Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor

Kim Kelly. One Signal, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-982171-05-6

Journalist and union organizer Kelly debuts with a rousing look at the contributions of marginalized groups to the U.S. labor movement. She begins by placing the “middle-aged Black warehouse workers” who tried to unionize an Amazon fulfillment center in Alabama in 2021 within a “long lineage of working class heroes,” including the 19th-century female mill workers who fought for a workday shorter than 16 hours. Kelly also recounts how an 1881 strike by Black laundresses in Atlanta brought the city’s laundry services to a halt on the eve of the International Cotton Exposition, and profiles U.S. labor secretary Frances Perkins, who helped enshrine workplace protections in New Deal legislation after having witnessed the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Elsewhere, Kelly examines how convict leasing helped prop up the South’s “faltering post-Confederate economy” and sketches the history of the 1891–1892 Coal Creek War in Tennessee, when “involuntary, incarcerated laborers” were brought in as strikebreakers but were freed repeatedly by the miners they were meant to replace. Shedding new light on key players and episodes within a diverse range of industries—from textile and trucking to sex work—this invigorating labor history is also a powerful call for today’s workers to fight for their rights. Agent: Chad Luibl, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Apr.)
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