The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism
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By Kevin Boyle
Cornell University Press
Current political observers castigate organized labor as more interested in winning generous contracts for workers than in fighting for social change. The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism offers a compelling reassessment of labor’s place in American politics in the post-World War II era. The United Automobile Workers, Kevin Boyle demonstrates, was deeply involved in the pivotal political struggles of those years, from the fight for full employment to the battle for civil rights, from the anticommunist crusade to the war on poverty. The UAW engaged in these struggles in an attempt to build a cross-class, multiracial reform coalition that would push American politics beyond liberalism and toward social democracy. The effort was in vain; forced to work within political structures – particularly the postwar Democratic party – that militated against change, the union was unable to fashion the alliance it sought. The UAW’s political activism nevertheless suggests a new understanding of labor’s place in postwar American politics and of the complex forces that defined liberalism in that period.
The book also supplies the first detailed discussion of the impact of the Vietnam War on a major American union and shatters the popular image of organized labor as being hawkish on the war. Engrossing and richly developed, The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism draws on extensive research in the records of the UAW and in papers of leading liberals, including Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Adlai Stevenson.
“Kevin Boyle has done a masterful job of identifying the unique contribution of the UAW, not only to American Liberalism, but also to the nation and to all people. As contemporary labor and society at large search for new directions, this book should be required reading.”—Victor G. Reuther
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