs and flows, the subtle nuances of tactics, the improvisations, the countless decisions and details, the accumulation of small incidents that add up to a major confrontation.  I think a person has to live day by day with a strike to fully understand what is involved.  Short of that, he or she can read Bernard Karsh's book.' -Sol C. Chaikin, president of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union.

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  8. Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence In America

    Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence In America


    By Louis Adamic

    With a forward by Jon Bekken

    The history of labor in the United States is a story of almost continuous violence. In Dynamite, Louis Adamic recounts one century of that history in vivid, carefully researched detail. Covering both well- and lesser-known events—from the riots of immigrant workers in the second quarter of the nineteenth century to the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)—he gives precise, and often brutal, meaning to the term 'class war.'

    As its title suggests, Dynamite refuses to sugarcoat the explosive and bloody legacy of the US labor movement. While quite clear that the causes of class violence lay with both the nature of capitalism and the specific policies of US industrialists, Adamic offers no apologies for the violent tactics workers employed in response. When peaceful strikes failed to yield results, working men and women fought back by any means necessary. The violent methods they used were often the only way that social injustices—from 'ordinary' exploitation to massacres and judicial murder—could become visible, let alone be addressed.

    This AK Press edition of Adamic's revised 1934 version of Dynamite, includes a new foreword by professor and labor organizer Jon Bekken, who offers a critical overview of the work that underlines its contemporary relevance.

    Louis Adamic emigrated from Slovenia when he was fifteen years old and quickly joined the American labor force. Interspersing stints of manual labor with writing for Slovenian and English-language newspapers, he went on to receive a Guggenheim fellowship and to author of eleven books. He is now recognized as a great figure in early twentieth-century American literature. He was found shot to death in a burning farmhouse in 1954.

    Jon Bekken is co-author of The Industrial Workers of the World: Its First 100 Years (IWW 2006), and coeditor of Radical Economics and Labor: Essays Inspired by the IWW Centennial (Routledge, 2009). He is associate professor of communications at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, a former General Secretary-Treasurer of the Industrial Workers of the World, and a member of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review editorial collective.

    'A young immigrant with a vivid interest in labor—and the calluses to prove his knowledge was more than academic—Louis Adamic provided a unique, eyes-open-wide view of American labor history and indeed of American society. Dynamite was the first history of American labor ever written for a popular audience. While delineating the book's limitations, Jon Bekken's foreword also makes clear for today's readers its continuing significance.'

    —Jeremy Brecher, historian and author of Strike!

    'Adamic's Dynamite is a classic, written with the verve and perspective of an author who was a first-hand observer and participant in many of the struggles he chronicles. And it is a powerful reminder that class struggle in America has always been pursued with ferocity and intensity. With all the book's strengths and weaknesses, outlined in a perceptive foreword by Jon Bekken, it remains a foundational text for those who wish to understand the world...and to change it.'

    —Mark Leier, director of the Centre for Labour Studies at Simon Fraser University

    'Highly readable and packed with information, Dynamite is a brilliant introduction to the history of American class warfare. Essential reading itself, the book will inspire a new generation of activists to continue to seek out, and explore, working class organization and history.'

    —Barry Pateman, Associate Editor, The Emma Goldman Papers

    'DYNAMITE! Of all the good stuff, that is the stuff! Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch pipe...plug up both ends, insert a cap with a fuse attached, place this in the immediate vicinity of a lot of rich loafers who live by the sweat of other people's brows, and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. In giving dynamite to the downtrodden millions of the globe science has done its best work...' —from Alarm, 21 February 1885

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  9. Ecopolitics: Building a Green Society

    Ecopolitics: Building a Green Society


    Where do you place the blame for the environmental crisis-too many people? consumer greed? technology gone amok? And what do you think will save our planet-birth control? appropriate technology? recycling? eco-consumerism? Those solutions are just "Band-Aids on a bleeding Earth," argues environmental activist Daniel A. Coleman. Where conventional wisdom sees both the cause of the environmental crisis and its cure in individual actions, Coleman says: Look again. By blaming ourselves as individuals, we let governments and corporations off the hook. Making "50 simple" changes in our personal lifestyles is worthwhile, but must not divert our attention from the underlying causes of environmental disaster. The real causes are rooted deep in the politics of human affairs-and so are their solutions.We should be asking: Why do we allow such harm to our environment? How did we create a society with no stake in the future? How can we build a green society? The good news is that we can reverse the process of environmental abuse. Political strategies driven by the key values of ecological responsibility, participatory democracy, environmental justice, and community action are effective. Dan Coleman's stories of citizen groups whose grassroots organizing has already put ecologically sound policies in place demonstrate that the sustainable society is indeed possible. Lucid, lively, probing, serious, yet optimistic-Coleman's analysis is required reading for all who count the earth as their home. Learn More
  10. Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy

    Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy


    This book is intended for young adult readers. On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City burst into flames. The factory was crowded. The doors were locked to ensure workers stay inside. One hundred forty-six people—mostly women—perished; it was one of the most lethal workplace fires in American history. But the story of the fire is not the story of one accidental moment in time. It is a story of immigration and hard work to make it in a new country, as Italians and Jews and others traveled to America to find a better life. It is the story of poor working conditions and greedy bosses, as garment workers discovered the endless sacrifices required to make ends meet. It is the story of unimaginable, but avoidable, disaster. And it the story of the unquenchable pride and activism of fearless immigrants and women who stood up to business, got America on their side, and finally changed working conditions for our entire nation, initiating radical new laws we take for granted today. With Flesh and Blood So Cheap, Albert Marrin has crafted a gripping, nuanced, and poignant account of one of America's defining tragedies Learn More

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