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Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from Below During the Long 1970s Paperback – November 22, 2010
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“Truly shines ... By uncovering the hidden history of the 1970s, Rebel Rank and File reminds us that there is another path to union renewal—a path firmly rooted in the workplace and motivated by visions of transforming society.”—Joe Burns, In These Times
“An important collection ... honest and thoughtful.”—World Wide Work
“This is an unusually high-quality effort, with an all-star cast of authors, which should attract wide interest.”—Nelson Lichtenstein, Professor of History at University of California Santa Barbara
“The chapters in this collection take the reader on a vivid journey through battlegrounds of the 1960s and 1970s where workers and employers clashed over the future of the US workplace.”—Steve Downs, Against The Current
“Bracing and often electrifying ... A primer and a call to arms for a radical rank-and-file politics.”—Michael Watts, Professor of Geography and Development Studies at UC Berkeley
“Extraordinary reflections.”—Mike Davis
“[A] spirited volume ... a call to arms to today’s workers and potential activists.”—K.B. Nutter, Choice
“Page after page of the remarkable militancy of rank-and-file workers.”—John Borsos, WorkingUSA
About the Author
Aaron Brenner is President of Rank & File Enterprises, a financial and labor research firm.
Robert Brenner is Director of the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History at UCLA. He is the author of The Boom and the Bubble, Merchants and Revolution, The Economics of Global Turbulence and co-editor of Rebel Rank and File.
Cal Winslow is Director of the Mendocino Institute and Fellow in Environmental Politics, Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, and co-editor of Rebel Rank and File.
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This is an unsparing account: the authors fearlessly spell out the contradictions that arose between different cohorts of labor, ranging from the high-status autoworkers and truck drivers, to the low-status miners and trashhaulers. In the 1960s, the older unions had no sooner won recognition from the NLRB and created the private welfare state (2), than their officials came under pressure to accede to speed-ups and "workplace flexibility." Workers were pitted against other workers by skillful union-busting management; union officials adopted strategies to avoid conflict with management, and eventually became collaborators with their old foes.
In the late 1960s, the many social movements that had recently burst to prominence converged on the workplace--unionized or not. Women confronted sexist employers, coworkers, and unions. Lower echelons of the workforce confronted indifferent union bureaucrats. African Americans and Latinos confronted racism everywhere. Workers in hitherto un-organized business sectors sought collective bargaining rights. And at this time, "the establishment" of police, business management, local government, and White power groups locked arms to fight back in unison. In many cases, the union management was prone to siding with business management against the rank and file.
The outcomes are usually depressing, and there are complicated explanations for why. Workers frequently became most militant when their entire industry was threatened (as with auto workers in the late 1960s, when US consumers deserted the Big Three in droves). In other cases, the private welfare states created by prior union activism only drove wedges among "rival" labor interests. The labor movement was probably excessively dependent on the Democratic Party, which was (in turn) surprisingly indifferent to the labor movement.
Still, this book is a vital resource on the different political struggles of the US labor movement. This book covers the largest unions of the mid-century Golden Age of US Labor, and analyzes the multi-factional struggles that struck each one. The writing is lucid and rigorous.
Also, it would be remiss of me to not mention the excellent photography. There are vivid photos of organizing workers that are mostly very compelling artistically--an outstanding feature in itself.
(1) "The Great Society" was the general term used by Pres. Johnson (s.1963-1969) to refer to the set of social welfare programs he presided over. The Great Society suffered from the problem that it required continual renewal of government spending commitments for otherwise marginal populations (slum residents, for instance). Congress would approve the expenditures provided the programs would deliver social peace. If the mood in Congress changed, the GS program beneficiaries would be left high and dry.
After the "Reagan Revolution," liberal histories of the period 1954-1978 tended to paint it in rosy hues: industry was strong, labor was confident, and progress was in the air. The reality was surprisingly different.
(2) The "private welfare state" refers to the social safety net created by employers for unionized employees. It may include old age pensions, health insurance, maternity leave, and child care. Typically, the "private welfare state", once won by a labor force at great cost, tends to make it even more dependent on the profitability of its employer. This make the union membership reluctant to risk its privilege with respect to the rest of the working class.