Philadelphia native Wendell W. Young III was one of the most important American labor leaders in the last half of the twentieth century. An Acme Markets clerk in the 1950s and ’60s, he was elected top officer of the Retail Clerks Union when he was twenty-four. His social justice unionism sought to advance wages while moving beyond collective bargaining to improve the conditions of the working-class majority, whether in a union or not. Young quickly gained a reputation for his independence, daring at times to publicly criticize the policies of the city’s powerful AFL-CIO leadership and tangle with the city’s political machine.
Editor Francis Ryan, whose introduction provides historical context, interviewed Young about his experiences working in the region’s retail and food industry, measuring the changes over time and the tangible impact that union membership had on workers. Young also describes the impact of Philadelphia’s deindustrialization in the 1970s and ’80s and recounts his activism for civil rights and the anti-war movements as well as on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
The Memoirs of Wendell W. YoungIII provides the most extensive labor history of late twentieth-century Philadelphia yet written.