Against Labor highlights the tenacious efforts by employers to organize themselves as a class to contest labor. Ranging across a spectrum of understudied issues, essayists explore employer anti-labor strategies and offer incisive portraits of people and organizations that aggressively opposed unions. Other contributors examine the anti-labor movement against a backdrop of larger forces, such as the intersection of race and ethnicity with anti-labor activity, and anti-unionism in the context of neoliberalism. Timely and revealing, Against Labor deepens our understanding of management history and employer activism and their metamorphic effects on workplace and society. Contributors: Michael Dennis, Elizabeth Esch, Rosemary Feurer, Dolores E. Janiewski, Thomas A. Klug, Chad Pearson, Peter Rachleff, David Roediger, Howard Stanger, and Robert Woodrum.
When William "Blue" Jenkins was only six 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 addition to 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.
Karen Sacks offers the first detailed account of the hospital industry's nonprofessional support staff---their roles in day-to-day health care delivery, and why they fought so tenaciously throughout the 1970s to unionize. This case study of the relationships between work life and unionization in Duke medical Center highlights women's activism in general and black women's leadership in particular.
In addition to an analysis of the dynamics of women's activism, Caring by the Hour provides a comparative study of Duke Medical Center's treatment of both black and white female workers. Sacks links patterns of racial segregation in clerical jobs to the relationship between race, working conditions, and unequal opportunities for black and white women, and to their differing work cultures and patterns of public militance. She also discusses recent changes in service, clerical, and professional work and their effects on white and black women, placing them in the context of national changes in health funding and policies.
Selected as a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year for 2018 (Category: Twelve–Fourteen)
“A biography for the times … An excellent read for anyone hoping to believe one person can make a difference.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“This well-told, age-appropriate account of a vital and essential activist deserves a place in all middle grade collections.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
Today, we know Dolores Huerta as the cofounder, with Cesar Chavez, of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. We know her as a tireless advocate for the rights of farmworkers, Mexican American immigrants, women, and LGBTQ populations. And we know her as the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2012.
Before all that, though, Huerta was a child in the farming community of Stockton, California, and then a teenager whose teachers underestimated her because she was Chicana. When she became a teacher herself, she witnessed her students coming to school shoeless and hungry. Many took days off from school to work in the farm fields to help feed their families. What could she do to help them? A young mother at the time, Huerta quit her teaching job to organize their parents. That began her journey to educate a nation about who produces our food and the conditions under which they work.
Dolores Huerta Stands Strong follows Huerta’s life from the mining communities of the Southwest where her father toiled, to the vineyards and fields of California, and across the country to the present day. As she worked for fair treatment for others, Dolores earned the nation’s highest honors. More important, she found her voice.
In recent decades the American labor movement has fallen on hard times, in part due to its long reliance on blue-collar workers for its membership despite the growing importance of retail and service jobs. In For All White-Collar Workers: The Possibilities of Radicalism in New York City’s Department Store Unions, 1934–1953, Daniel Opler examines early efforts to unionize workers in department and retail stores. Beginning with the origins of the modern labor movement in the mid-1930s, Opler argues that Communist labor organizers created vibrant and powerful unions in New York City’s department stores, only to see those unions—and the CIO’s powerful retail workers’ union—destroyed during the McCarthy era.
In the process of examining these unions, Opler takes the reader far beyond union meetings and contract negotiations, exploring the ways in which consumption, urban life, and changing understandings of public space affected the unions in these eras. As a result, For All White-Collar Workers becomes an exploration of such diverse subjects as the conflicts over midtown Manhattan, the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair, the link between consumption and patriotism during World War II, private housing developments in 1940s New York City, and suburbanization, all viewed through the lens of the rise and fall of New York City’s department store unions.
In recent years, New Yorkers have been surprised to see workers they had taken for granted—Mexicans in greengroceries, West African supermarket deliverymen and South Asian limousine drivers—striking, picketing, and seeking support for better working conditions. Suddenly, businesses in New York and the nation had changed and were now dependent upon low-paid immigrants to fill the entry-level jobs that few native-born Americans would take. Immigrants, Unions, and the New U.S. Labor Market tells the story of these workers' struggle for living wages, humane working conditions, and the respect due to all people. It describes how they found the courage to organize labor actions at a time when most laborers have become quiescent and while most labor unions were ignoring them. Showing how unions can learn from the example of these laborers, and demonstrating the importance of solidarity beyond the workplace, Immanuel Ness offers a telling look into the lives of some of America's newest immigrants.
