From the first known work stoppage by Maine fisherman in 1636 to last year’s strikes at Boeing and Republic Windows and Doors, American workers have withheld their labor to gain concessions from employers, industries and governments. Historically, their efforts have helped establish minimum wages, pay scales, 40-hour work weeks, disability pensions, health care and safer working conditions. More recently, unions have used strikes to protest understaffing, outsourcing and the movement of jobs overseas. Others have fought to protect pensions and severance packages. Some have even demanded banks give credit to their beleaguered companies. With new proposals to protect the right of all workers to engage in collective bargaining, the new administration seems to be embracing a more encouraging attitude toward organized labor. If so, such steps may help reverse nearly thirty years of neglect if not active antagonism on the part of the government. Since Ronald Reagan’s busting of the of the air traffic controllers’ union, American unions have been losing strength. That decline is reflected in the lower number of strikes: 247 in 2006 versus 6,074 in 1974.
This survey of American labor history provides a detailed view of use made in American history of organized labor’s most powerful weapon, the strike. The 65 essays were contributed by a uniquely qualified team scholars, union activists and journalists. As an introduction to the subject, labor historian and consultant Aaron Brenner provides overviews of the history and types of strikes in the United States. Other contributors examine the theory of strikes, including media coverage, corporate strike-breaking strategies and a critical look success and failures of strives in the past 25 years. Some of the most original contributions explore the cultural background of strikes, including essays on the clothing choices of female strikers in the early twentieth century, the use of hate strikes during World War II and the participation of the Catholic Church in strikes. A third section examines the most prolific periods of strikes in American history, particularly 1877, World War I, the late Depression and the immediate aftermath of the World War II. The remaining entries survey significant strikes in both the public and private sectors. Among the latter, the manufacturing, mining, agricultural, infrastructure and service industries receive special attention. The subjects range from police, students, athletes and nurses, to lumbermen, steel workers, farm laborers and aerospace engineers. The primary approach is by industry, not specific strikes. Thus, even some particularly famous events like the Pullman and PATCO strikes are mentioned only as they fit in the historical context of related industries. Since the coverage of industries is necessarily selective, all historically important strikes are not featured. Nonetheless, this groundbreaking tool provides one of the most comprehensive surveys available of American labor strikes. An introductory timeline provides a chronology of strikes in the United States. Each entry includes a substantial list of sources for further research. Selected illustrations and separate name and subject indexes support the text. This excellent guide is highly recommended for both academic and public libraries.