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There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America Hardcover – September 7, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
This stirring study situates one of the most subversive yet profoundly American of social movements at the heart of the nation's history. Historian Dray (At the Hands of Persons Unknown) follows organized labor from the struggles of early 19th-century female textile workers to the present-day retreat of organized labor following the failed 1981 air trafic controllers' strike. His episodic narrative, structured around major strikes, shows labor's heroic age as an era of naked class warfare: strikers died by the dozens in pitched battles with police, soldiers, and Pinkerton agents, and such charismatic organizers as Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn braved prison and worse. The post-WWII period, by contrast, is a story of union conservatism, corruption scandals, and one rout after another at the hands of union-busting corporations abetted by government indifference. Organized labor's legacy, the author argues, is as much political as economic; it challenges bedrock American values of self-reliance while championing civil liberties--IWW speakers faced mass arrest for their public square orating--and bringing rights to the workplace. Packed with vivid characters and dramatic scenes, Dray's fine recap of a neglected but vital tradition has much to say about labor's current straits.
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Dray traces the history of American trade unionism from the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1820s to unionism’s decline in the 1980s and the current status of organized labor, which the author suggests “may have been reduced to a whisper of its former greatness.” He explores such issues as what workers in different eras felt were their rights, what kind of future they envisioned for themselves and their families, the tension that erupts between skilled and unskilled labor, the impact of immigration, and the changing role of government in labor issues. The reader learns about recent labor concerns, including decades of globalization, which allows U.S. businesses to relocate production overseas using lower-cost workers and creative personnel practices such as massive hiring of temporary and part-time employees, who do not receive pension and health benefits. He notes that security of full-time employees is also threatened in our 24/7 workplace dominated by computers and e-mail, which he dubs “the electronic collar.” A thought-provoking book. --Mary Whaley
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.