Japanese and Chinese immigrants in the United States have traditionally been characterized as hard workers who are hesitant to involve themselves in labor disputes or radical activism. How then does one explain the labor and Communist organizations in the Asian immigrant communities that existed from coast to coast between 1919 and 1933? Their organizers and members have been, until now, largely absent from the history of the American Communist movement. In Japanese and Chinese Immigrant Activists, Josephine Fowler brings us the first in-depth account of Japanese and Chinese immigrant radicalism inside the United States and across the Pacific.
Drawing on multilingual correspondence between left-wing and party members and other primary sources, such as records from branches of the Japanese Workers Association and the Chinese Nationalist Party, Fowler shows how pressures from the Comintern for various sub-groups of the party to unite as an “American” working class were met with resistance. The book also challenges longstanding stereotypes about the relationships among the Communist Party in the United States, the Comintern, and the Soviet Party.
Sharp decreases in union membership over the last fifty years have caused many to dismiss organized labor as irrelevant in today's labor market. In the private sector, only 8 percent of workers today are union members, down from 24 percent as recently as 1973. Yet developments in Southern California—including the successful Justice for Janitors campaign—suggest that reports of organized labor's demise may have been exaggerated. In L.A. Story, sociologist and labor expert Ruth Milkman explains how Los Angeles, once known as a company town hostile to labor, became a hotbed for unionism, and how immigrant service workers emerged as the unlikely leaders in the battle for workers' rights. L.A. Story shatters many of the myths of modern labor with a close look at workers in four industries in Los Angeles: building maintenance, trucking, construction, and garment production. Though many blame deunionization and deteriorating working conditions on immigrants, Milkman shows that this conventional wisdom is wrong. Her analysis reveals that worsening work environments preceded the influx of foreign-born workers, who filled the positions only after native-born workers fled these suddenly undesirable jobs. Ironically, L.A. Story shows that immigrant workers, who many union leaders feared were incapable of being organized because of language constraints and fear of deportation, instead proved highly responsive to organizing efforts. As Milkman demonstrates, these mostly Latino workers came to their service jobs in the United States with a more group-oriented mentality than the American workers they replaced. Some also drew on experience in their native countries with labor and political struggles. This stock of fresh minds and new ideas, along with a physical distance from the east-coast centers of labor's old guard, made Los Angeles the center of a burgeoning workers' rights movement. Los Angeles' recent labor history highlights some of the key ingredients of the labor movement's resurgence—new leadership, latitude to experiment with organizing techniques, and a willingness to embrace both top-down and bottom-up strategies. L.A. Story's clear and thorough assessment of these developments points to an alternative, high-road national economic agenda that could provide workers with a way out of poverty and into the middle class.
In September 2011, Occupy Wall Street activists took over New York's Zuccotti Park. Within a matter of weeks, the encampment had become a tiny model of a robust city, with its own kitchen, first aid station, childcare services—and a library of several thousand physical books. Since that time, social movements around the world, from Nuit Debout in Paris to Gezi Park in Istanbul, have built temporary libraries alongside their protests. While these libraries typically last only a few weeks at a time and all have ultimately been dismantled or destroyed, each has managed to collect, catalog, and circulate books, serving a need not being met elsewhere.
Libraries amid Protest unpacks how these protest libraries—labor-intensive, temporary installations in parks and city squares, poorly protected from the weather, at odds with security forces—continue to arise. In telling the stories of these surprising and inspiring spaces through interviews and other research, Sherrin Frances confronts the complex history of American public libraries. She argues that protest libraries function as the spaces of opportunity and resistance promised, but not delivered, by American public libraries.
Middle Class Union argues that the period following World War I was a pivotal moment in the development of middle-class consumer politics in the 20th century. At this time, middle-class Americans politically mobilized to define for society what was fair in the growing consumer marketplace. They projected themselves as guardians of the producerist values of hard work, honesty, and thrift, and called for greater adherence to them among the working and elite classes. In this era and in later periods, they flexed their muscles as consumers, and claimed to defend the values of the nation.
Combining social history with interdisciplinary approaches to the study of consumption and symbolic space, Middle Class Union illustrates how acts of consumption, representations of the middle class in literary, journalistic, and artistic discourses, and ground-level organizing combined to enable white-collar activists to establish themselves as both the middle class and the backbone of the nation. This book contributes to labor history by examining the nexus of class and consumption to show how many white-collar workers drew on their consumer identity to express an anti-labor politics, later facilitating the struggles of unions throughout the post–World War I years. It also contributes to political history by emphasizing how these middle-class activists laid important groundwork for both 1920s business conservatism and New Deal liberalism. They exerted their political influence well before the post–World War II period, when a self-interested and powerful middle-class consumer identity is more widely acknowledged to have taken hold.
