Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Favorite Labor History Books

Reader Mark F has requested a list of labor history books.

I'm always happy to oblige. I'm not sure that this list is a greatest hits, but these are favorites of mine.

In general chronological order from past to present

1. Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860
Not a traditional labor history exactly, but a wonderful look at the intersection of sex and class in antebellum New York with some great chapters on women and the nascent labor movement, women's sexual labor, and the misogyny of early republicanism.

2. Lucy Larcom, A New England Girlhood
A wonderful memoir by one of the Lowell "mill girls."

3. Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn of the Century New York
Great look at working class popular culture

4. Gunther Peck, Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American West, 1880-1930
Great look at immigrant workers in the turn of the century West. First-rate stuff.

5. Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World
An oldie but goodie; still the best overview of the I.W.W.

6. Bruce Watson, Bread & Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream.
Fantastic look at the 1912 Lawrence textile strike

7. Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War
Andrews explores the labor violence in the southern Colorado mines in the 1910s, centering on the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. This book takes an environmental angle as well to labor history. A groundbreaking work and a winner of the Bancroft Prize, the highest honor in U.S. history. Since my work shares similarities, I have my own critique of it, but I'll leave that for now and give it a very high recommendation.

8. Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939
A classic examination of how working-class people shaped their own lives, even in hard times.

9. Robin Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression
It seems there were more than 4.

10. Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit
Why working-class whites abandoned Detroit

11. Jefferson Cowie, Capital Moves: RCA's 70 Year Quest for Cheap Labor
A real favorite of mine that shows how corporations were looking to relocate for cheaper labor long before they went overseas.

12. Camille Guerin-Gonzales, Mexican Workers and American Dreams: Immigration, Repatriation, and California Farm Labor, 1900-1939
A fine look at the struggles of Latino labor in the early 20th century Southwest

13. Kevin Boyle, The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968
Boyle examines Walter Reuther and the potential of labor to shape post-war America.

14. Phillip Vera Cruz, A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement.
Surprisingly, the only works on Cesar Chavez are hagiographies. Vera Cruz' memoir is a powerful discussion of the Filipinos who laid the groundwork for the UFW and how they were treated in the union. Chavez does not come out smelling like roses, which is a nice counter to his deification.

15. Ben Hamper, Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line
Great look at deindustrialization at the GM plant in Flint, told from a first-person perspective and quite amusing too.

16. Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
This book is not flawless, but is still an important examination of low-wage labor today.

17. Leon Fink, The Maya of Morganton: Work and Community in the Nuevo New South
A leading labor historian's look at the arrival of Latino labor in North Carolina.

Well, that'll do for now. This is kind of lacking in African-American labor history, which is bad. There are any number of great studies of both slavery and post-emancipation work. But the list is a good start of my favorites. I hope it's useful to people.

And any other recommendations are welcome!