Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880-2010

Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880-2010

Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880-2010

Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880-2010


Delving beneath Southern California's popular image as a sunny frontier of leisure and ease, this book tells the dynamic story of the life and labor of Los Angeles's large working class. In a sweeping narrative that takes into account more than a century of labor history, John H. M. Laslett acknowledges the advantages Southern California's climate, open spaces, and bucolic character offered to generations of newcomers. At the same time, he demonstrates that--in terms of wages, hours, and conditions of work--L.A. differed very little from America's other industrial cities. Both fast-paced and sophisticated, Sunshine Was Never Enough shows how labor in all its guises--blue and white collar, industrial, agricultural, and high tech--shaped the neighborhoods, economic policies, racial attitudes, and class perceptions of the City of Angels.

Laslett explains how, until the 1930s, many of L.A.'s workers were under the thumb of the Merchants and Manufacturers Association. This conservative organization kept wages low, suppressed trade unions, and made L.A. into the open shop capital of America. By contrast now, at a time when the AFL-CIO is at its lowest ebb--a young generation of Mexican and African American organizers has infused the L.A. movement with renewed strength. These stories of the men and women who pumped oil, loaded ships in San Pedro harbor, built movie sets, assembled aircraft, and in more recent times cleaned hotels and washed cars is a little-known but vital part of Los Angeles history.


In the summer of 2011, the Los Angeles Times published several letters commenting on the fading role of labor unions in American society. One critic, annoyed that local grocery workers might strike, suggested that unions were no longer relevant in the modern United States: “History has passed the unions by.” a Latina correspondent disagreed, saying that her immigrant father would never have gotten his job in a metalworking shop had it not been for his trade union. Let the grocery workers strike, she said; “I will not cross a picket line.”

As it turned out, L.A.’s grocery workers did not strike in 2011. But this exchange illustrates the current debate over the status of organized labor in the United States. in recent years many excellent studies have been published about the rich contribution working men and women—including African Americans, Mexican Americans, and other minorities—have made to the development of Southern California. But little attention has been paid to the institutions that have been their most reliable defense against unscrupulous employers—namely, their trade unions. the wages and benefits unions secure have helped U.S. workers to attain a middle-class standard of living, though that standard has declined significantly in recent decades. This book provides a historical narrative that illuminates the problems currently facing workers in the United States generally as well as in Los Angeles.

The history of the Los Angeles labor movement has been neglected partly because it is not as “sexy”—even though it has been just as essential to the city’s . . .

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