Poverty may have won in the end, but this outcome was not inevitable. Innovative projects sponsored by the federal government in the 1960s put poor people to work providing needed services in their communities and helped to lift many participants into the middle class.
Trump voters are not likely to look to African American history for help in making sense of their situation or forging solutions, but if they did they might find that they have more in common with black Americans than they thought. In the mid-twentieth century, rural communities in the South—and their predominantly black labor force—experienced processes of displacement and decline that foreshadowed those that afflicted white workers in later decades.
This enthusiasm for guest workers—temporary laborers stripped of the right to choose employers, bargain for higher wages, or remain within the United States past the expiration date of their labor contract—ignores a few basic problems. McGurn’s oversimplified history of the Bracero Program bears no resemblance to the growing scholarship on the binational contract labor scheme and its many problems.
On March 12, a rank-and-file caucus of Branch 36 (Manhattan-Bronx) of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) spearheaded the demand for a branch strike vote. Striking the federal government has been illegal since 1912. But that is exactly what Branch 36 voted to do on March 17. Picket lines went up at midnight all over New York City. Other NALC branches voted to strike, spreading upstate and into New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania; then west to Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, and California. Together they shut down 671 post offices in dozens of cities and towns across the United States. Clerks, mail handlers, maintenance workers, motor vehicle operators, and other crafts from other postal unions joined what became the largest “wildcat strike ” (one not authorized by a national union) in American labor history. Over 200,000 postal workers struck for eight days. Despite the inconvenience of a total mail stoppage, strikers enjoyed the support of the majority of Americans.
Contemporary documentary projects such as StoryCorps and Humans of New York thrive today in a spirit similar to that which led the vision of the Federal Writers’ Project and These Are Our Lives. They remind us that every life has a story, and every story matters.
Since the legislation was first introduced in 2011, local community members, environmental activists, and Ojibwe Bands from throughout the region have fiercely opposed it. The Bad River Band asserts that the legislation violates their rights to hunt, fish, and gather in ceded territory reserved in treaties with the United States in 1837 and 1842 and that the state has failed to consult with them on the bill. They are currently seeking federal redress. However, Governor Walker and Wisconsin Republican legislators have disregarded this opposition and have received $15 million from mining executives and supporters.
Transgender steelworkers are the most vulnerable people I interviewed. The option of invisibility isn’t available to those who transition at work. And every change that shows, every single solitary detail, becomes a focus of teasing, harassment, violence, and abuse.
I asked him to recall all the people he has worked with—all his union brothers and sisters, down through the years—and count the gay ones. Almost surprised, he said there were none. Of course, he knew as well as I do that there have been many, but that they did not identify themselves as such. My task is then to convince him that their silence was not simply a choice, but rather that it was made in fear, and comes with crippling consequences.
Queer rights becomes the paradigmatic symbol of the west – in Russia, gay liberation had gained some momentum until Putin linked gay rights with Western values, which then led to the systematic, legal oppression of gays in Russia today. The government is literally going into homes of gay people and taking their children away. And these Russian gays can’t hide, because during the period of comparative freedom, they had come out, and now have public personas. There’s no such thing as going back into the closet – once you’re out, that’s that. Their little window of freedom now targets them for state-sponsored abuse as the freedom and progress queers experience in the USA is used to punish queers globally.
Like Marye Dahnke, dozens of home economists carved out spaces for themselves in the consumer products industries in the early 1920s. While home economists in business struggled to win legitimacy within the American Home Economics Association (AHEA), they also faced challenges convincing corporate executives and managers that their expertise was necessary to effective consumer-oriented production and marketing.
Doubting the capacity of the law to distinguish between legitimate militancy and subversive radicalism, labor conservatives disapproved of legislation outlawing sedition. Instead they pursued a voluntarist program of evangelizing about the evils of Communism and excluding Communists from AFL unions. In the aftermath of the first Red Scare, labor conservatives formed a crucial backstop against reaction. In the late 1930s, the situation changed. Alienated from the New Deal order and at odds with liberal union leaders in the competing Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO), labor conservatives abandoned commonsense anticommunism for calculated red-baiting.
Dolly’s story is one of many that take us into the complex humanity of Italian immigrant women. She was anything but a victim. Throughout her life she embodied a full range of possibility. While her actions were at times controversial, she was decisive, savvy, and acted on her own behalf and in service of those in her community. It seems she learned this from her own mother Rosa, whose combined wisdom and ability to act was what saved her grandson’s life.
Historians Vanessa May and Rebecca Sharpless discuss what’s wrong and what’s right with ‘The Help.’
Historian and former US postal worker Philip Rubio on what we lose when post offices close.
Philip F. Rubio, postal worker-turned-history scholar and author of There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality, has recently lent his expertise on race issues in government employment and especially the postal service in two very different but equally fascinating news outlets. In a …
Vanessa May discusses the history of the struggle for domestic workers to be protected by labor laws.
It’s been a while since we’ve put any of our books to the Page 99 Test. Let’s make up for lost time, shall we? Just as a refresher, the Page 99 Test follows Ford Madox Ford’s suggestion to “open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed …
Historian Laurie Green reflects on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s support for union organizing on the anniversary of his death.
Today we welcome a guest post from Vanessa May, author of Unprotected Labor: Household Workers, Politics, and Middle-Class Reform in New York, 1870-1940 (June 2011). Here she reflects on how some of the recent policies that now protect domestic workers in New York mirror the struggle for rights and reform during the era highlighted in …
On the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, we share an excerpt from Jennifer Guglielmo’s book Living the Revolution.