Showing posts with label Labor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Labor. Show all posts

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rector, "Environmental Justice at Work"

The September 2014 issue of the Journal of American History includes an article of interest: "Environmental Justice at Work: The UAW, the War on Cancer, and the Right to Equal Protection from Toxic Hazards in Postwar America," by Josiah Rector (Wayne State University). Here's the abstract:
Josiah Rector analyzes a series of campaigns by midwestern autoworkers to secure stronger protections against cancer-causing chemicals after World War II. Although most historians of the environmental justice movement have neglected the contribution of labor unions, in the 1960s and 1970s, however, activists in unions and community organizations combined concerns about race, class, and gender inequality with related patterns of pollution exposure. In the process, these activists began to use popular epidemiology to link chemical exposures to disease. Emphasizing the role of working-class people in challenging pollution, Rector argues for a more inclusive history of the environmental justice movement.
Subscribers to the journal may access full content here.

Hat tip: Environment, Law & History

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Labor Law Conference at Jagiellonian University

[We have the following communication from Kacper Górski, the Leader of Student Learned Society of State and Law History at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.]

I am delighted to invite you to attend and register for an international conference Ab servi usque ad operari – history of labour law and social policy, Krakow 24-25 January 2015. The event is organized by employers, PhD students and members of the Student Learned Society of State and Law History of the Faculty of Law and Administration at Jagiellonian University.

The topic of this year's conference is history of labour law and social policy in the broadest sense. We expect papers e.g. on the following problems: status of slaves, legal problems of slavery, workers in the Middle Ages, forming and division of feudal society, guild statutes and membership, serfdom, enfranchisement of peasantry, legal aspects of industrialisation, the beginnings of trade unions and social insurances, anti-discriminatory acts, social policy during the Great Depression.

We would like to invite young researchers of law and the history of law: graduate students, PhD students and PhD graduates. Applications for the conference should be received until the 7th December 2014 on an application form and should include a short summary of main theses (maximum 300 words; methodology, bibliography). The applications will be verified and subsequently a response will be send. What is essential, the positive decision is required to make a payment. A presentation cannot take longer than 20 minutes and texts for publishing cannot exceed the length of 40000 characters. The language which shall be used during the conference is English. An edited book, composed of verified texts, is expected to be published, likewise antecedent events.

We provide participants with one meal during the conference. A conference fee is fixed at 100 zlotys (PLN)/25 Euros. The basic conference fee does not include accommodation. Conference organisers may provide accommodation in Students Hotels of Jagiellonian University for the price of 100 zlotys (PLN)/25 Euros per one night. For choosing accommodation selecting appropriate option in the application form is required. Bank account number will be attached to the response to your application.

For more information please contact us via e-mail:  We strongly invite you to come to Krakow.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Yale Legal History Forum, 2014-2015

[Here is the schedule for the Yale Legal History Forum for the 2014-2015 academic year.  The forum meets from 4:30-6:00 p.m., with a reception beginning at 4:15 p.m., in the Yale Law School Faculty Lounge (second floor).]


Paul Sabin | Yale University (History)
Tuesday, September 23
Environmental Law and the End of the New Deal Order
Holly Brewer | University of Maryland (History)
Tuesday, October 14
Creating a Common Law of Slavery for England and Its Empire

Paul Brand | Michigan Law School & University of Oxford (Law, All Souls College)
Tuesday, November 4
Judges and Juries in Civil Litigation in Medieval England: The Millon Thesis Reconsidered


David Freeman Engstrom | Stanford Law School
Tuesday, February 10
Not Merely There to Help the Men: St. John v. General Motors Corp. and Equal Pay Litigation at the Dawn of American Fair Employment Law in the 1940s

Sam Lebovic | George Mason University (History)
Tuesday, March 10
From Censorship to Classification: How World War II Remade American Press Freedom

Tomiko Brown-Nagin | Harvard Law School & Harvard University (History)
Thursday, April 16
Joint session with Legal Theory Workshop

