Labor under Fire: A History of the AFL-CIO since 1979

Labor under Fire: A History of the AFL-CIO since 1979

Labor under Fire: A History of the AFL-CIO since 1979

Labor under Fire: A History of the AFL-CIO since 1979

Synopsis

From the Reagan years to the present, the labor movement has faced a profoundly hostile climate. As America's largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO was forced to reckon with severe political and economic headwinds. Yet the AFL-CIO survived, consistently fighting for programs that benefited millions of Americans, including social security, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, and universal health care. With a membership of more than 13 million, it was also able to launch the largest labor march in American history--1981's Solidarity Day--and to play an important role in politics.



In a history that spans from 1979 to the present, Timothy J. Minchin tells a sweeping, national story of how the AFL-CIO sustained itself and remained a significant voice in spite of its powerful enemies and internal constraints. Full of details, characters, and never-before-told stories drawn from unexamined, restricted, and untapped archives, as well as interviews with crucial figures involved with the organization, this book tells the definitive history of the modern AFL-CIO.

Excerpt

On July 1, 2008, Richard Trumka gave a remarkable speech to the United Steelworkers convention in Las Vegas. Speaking to a packed auditorium composed largely of white men, the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) made an impassioned appeal. a few weeks earlier, Barack Obama had won the Democratic nomination for president, yet he was struggling to win support from working-class white voters, especially men. Some commentators feared that Obama would lose if this did not change. a burly former coal miner, Trumka tackled the issue head on. “There is not a single good reason for any worker, especially a union member, to vote against Barack Obama,” he asserted, wagging his finger and mopping sweat from his brow. “There’s only one really bad reason to vote against Barack Obama. and that’s because he’s not white.” To illustrate the issue, Trumka related an encounter he had with a woman he had “known for years” in his hometown of Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, a lady who had been “active in Democratic politics when I was still in grade school.” Speaking during the crucial Pennsylvania primary—which Obama had lost— the woman admitted that there was “no way that I’d ever vote for Obama.” Trumka asked why. the woman initially alleged that Obama was a Muslim and that he was not patriotic, charges that Trumka refuted. Dropping her voice, she then admitted that she did not trust Obama “because he’s black.” Pointing out that Nemacolin was a post-industrial “dying town,” Trumka rebuked the woman for refusing to support Obama, a politician who was “going to fight for us,” simply because of his race. “You won’t vote for him because of the color of his skin,” he replied. “Are you out of your ever-loving mind, lady?” the woman, he concluded, was typical of how many white voters felt, and the labor movement could not “tap dance” around the fact.

Trumka’s speech had a significant impact, especially when it was uploaded online. “By summer’s end, the speech had gone viral,” summarized thehow Obama would fare with working-class whites had been largely laid to rest, thanks in part to his strong showing among union families.” Trumka’s impassioned address galvanized the AFL-CIO’s election campaign, highlighting to many white members the importance of backing Obama. Running the biggest election . . .

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