Labor in America: A History

Labor in America: A History

Labor in America: A History

Labor in America: A History


Even since the last edition of this milestone text was released six years ago, unions have continued to shed members; union membership in the private sector of the economy has fallen to levels not seen since the nineteenth century; the forces of economic liberalization (neo-liberalism), capital mobility, and globalization have affected measurably the material standard of living enjoyed by workers in the United States; and mass immigration from the Southern Hemisphere and Asia has continued to restructure the domestic labor force.

Yet even in the face of anti-union legislation, a continuing decline in the number of organized workers, and the fear of stateless, if not faceless terrorism--the shadow of "911" in which we still live, in preparing this new edition of his classic text Professor Dubofsky has hewn to the lines laid out in the previous seven in seeking to encourage today's students of labor history to learn about those who built the United States and who will shape its future.

In addition to taking the narrative right up to the present, a recent history that includes the election of 2008 as well as the tumultuous blow suffered by the U.S. and world economy in 2008-09, this eighth edition features an entirely new (fourth) bank of photographs and, in light of the avalanche of new scholarly work over the last decade, a complete overhauling of the book's extensive and critical Further Readings section in order to note the very best works from the profuse recent scholarship that explores the history of working people in all its diversity.


When Foster Rhea Dulles conceived of this project, the first edition of which appeared in 1949, he sought “to give a comprehensive and general account of the rise of American labor since colonial days.” By the time I started preparing a revised fourth edition in 1980, survey histories narrating the rise of labor had become passé. During the 1960s and 1970s, a younger generation of historians had created a “new labor history,” one that examined the majority of working people who never belonged to a trade union as well as the minority who participated in creating a labor movement. It also incorporated the story of women, African Americans, Latinos, Indigenous peoples, and diverse European and non-European immigrants into a broader narrative. Back in 1949, when Dulles published the first edition, organized labor seemed to be a rising power in the land. By the 1980s, however, the title chosen by David Montgomery, one of the nation’s leading scholars of labor, for his history of American workers from 1865 to 1925, The Fall of the House of Labor, seemed more apt.

To be sure, organized labor, which is what Montgomery meant by “the house of labor,” has fallen as often as it has risen. When I completed my first revision, which was published in 1984, labor seemed poised, once again, on the brink of decline. Indeed, soon thereafter the house of labor experienced a series of crises and traumatic blows to its self-esteem and influence in society. Just as the universe of the Cold War, which dominated global affairs from 1945 to 1985, came tumbling down, the world of American labor turned upside down in the mid-1970s. The post–World War II accord between capital and labor, which had produced a generation of sustained economic . . .

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