The dynamic relationship between union strategy and the ideals of radicalism
In Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950 Rosemary Feurer examines the fierce battles between Midwestern electrical workers and bitterly anti-union electrical and metal industry companies during the 1930s and 40s. Organized as District 8 of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) and led by open Communist William Sentner, workers developed a style of unionism designed to confront corporate power and to be a force for social transformation in their community and nation.
Feurer studies District 8 through a long lens, establishing early twentieth century contexts for these conflicts. Exploring the role of radicals in local movement formation, Feurer argues for a "civic" unionism that could connect community and union concerns to build solidarity and contest the political economy. District 8's spirited unionism included plant occupations in St. Louis and Iowa, campaigns to democratize economic planning, and local strategies for national bargaining that were depicted as a Communist conspiracy by a corporate influenced Congressional committee in Evansville, Indiana. District 8 was destroyed through reactionary networks and the anti-Communist backlash of the mid-twentieth century, but Feurer argues that its history tells another side of the labor movement’s formation in the 1930s and ‘40s, and can inform current struggles against corporate power in the modern global economy.
A website with more photographs and documents is available at www.radicalunionism.niu.edu
From the Publisher
"Feurer's careful analysis, well aware of the contemporary crisis of organized labor, will quickly become the first book examined by labor scholars and activists who seek to find maps to a better future in the experiences of the past."
--Peter Rachleff, professor of history, Macalester College
"This is a superb and much-needed study of St. Louis and its radical union tradition. Feurer's thick description of the culture of community unionism and her deft handling of the complex role of the Communist Party locally make for a book that will realign the debates of historians on a variety of subjects for years to come. In the bargain, she provides a compelling biographical account of open communist, William Sentner, a legendary figure in the local and regional labor movement."
--Shelton Stromquist, professor of history, University of Iowa
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