The Human Tradition in American Labor history/Reorganizing the Rust Belt: An Inside Study of the American Labor movement/A Promise Unfulfilled: Unions, Immigration, and the Farm workers/Reshaping the North American Automobile Industry: Restructuring, Corporatism, and Union Democracy in Mexico/Human Capital in the United States from 1975 to 2000: Patterns of Growth and utilization/Labor Standards in the United States and Canada

Article excerpt

Recent books The human tradition in American labor history. Edited by Eric ARNESEN. Wilmington, DE, SR Books, 2004. xvi + 258 pp. Bibliography, index. ISBN 0-8420-2987-7.

Reorganizing the Rust Belt: An inside study of the American labor movement. By Steven Henry LOPEZ. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, and London, University of California Press, 2004. xxii + 292 pp. Bibliography, index. ISBN 0-520-23565-7.

A promise unfulfilled: Unions, immigration, and the farm workers. By Philip L. MARTIN. Ithaca, NY, and London, Cornell University Press, 2003. viii + 23 pp. Tables, figures, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-8014-8875-3.

Reshaping the North American automobile industry: Restructuring, corporatism, and union democracy in Mexico. By John P. TUMAN. London and New York, NY, Continuum, 2003. x + 194 pp. Tables, figure, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-8264-5318-X.

Human capital in the United States from 1975 to 2000: Patterns of growth and utilization. By Robert H. HAVEMAN, Andrew BERSHADKER, and Jonathan A. SCHWABISH. Kalamazoo, MI, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2003. xii + 228 pp. Tables, figures, appendices, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-88099-255-7.

Labor standards in the United States and Canada. By Richard N. BLOCK, Karen ROBERTS and R. Oliver CLARKE. Kalamazoo, MI, W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2003. xii + 174 pp. Tables, figure, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-88099-235-2.

In this review of several books on labour and the labour movement in the United States, we start with a historical perspective, specifically a biographical one. The editor of The human tradition in American labor history has assembled a range of short biographies of both labour leaders and unknown activists in the American labour movement. Contributors are themselves specialist historians, lawyers or social scientists. The subjects of the biographies are drawn from all aspects of American labour history and illustrate various movements for social change, including trade unionism, labour politics and race relations, as well as the historical spread from eighteenth-century slavery, to early twentieth-century immigrant labour activists and feminists, the history of the industrial unions under the AFL-CIO, and more recently the (largely Mexican) immigrant agricultural workers.

Reorganizing the Rust Belt focuses on the Pittsburgh area, formerly the centre of the American steel industry and industrial unionism. As the steel industry declined so did collective bargaining and high-wage manufacturing jobs. The author, a sociologist, examines post-industrial Pittsburgh and the low-wage jobs which emerged in the commercial and service industries that replaced the heavy industry of yore. So many new service jobs were created that "despite the exodus of more than 150,000 industrial jobs between 1974 and 1993, total employment in the Pittsburgh metro area held steady (at 863,000) between 1974 and 1984 and then actually grew by 105,000 jobs by 1993". By the first quarter of 2000, with this job growth and a decline in the population, local unemployment had fallen below 5 per cent. The problem therefore is not one of jobs, but of jobs which proved to pay below the living wage and were likely to be part-time, to have fewer benefits, and not to be unionized. It was as if the area had returned to the poverty wages and slum dwelling existing prior to the unionization of steel and mining. The author examines what became of the labour movement after the collapse of the local industrial economy, specifically the local branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its organizing activities in local nursing homes, and how the new labour movement confronted the legacies of the old.

In Promise unfulfilled, the author returns to the passage by the State of California of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, and what became of that strategy of granting farm workers the right to organize in defence of their working conditions. …