Does anyone still look for the union label? Apparently not, to gauge historian Nelson Lichtenstein's history of the rise, heyday, and long decline of labor unions in America.
In the Progressive era, Lichtenstein writes, the "labor question" lay at the heart of a whole complex of political ideas governing the social betterment of working people and the development of a more equitable society. These ideas flourished through the course of the early twentieth century, as unions attained more and more influence and as Keynesian notions of organized labor being "essential to boost mass purchasing power and thereby sustain economic growth" became established. After World War II, however, unionism began a slow collapse, helped along by the rise of conservative, antilabor politics. Although ideas of workplace justice and the extension of civil rights into the private sector remain strong, organized labor has not--with the result, Lichtenstein argues, that many American workers are worse off today than they were a quarter of a century ago. Lichtenstein's narrative capably summarizes trends in modern labor history, and it provides much fuel for activists seeking renewed labor-based politics. --Gregory McNamee
From Library Journal
Lichtenstein (history, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit) presents a history of American unionism in the 20th century and argues convincingly that a thriving labor movement is an essential safeguard of American democracy. He chronicles the struggle for economic citizenship and security that led to the burst of organizing during the Depression and World War II. After the war, even as unions reached new highs in membership and political activity, their strength was sapped by corporate resistance, their own bureaucratization, legal restrictions, and ideological attacks from the Right by anti-Communist conservatives and from the Left by disenchanted intellectuals. Throughout, Lichtenstein examines both the positive and the negative sides of American labor unions have been champions of civil rights and equal pay and racially exclusive and economically self-interested clubs. But, Lichtenstein argues, as the only organized counterweight to the power of rapacious corporations, unions play an essential role in preserving American ideals. Today, the labor movement faces political, economic, and organizational problems, but it has overcome equally large challenges in the past and remains a vital force for social progress in the United States. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Duncan Stewart, State Historical Soc. of Iowa Lib., Iowa City
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