In 1990, Hartford, Connecticut, ranked as the eight poorest city in the country by the census; the real estate market was severely depressed; downtown insurance companies were laying off and the retail department stores were closing; public services were strained; and demolition sites abandoned for lack of funds pockmarked the streets. Hartford's problems are typical of those experienced in numerous U.S. cities affected by a lingering recession.
The harsh economic times felt throughout the city's workplaces and neighborhoods precipitated the formation of grassroots alliances between labor and community organizations. Coming together to create new techniques, their work has national implications for the development of alternative strategies for stimulating economic recovery.
Louise B. Simmons, a former Hartford City Councilperson, offers an insider's view of these coalitions, focusing on three activist unions—rhe New England Health Care Employees Union, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, and the United Auto Workers—and three community groups—Hartford Areas Rally Together, Organized North Easterners-Clay Hill and North End, and Asylum Hill Organizing Project. Her in-depth analysis illustrates these groups' successes and difficulties in working together toward a new vision of urban politics.
In the series Labor and Social Change, edited by Paula Rayman and Carmen Sirianni.
In 1933 the United States Office of Indian Affairs began a major reform of Indian policy, organizing tribal governments under the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act and turning over the administration of reservations to these new bodies. Organizing the Lakota considers the implementation of this act among the Lakota (Western Sioux or Teton Dakota) from 1933 through 1945.
Biolsi pays particular attention to the administrative means by which the OIA retained the power to design and implement tribal "self-government" as well as the power to control the flow of critical resources—rations, relief employment, credit—to the reservations. He also shows how this imbalance of power between the tribes and the federal bureaucracy influenced politics on the reservations, and argues that the crisis of authority faced by the Lakota tribal governments among their own would-be constituents—most dramatically demonstrated by the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation—is a direct result of their disempowerment by the United States.
Grassroots organizing and collective action have always been fundamental to American democracy but have been burgeoning since the 2016 election, as people struggle to make their voices heard in this moment of societal upheaval. Unfortunately much of that action has not had the kind of impact participants might want, especially among movements representing the poor and marginalized who often have the most at stake when it comes to rights and equality. Yet, some instances of collective action have succeeded. What’s the difference between a movement that wins victories for its constituents, and one that fails? What are the factors that make collective action powerful?
Prisms of the People addresses those questions and more. Using data from six movement organizations—including a coalition that organized a 104-day protest in Phoenix in 2010 and another that helped restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated in Virginia—Hahrie Han, Elizabeth McKenna, and Michelle Oyakawa show that the power of successful movements most often is rooted in their ability to act as “prisms of the people,” turning participation into political power just as prisms transform white light into rainbows. Understanding the organizational design choices that shape the people, their leaders, and their strategies can help us understand how grassroots groups achieve their goals.
Linking strong scholarship to a deep understanding of the needs and outlook of activists, Prisms of the People is the perfect book for our moment—for understanding what’s happening and propelling it forward.
In 1946, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) undertook Operation Dixie, an initiative to recruit industrial workers in the American South. Elizabeth and Ken Fones-Wolf plumb rarely used archival sources and rich oral histories to explore the CIO's fraught encounter with the evangelical Protestantism and religious culture of southern whites.
The authors' nuanced look at working class religion reveals how laborers across the surprisingly wide evangelical spectrum interpreted their lives through their faith. Factors like conscience, community need, and lived experience led individual preachers to become union activists and mill villagers to defy the foreman and minister alike to listen to organizers. As the authors show, however, all sides enlisted belief in the battle. In the end, the inability of northern organizers to overcome the suspicion with which many evangelicals viewed modernity played a key role in Operation Dixie's failure, with repercussions for labor and liberalism that are still being felt today.
Identifying the role of the sacred in the struggle for southern economic justice, and placing class as a central aspect in southern religion, Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South provides new understandings of how whites in the region wrestled with the options available to them during a crucial period of change and possibility.
