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American workers, American unions, 1920-1985.

American Workers, American Unions, 1920-1985.

By Robert H. Zieger. Baltimore, MD, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. 233 pp. $25, cloth; $9.95, paper.

Books on the history of the American workers and their unions are a rare occurrence indeed and for this reason alone Professor Robert H. Zieger's contribution is to be welcomed Within the scope he has set for himself--no new sources and no original research--Zieger has succeeded in delineating the major economic and political events that have shaped the current labor movement and that in turn have been shaped by it. Although the author's sympathies are clear throughout the volume, the treatment of issues is even-handed, an approach further supported by a judiciously selected bibliography. It should serve as an excellent supplementary text in undergraduate courses in industrial relations and labor economics.

In his first chapter, the author takes us, perhaps too quickly, through the 1920's, stressing the economic plight of millions of workers during these much acclaimed years of prosperity.

Organized labor's massive and unexpected gains during the 1930's are the subject of chapter 2, which includes an insightful treatment of John L. Lewis, the CIO, and the organizing campaigns in steel, auto, and other manufacturing industries.

Chapter 3 discusses labor's role during World War II, a subject typically ignored in general history texts or those devoted to that period. Students of the labor movement will be gratful to the author not only for his discussion of black and women workers, but also for drawing attention to the flip-flop of the Communist party and its adherents before and after the German-Russian nonaggression pact. Unfortunately, his criticism of the National War Labor Board leads him to overlook the fact that the Board's policies, while trying to maintain some degree of wage control, also set the stage for an unprecendented growth in fringe benefits.

An undue emphasis on political radicalism and its effects on organized labor mars chapter 4. While the candidacy of Henry A. Wallace did garner some support from a few unions and while Jay Lovestone was indeed an interesting figure in the top echelon of the AFL, the extended discussion given to these matters is likely to leave the general reader with the impression that all of this was of major concern to workers and their unions. Even more regrettable are several characterizations such as ". . . the ouster of the Communistoriented elements in 1949-50 and the attacks on the expelled affiliates . . . usually degenerated into repression and violence.' It needs to be remembered that, for example, the contest between the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE) and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) was decided in representation elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, and not by strong-arm tactics.

Chapter 5 describes the merger between the AFL-CIO in 1955 and the surprising gains scored by unions among workers in the public sector. Chapter 6 takes us into the 1960's and closes with the defeat of Hubert Humphrey in 1968, described as labor's political "Last Hurrah,' an event it can be argued that actually occurred as early as 1947.

In what appears to be an attempt to give the book greater currency, the author added a 7-page epilogue, "Into the Eighties.' This, unfortunately, was a mistake since many issues facing labor are either barely referred to or are omitted altogether. It is hoped that the author will do full justice to these topics in the next edition.
COPYRIGHT 1986 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cohany, Harry P.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1986
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