Divided We Stand: American Workers and the Struggle for Black Equality

Bruce Nelson, Author Princeton University Press $55 (440p) ISBN 978-0-691-01732-7
The battle for worker's rights in the U.S. has always coexisted with the battle for racial equality, yet these two constituencies have often been on opposing sides. The tortuous process by which predominantly white unionized labor groups gradually came to grips with their history of racial exclusion forms the background of this superbly written, intellectually exciting and pioneering book. A history professor at Dartmouth College, Nelson weds detailed research with in-depth interviews, oral histories and his own first-hand experience (he worked union shop jobs before attending graduate school), producing a study of labor's struggle with race and a critique of the tendency of ""new labor history"" to ignore blacks and excuse white racism. With grace and acuity, Nelson unites his far-ranging concerns, from the overt racism of many 19th-century Roman Catholic clergy who helped white immigrants organize and the history of companies using blacks who had been excluded from unions as strikebreakers to the deep-seated conflicts between the AFL and CIO over race policies and the use of red-baiting to attack those who attempted to fully integrate unions. In assembling this history, Nelson successfully argues that race and ethnicity have long been central issues in the labor movement. (Jan. 12) Forecast: Like Noel Ignatiev's influential How the Irish Became White and David Roediger's classic The Wages of Whiteness, this book has the potential to profoundly change how we read and think about American history. If it garners the review attention it deserves, it could find a solid audience among readers who enjoyed those books.
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
Paperback - 440 pages - 978-0-691-09534-9
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