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The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 Paperback – January 27, 1989
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From Library Journal
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"...the most sweeping portrait of working-class life to emerge from the new labor history...a subtle, complex, often brilliant study..." Alan Brinkley in the New Republic
Top Customer Reviews
Montgomery delineates three different type of workers in the nineteenth century. Skilled workers, such as iron puddlers, maintained a degree of control over the workplace because of their specialized knowledge. Common laborers, such as railroad builders, provided the muscle that shaped industrial America. They exerted power because industry depended on them to survive. Operatives, or unskilled laborers such as textile workers, filled an interum position. Mostly women, these workers operated under a piecework system and possessed limited power over their jobs. The changes in industrial society reduced the power of skilled craftsmen and swelled the ranks of operatives.
Industry used a variety of methods to transform the workplace in order to marginalize skilled workers and increase the numbers of more easily controlled operatives. Scientific management served to explain, guide, and justify this transformation. Scientific management separated the mental component of commodity production from the actual work. This separation de-skilled workers and decreased their control over the industrial environment. The open-shop drive consolidated middle class opposition to the workers. Their hostility led to the inability of workers to enact reform legislation to remedy managerial encroachments into the shop floor.Read more ›
He has built an immensely impressive body of research and has constructed a powerful study of American labor history. He insightfully separates labor groups and examines them singly: craftsmen; common laborers (or "ditchdiggers"); and operatives. This allows him to construct the clearest picture of turn-of-the-century American workers; instead of approaching them as a uniform, and therefore anonymous, whole. Montgomery's statistics reveal that technological innovations actually increased the number of common laborers needed and used, while it reduced the amount of skilled workers needed, especially in the iron industry. The (very new) electrical industry was the most progressively innovative in all aspects of production and business--though, without the benefit of "Fordism" or mass production--and employed a high number of women. It is this section of his book where Montgomery is most successful at showing the utter lack of conformity from one factory to another, as well as the nearly total absence of job safety. Depending on which factory she worked in, a woman would receive different pay for the exact same work, since it was arbitrarily within the foreman's full discretion. This is indicative of the total lack of coherence, even within the same industries.
Throughout his book, Montgomery acutely delineates how the specific type of work influenced the resultant process of unionization.Read more ›