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on November 3, 2010
Philip Dray's powerful book lives up fully to its subtitle -
The Epic Story of Labor In America. Few books move with the power and ease of "There is Power In A Union."
Filled with unforgettable characters who claim monumental places in American history, Dray captures the personalities that carved the labor movement into the annals of American history. Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, Elizabeth Flynn, Albert Parsons, Joe Hill, Frank Little: some of them died, all of them made huge contributions to give American workers the benefits they have today. The unions may not be the powerful forces they once were in American history, but this book stirs up the ghosts and brings the historic battle between labor and capital back to life. I have read lots of history - few books stand up to the splendid work of this one. It is impossible to appreciate the anatomy of the labor fight in America without reading this book.
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on July 23, 2011
I felt compelled to read up on my labor history following the recent (and ongoing) anti-union initiatives in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states across the nation. Philip Dray has written a compelling history of the labor union movement that helps us to understand how vital it has been to the country and citizens everywhere. I only hope more of those working for union representation will take the time to read this book. As Dray observes in his concluding chapter, we need "to treat seriously the need for unionized workers to be aware of the larger political and economic forces affecting today's global markets, and to know the history of labor itself." Reading this book will motivate them to continue fighting for the justice working people deserve.

Dray also pays much needed tribute to the hundreds of thousands of nameless, faceless workers who made the ultimate sacrifices for their fellow workers and humanity. His vivid, compelling retelling of the stories of, for example, the Lowell factories, the Haymarket Massacre, the Pullman Strikes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire and important figures like Big Bill Haywood, John L. Lewis, Walther Reuther, and especially Eugene V. Debs, make the story complete. He also doesn't shy away from the corruption and malfeasance of leaders within the movement who have done so much to damage the popular perception of unions today.

Dray makes a strong argument of how labor must work together to educate all citizens about the value of their (or, more accurately, our) cause to all Americans. He rightly laments the loss of a vital connection between labor and average Americans, "Gone missing is the communal purpose that animated America in the mid-twentieth century, leading workers into unions and creating fundamental trust in government sufficient to bring about not only the benefits of the New Deal but the advances of the 1960s, such as the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among many other programs."

As we observe the elevation of ignorance into public policy by supporters of the "tea parties," anti-tax at-all-cost Republicans, and spineless "Democrats," let us hope that more will read this book to begin to regain the communal purpose that has served this nation well through times hard and good.
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on September 18, 2010
In this new book by Dray, there are an endless number of episodes relating to the struggles between the big business and the American workers from the nineteenth century onwards. Murder, greed,corruption,sacrifice,farcical trials,personal courage and many interesting narratives are at the core of this story. Many mythical figures populate the pages here,among them Eugene Debs,Mother Jones,Walther Reuther,Jimmy Hoffa and others.
It is worth quoting a passage which can easily represent the general message of this important opus.The following words were uttered by another well-known figure,Big Bill Haywood during his trial after being charged with conspiracy:
"We are conspiring to prevent the making of profits on labor power in any industry. We are conspiring against the dividend makers. We are conspiring against rent and interest. We want to establish a new society,where people can live without profit,without dividends,without rent and without interest if it is possible;and it is possible,if people will live normally,live like human beings should live.I would say that if that is a conspiracy,we are conspiring"(p.366)
The workers were also concerned about their safety and in the period between 1880-1910 fifteen thousand American workers a year perished in on-site accidents,with thousands more injured or sickened, mostly in connection with mine and railroad work.Many anarchists joined the workers in their struggle and one of them ,Alexander Berkman, even added that "the removal of a tyrant is not merely justifiable;it is the highest duty of every true revolutionist".
At the urging of Congress, Attorney General A.Mitchell Palmer targeted suspected Bolshevik sympathizers and labour radicals across the country especially during WW1. What we take today for granted after getting hired in various jobs-social benefits, health care- was achieved only with many effors and struggles,as this superb book makes it clear.
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on March 27, 2017
Great book. Read it to understand the role of labor in the US.
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on May 28, 2013
Philip Dray's book is a series of stories of the larger-than-life leaders of the labor movement, and he tells those stories convincingly and stirringly, without speculating outside the historical record. I found the book very readable and even a page-turner. There are a couple limitations to be aware of, but they won't bother everyone. First, Mr. Dray is unabashedly pro-union. Even those who share his sympathies may be bothered by the overt way that he takes sides. For instance, in discussing the Kyoto climate-change accord, Mr. Dray reports that the UAW "cautioned the president against commitments that would unfairly hamstring the U.S. auto industry and possibly result in layoffs," whereas he describes the same position, taken by management, as the "well-oiled reaction of the corporations and their conservative handmaidens." This problem goes beyond Mr. Dray's choice of words: he almost never gives serious consideration to positions critical of unions. The second limitation to his work is that it is almost exclusively narrative. He tells exciting tales, but discusses only in passing the economic and social forces that form the backdrop for the successes and failures of the labor movement. Nevertheless, it's an engrossing book and a great story.
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on June 7, 2013
I've long been a reader of history books, and try to expand the scope of my reading where possible. Having a professional interest in the labor movement and wanting to understand its history better, I thought this would be a good choice, and the positive reviews here made me enthusiastic to start it. Unfortunately, I came away disappointed, and cannot recommend this as a resource to those interested in labor history. Though the author is a good writer and storyteller, I feel that he has not painted an accurate picture of the movement, or given the lay reader enough substantive content to be worthy of a 700 page book.

