In a fresh and timely reinterpretation, Nelson Lichtenstein examines how trade unionism has waxed and waned in the nation's political and moral imagination, among both devoted partisans and intransigent foes. From the steel foundry to the burger-grill, from Woodrow Wilson to John Sweeney, from Homestead to Pittston, Lichtenstein weaves together a compelling matrix of ideas, stories, strikes, laws, and people in a streamlined narrative of work and labor in the twentieth century.
The "labor question" became a burning issue during the Progressive Era because its solution seemed essential to the survival of American democracy itself. Beginning there, Lichtenstein takes us all the way to the organizing fever of contemporary Los Angeles, where the labor movement stands at the center of the effort to transform millions of new immigrants into alert citizen unionists. He offers an expansive survey of labor's upsurge during the 1930s, when the New Deal put a white, male version of industrial democracy at the heart of U.S. political culture. He debunks the myth of a postwar "management-labor accord" by showing that there was (at most) a limited, unstable truce.
Lichtenstein argues that the ideas that had once sustained solidarity and citizenship in the world of work underwent a radical transformation when the rights-centered social movements of the 1960s and 1970s captured the nation's moral imagination. The labor movement was therefore tragically unprepared for the years of Reagan and Clinton: although technological change and a new era of global economics battered the unions, their real failure was one of ideas and political will. Throughout, Lichtenstein argues that labor's most important function, in theory if not always in practice, has been the vitalization of a democratic ethos, at work and in the larger society. To the extent that the unions fuse their purpose with that impulse, they can once again become central to the fate of the republic. State of the Union is an incisive history that tells the story of one of America's defining aspirations.
This edition includes a new preface in which Lichtenstein engages with many of those who have offered commentary on State of the Union and evaluates the historical literature that has emerged in the decade since the book's initial publication. He also brings his narrative into the current moment with a final chapter, "Obama's America: Liberalism without Unions."
Nelson Lichtenstein is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was the 2012 recipient of the Sol Stetin Award in Labor History and is the author of twelve books, including Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, Labor's War at Home, and The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business.
"A remarkable accomplishment. . . . Lichtenstein provides an authoritative account of labor's decline, an agenda for its renewal and an argument for the necessity of its revitalization if American democracy is to thrive in coming years. The result is a brilliant historical introduction to today's labor movement and the perils and possibilities that confront it. . . . If American labor's fortunes do improve, no recent book will have made a greater contribution to its revival."--Joseph A. McCartin, The Washington Post
"Obituaries of the labor movement, or at least predictions of its impending demise, are familiar to readers of the popular and business presses and various academic tomes. However one comes down on the issues of the prospects for labor's revival or the desirablity of democratizing the workplace, the country's recent economic crisis has made the labor question again worth debating vigorously. State of the Union is an excellent start."--Eric Arnesen, Chicago Tribune
"Absorbing. . . . Lichtenstein's voice--and book--deserves a hearing in the marketplace of ideas."--Karen R. Long, Plain Dealer
"Thought-provoking. . . . State of the Union is a history written with a purpose--to encourage and energize a struggling labor movement, and to remind its leaders, and the reader, of the power of big ideas."--Michael Wald, Monthly Labor Review
"This is an important, timely book whose focus on ideas and ideology offers a fresh perspective that is sure to generate useful debate over labor's historical choices and current status. . . . Lichtenstein has performed a most valuable service in his astute delineation of the specific historical circumstances that have both advanced and eroded the union idea during the twentieth century."--Robert Bussel, Industrial and Labor Relations Review
Table of Contents:
Preface to the 2013 Edition ix
Preface and Acknowledgments xxxi
Chapter 1: Reconstructing the 1930s 20
Chapter 2: Citizenship at Work 54
Chapter 3: A Labor-Management Accord? 98
Chapter 4: Erosion of the Union Idea 141
Chapter 5: Rights Consciousness in the Workplace 178
Chapter 6: A Time of Troubles 212
Chapter 7: Reorganizing the House of Labor 246
Chapter 7: Obama’s America: Liberalism without Unions? 246