In this first-ever collection of labor anthropology from around the world, the contributors to Uncertain Times assert that traditional labor unions have been co-opted by neoliberal policies of corporate capital and have become service organizations rather than drivers of social movements. The current structure of labor unions facilitates corporations’ need for a stable labor force while reducing their power to prevent outsourcing, subcontracting, and other methods of undercutting worker security and union power. Through case studies from Switzerland, Israel, Argentina, Mexico, the United States, Greece, Sweden,Turkey, Brazil and Spain, the authors demonstrate that this process of neutering unions has been uneven across time and space. They also show that the potential exists for renewed union power based on more vociferous and creative collective action. These firsthand accounts—from activist anthropologists in the trenches as union members and staff, as well as academics analyzing policy, law, worker organizing, and community impact—illustrate the many approaches that workers around the world are taking to reclaim their rights in this ever-shifting labor landscape.
Uncertain Times is the first book to use this crucial comparative, ethnographic approach for understanding the new rules of the global labor struggle and the power workers have to change those rules. The volume will be of great interest to students and scholars of anthropology, sociology of work, and labor studies; labor union leadership; and others interested in developing innovative methods for organizing working people, fomenting class consciousness, and expanding social movements.
Contributors: Alpkan Birelma, Emma Braden, Maria Eugenia de la O, Christopher Kelley, Staffan Löfving, Gadi Nissim, Darcy Pan, Steven Payne, Alicia Reigada, Julia Soul, Manos Spyridakis, Christian Zlolniski
In the late nineteenth century, Midwestern miners often had to decide if joining a union was in their interest. Arguing that these workers were neither pro-union nor anti-union, Dana M. Caldemeyer shows that they acted according to what they believed would benefit them and their families. As corporations moved to control coal markets and unions sought to centralize their organizations to check corporate control, workers were often caught between these institutions and sided with whichever one offered the best advantage in the moment. Workers chased profits while paying union dues, rejected national unions while forming local orders, and broke strikes while claiming to be union members. This pragmatic form of unionism differed from what union leaders expected of rank-and-file members, but for many workers the choice to follow or reject union orders was a path to better pay, stability, and independence in an otherwise unstable age.
Nuanced and eye-opening, Union Renegades challenges popular notions of workers attitudes during the Gilded Age.
Union-Free America: Workers and Antiunion Culture confronts one of the most vexing questions with which labor activists and labor academics struggle: why is there so much opposition to organized labor in the United States? Scholars often point to powerful obstacles from employers or governmental policies, but Lawrence Richards offers a more complete picture of the causes for union decline in the postwar period by examining the attitudes of the workers themselves. Large numbers of American workers in the 1970s and 1980s told pollsters that they would vote against a union if an election were held at their place of employment, and Richards provides a provocative explanation for this hostility: a pervasive strain of antiunionism in American culture that has made many workers distrustful of organized labor.
Weighing the arguments of previous historians and sociologists, Richards posits that this underlying antiunion culture in America has been remarkably consistent over the course of half a century. Assessing organizing efforts among blue-collar, white-collar, and pink-collar workers, Richards examines the tactics and countertactics of company and union representatives who sought to either exploit or neutralize workers' popular negative stereotypes of organized labor's insidious control over workers' autonomy. The book considers a number of case studies of organizing drives throughout recent history, from the failed attempt by District 65 to organize clerical workers at New York University in 1970, to a similarly fruitless drive by the Textile Workers Union in 1980 at a textile factory in Charlottesville, Virginia. In both of these particular cases and in many more, antiunion culture has operated to hinder unions' efforts to organize the unorganized. By examining the manifestations and motivations of antiunion culture in the United States, Richards helps explain why so many American workers seem to vote against their own self-interest and declare themselves "Union Free and Proud."
An unheralded union battle offers new insight into identity politics.
In 1991, Columbia University's one thousand clerical workers launched a successful campaign for justice in their workplace. This diverse union-two-thirds black and Latina, three-fourths women-was committed to creating an inclusive movement organization and to fighting for all kinds of justice. How could they address the many race and gender injustices members faced, avoid schism, and maintain the unity needed to win? Sharon Kurtz, an experienced union activist and former clerical worker herself, was welcomed into the union and pursued these questions. Using this case study and secondary studies of sister clerical unions at Yale and Harvard, she examines the challenges and potential of identity politics in labor movements.
With the Columbia strike as a point of departure, Kurtz argues that identity politics are valuable for mobilizing groups, but often exclude members and their experiences of oppression. However, Kurtz believes that identity politics should not be abandoned as a component in building movements, but should be reframed--as multi-identity politics. In the end she shows an approach to organizing with great potential impact not only for labor unions but for any social movement.
Sharon Kurtz is associate professor of sociology at Suffolk University in Boston.