To my mind, the problem with this book starts with the subtitle, "The Epic Story of Labor in America." The author is true to that label, and in his effort to tell an epic, compelling story, lets accurate history take the back seat. To this end, much of the book focuses on colorful anecdotes of individual strikes and labor actions, with little effort to tie them into the broader context of history. Most of these stories involve some of labor's more colorful characters, such as Emma Goldman, Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood, and their organization the IWW (Wobblies). But while these certainly are the most colorful characters and make the most fun stories, they are far from the most important part of labor history. At one point, the author mentions in passing that the Wobblies were an organization of 60,000 members, where as the more mainstream AFL was an organization of 3,000,000(!). Yet the bulk of the material focuses on the Wobblies. Where is the information about AFL organizing and bargaining strategy, analysis of the important industries and the important unions? There's very little here, and it's mostly a side note. Sam Gompers plays a very minor role in this book. The iconic Dan Tobin and his International Brotherhood of Teamsters are only mentioned as an afterthought.

Like I said, the author is a good storyteller, but that's all this is. It's sensationalist, skewed history. I wish I could recommend a book that gives a better represenation of the actual labor movement, but unfortunately I'm not aware of one.
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on February 6, 2013
The epic story of labor reads like a College text book which, is smart and informative. The book is not a novel with passionate rhetoric.. it is a well written, researched book by Philip Dray.. Lots of fun facts filled with the History of Unions in America.. i enjoyed it very much and as a Union member myself.. I am grateful for the many who struggled to make Unions a part of our lives.. This country is better off because, of Unions.
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on July 6, 2013
I love this book. It is full of so much fascinating, important information. I feel like it's a crime that they don't teach most of this history in grade or high school. This is important history. Really great if you've read A People's History of the US by Howard Zinn and want more on labor.
Fascinating stuff on Frances Perkins, the first woman in the US cabinet, and other people and movements.
I read it from the library, but loved it so much that I wanted to order myself a copy that I could keep and look back at to refresh my memory.
I'm not the fastest or the slowest reader and it took me about 3 weeks to read the almost 700 pages.
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on November 25, 2012
A must read for anyone interested not only in Labor issues, but in the callous attitudes of employers and the courts; unfortunately they haven't changed. But the laws president Roosevelt enacted did change the working conditions FOR ALL WORKING PEOPLE, unionized or not. Those who aren't unionized are just free-riders on the monumental sacrifices by union members to give us the 40-hour work week, prohibition of child labor, safety measures in the work place, compensation and unemployment insurance, paid vacations and so much more.
We take these conditions for granted today, but when Unions started to organize, the workers were treated worse than slaves. - A must read!
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on December 2, 2013
An excellent overview of the labor movement from its inception until the present time. Mr. Dray provides factual analysis as to the how and why unions developed in order to provide equity and voice to the working class in the last two centuries. I learned much from reading it.
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