State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Politics and Society in Modern America)

By | November 21, 2017
State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Politics and Society in Modern America) Author Nelson Lichtenstein
ISBN-10 0691160279
ISBN-13 9780691160276
Year 2013-08-25
Pages 400
Language English
Publisher Princeton University Press
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In a fresh and timely reinterpretation Nelson Lichtenstein examines how trade unionism has waxed and waned in the nation s political and moral imagination among both devoted partisans and intransigent foes From the steel foundry to the burger grill from Woodrow Wilson to John Sweeney from Homestead to Pittston Lichtenstein weaves together a compelling matrix of ideas stories strikes laws and people in a streamlined narrative of work and labor in the twentieth century The labor question became a burning issue during the Progressive Era because its solution seemed essential to the survival of American democracy itself Beginning there Lichtenstein takes us all the way to the organizing fever of contemporary Los Angeles where the labor movement stands at the center of the effort to transform millions of new immigrants into alert citizen unionists He offers an expansive survey of labor s upsurge during the 1930s when the New Deal put a white male version of industrial democracy at the heart of U S political culture He debunks the myth of a postwar management labor accord by showing that there was at most a limited unstable truce Lichtenstein argues that the ideas that had once sustained solidarity and citizenship in the world of work underwent a radical transformation when the rights centered social movements of the 1960s and 1970s captured the nation s moral imagination The labor movement was therefore tragically unprepared for the years of Reagan and Clinton although technological change and a new era of global economics battered the unions their real failure was one of ideas and political will Throughout Lichtenstein argues that labor s most important function in theory if not always in practice has been the vitalization of a democratic ethos at work and in the larger society To the extent that the unions fuse their purpose with that impulse they can once again become central to the fate of the republic State of the Union is an incisive history that tells the story of one of America s defining aspirations This edition includes a new preface in which Lichtenstein engages with many of those who have offered commentary on State of the Union and evaluates the historical literature that has emerged in the decade since the book s initial publication He also brings his narrative into the current moment with a final chapter Obama s America Liberalism without Unions

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