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A Short History of the U.S. Working Class: From Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century (Revolutionary Studies) Paperback – October 1, 1999

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Product Details

  • Series: Revolutionary Studies
  • Paperback: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Humanity Books (October 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573926647
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573926645
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #457,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Le Blanc is an assistant history professor at Pittsburgh's Carlow College and a self-described activist in labor and social movements. He edited From Marx to Gramsci: A Reader in Revolutionary Marxist Politics. Although most books that consider the "working class" are usually devoted to studying or portraying the poor, Le Blanc's book takes a much broader view. For Le Blanc, working class and labor are synonymous. His aim is to make the history of labor in the U.S. more accessible to students and the general reader. He succeeds by outlining major events in the history of the U.S., then showing the role of labor in shaping them or describing their impact on labor. Le Blanc's primer not only informs but should also prove to be a helpful resource. Included are a chronology of U.S. labor history, a U.S. history time line, a glossary of labor terms, and a bibliographic essay highlighting research, classical works, fiction, and films about labor. David Rouse --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"exceptional book...not just for scholars or even for students, but for the working class. Such books are rare..." -- Labor Notes, October 1999 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a grad student in American History, I hoped this book would give me a brief but useful overview of the role of labor in history. While this is definitely a "short" work, it highlights late 19th and early 20th century labor movements at the expense of early material. Indeed, he only devotes 20 pages for the colonial period, Revolution, and all pre-Civil War developments! How stingy!
My disappointment is partially a measure of my interest in Revolutionary history and the shift from artisans to wage laborers. This early material is both fascinating and relevant for all sorts of later trends. If you share my interests, I recommend you run an Amazon search on authors such as Bruce Laurie, Merritt Roe Smith (a bit later but really interesting), Charles Dew, and Gordon Wood, to name a few. If you are interested in post-Civil War developments, this book may be just right for you: it is concise and easy to read, in spite of more than a few small errors. This is no more than an introduction and survey, but it can bring you up to speed on basic concepts very quickly.
I was very pleasantly surprised by Le Blanc's 22 page bibliographic essay and 19 page glossary. (He also includes a timeline and chronology, if you're into that sort of thing.) These sections are very useful as a quick reference while reading the book and afterward. The bibliographic essay points you to a broad spectrum of movies, documentaries, and books that should satisfy anyone's interests and needs (I can't wait to rent "On the Waterfront" and "Roger and Me" -- they sound great).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on September 22, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For the author the working class for its own wellbeing must be unified against the predations and exploitations of employers. The book focuses on the historical existence and effectiveness of worker solidarity as primarily exercised through unions.
The need for working class solidarity arose as formerly independent craftsmen were forced into a factory system producing for an expansive capitalistic market and in the process lost control of their economic lives. Worker organizations such as the Knights of Labor, the Wobblies, and craft-based unions attempted to address this transformation and the accompanying brutal working conditions. Le Blanc clearly outlines their struggles: the extreme cyclic nature of late 19th century capitalism undercut worker militancy; racial, ethnic, religious, gender and skill differences undermined solidarity; employers mounted intense and often violent opposition with state support.
A main theme of the book is the effect on worker solidarity when union bureaucrats seek accommodation with business or rely on the state for survival. Gompers, first president of the AFL, eschewed worker militance in cooperating with the National Civic Federation and then the Wilson administration during WWI. Later, New Deal labor legislation as elaborated and implemented by the War Labor Board of WWII essentially prohibited workers from any exercise of power on shop-floors. Union leaders demonstrated a willingness to purge dissidents, pandering to red-scare mania, and to enforce contracts that traded economic gains for union members in exchange for unchallenged management control of workplaces - an unspoken social compact that has been shredded in the era of globalization.
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