There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America

Philip Dray, Doubleday, $30 (784p) ISBN 978-0-385-52629-6
This stirring study situates one of the most subversive yet profoundly American of social movements at the heart of the nation's history. Historian Dray (At the Hands of Persons Unknown) follows organized labor from the struggles of early 19th-century female textile workers to the present-day retreat of organized labor following the failed 1981 air trafic controllers' strike. His episodic narrative, structured around major strikes, shows labor's heroic age as an era of naked class warfare: strikers died by the dozens in pitched battles with police, soldiers, and Pinkerton agents, and such charismatic organizers as Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn braved prison and worse. The post-WWII period, by contrast, is a story of union conservatism, corruption scandals, and one rout after another at the hands of union-busting corporations abetted by government indifference. Organized labor's legacy, the author argues, is as much political as economic; it challenges bedrock American values of self-reliance while championing civil liberties—IWW speakers faced mass arrest for their public square orating—and bringing rights to the workplace. Packed with vivid characters and dramatic scenes, Dray's fine recap of a neglected but vital tradition has much to say about labor's current straits. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/19/2010
Release date: 09/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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