For more information, please contact or

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Book Roundup

H-Net has posted several new reviews this week, one of which is of Edgar J. McManus and Tara Helfman's Liberty and Union: A Constitutional History of the United States (Taylor and Francis).
"In their new concise edition of Liberty and Union, Edgar J. McManus and Tara Helfman have done an admirable job of condensing what is a complicated and nuanced area of history into a “short” textbook. They focus on liberty as the cement that holds the Union together and forms the basis for constitutional development. While the book is promoted as an abridged history designed for single-semester courses, given its length and complicated material, it would be better suited for a two-semester class."
Another H-Net review is of The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment by Corrine M. McConnaughy (Cambridge).
"She argues that previous studies of the woman suffrage movement focused too closely on the suffragists and not enough on the lawmakers who actually gave women the right to vote. To fill this void, she examines the legislative process in several states to discover how and why a majority of their legislators were convinced to support woman suffrage." 
Other book reviews new on H-Net include a review of Brent Tarter's The Grandees of Government: The Origins of Persistence of Undemocratic Politics in Virginia (UVA Press), and a review of After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South edited by Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly (University Press of Florida).
"Coeditors Baker and Kelly, along with the contributors, provide an informative study of labor history in the Reconstruction South. The essays show that the working-class narrative is key to a complete understanding of the remaking of the South. Raising provocative questions about black/white relations in the labor movement, workers' responses to labor legislation, and the role of gender (especially conceptions of manhood), the work encourages additional analysis of laborers' experiences. In sum, After Slavery is enlightening scholarship on the history of labor and citizenship in the post-emancipation era."
 In The Washington Post Alice Goffman's On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (University of Chicago Press) is reviewed.

The Daily Beast reviews Jack Shuler's The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose (Public Affairs), which "features an evocative account of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which reached its infamous nadir when 38 American Indians were hanged in public in Mankato, Minnesota. At the heart of this chronicle of the country’s “largest simultaneous execution” is a mesmerizing bit of prose that even the most jaded reader is likely to find moving."

And, The Washington Post has a review of Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women's Movements by Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry (Liveright).
"“Feminism Unfinished,” however, argues that the “wave” metaphor obscures the history of a continuous American women’s movement sustained by labor activists, civil rights advocates and ­social-reform campaigners, who may have looked placid on the surface but were paddling like hell underneath. Each of the three authors contributes a chapter to their history of American feminism, and they declare together in their prologue that “there was no period in the last century in which women were not campaigning for greater equality and freedom.” They hope that uncovering the “multiple and unfinished feminisms of the twentieth century can inspire” the women’s movements of the 21st. That’s the surprise signaled in the teasing subtitle."

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Weekend Roundup

  • Congratulations to a former student of mine, Joseph E. Hower, for wining Labor History’s dissertation prize for “Jerry Wurf, the Rise of AFSCME, and the Fate of Labor Liberalism, 1947-1981.”  His advisor was Joseph McCartin.  DRE
  • Law in the Conquest of L.A.: Roman Hoyos over at Jotwell on David Samuel Torres-Rouff, Before L.A.: Race, Space, and Municipal Power in Los Angeles, 1781-1894 (2013).
  • From History News Network: a useful and very extensive list of history blogs.
Weekend Roundup is a weekly feature compiled by all the Legal History bloggers. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

White on the Little Steel Strike, 1937

Ahmed White, University of Colorado Law School, has posted The Wagner Act on Trial: The 1937 'Little Steel' Strike and the Limits of New Deal Reform.  Here is the abstract:   
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, or Wagner Act, played a crucial role in shaping the New Deal and eventually transforming the economic, political, and legal foundations of modern America. Although many aspects of the statute’s history, including its relationship to the rise of industrial unionism and the epic struggle to secure its constitutionality, have been well told by historians and legal scholars, key elements of its story remain obscured by misconceptions, oversight, and outright myth. Not least among these areas of uncertainty is how the new law actually functioned in the months and years immediately after the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality, and what its fate in this crucial time says about the nature of the New Deal itself. This article undertakes to shed light on these questions by unfolding the history of one of the most important events in the Second New Deal period: the “Little Steel” Strike of 1937. Drawing on a host of sources, including five major archival collections, this article tells the story of this dramatic and violent episode, including its legal history. Presenting the strike as a key test of the Wagner Act and a critical bellwether of the New Deal, the article documents not only the virtues of new regime in labor rights just as it emerged from the shadow of unconstitutionality, but also congenital shortcomings in the labor law that have undermined workers’ rights ever since. In a further challenge to conventional narratives of the period, the story of the strike exposes the remarkable degree to which the power of the business community survived, relatively undiminished, the Wagner Act and the political changes that accompanied it. Moreover, giving credence to a broader literature on New Deal law and policy, the article presents the strike and litigation surrounding it as proof of the continuing weakness of the New Deal and as key moments in the conservative turn that marked course of reform in the late 1930s.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Book Roundup

Here's a few book reviews, interviews, and excerpts that might be of interest to blog readers this weekend:

Public Books has a review of Terry Golway's Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics (Liveright).

New Books in American Studies has a new interview with Amy Stambach about her new book Confucius and Crisis in American University: Culture, Capital and Diplomacy in US Public Higher Education (Routledge).

New Books in History has an interview with David Williams, author of I Freed Myself: African American Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era (Cambridge University Press).

On Salon there is an excerpt of The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War by A.J. Baime (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) titled "Henry Ford's reign of terror: Greed and murder in Depression-era Detroit."

There is also an excerpt of American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution by Walter Borneman (Little, Brown & Co.) titled "John Hancock and Samuel Adams' fascinating alliance: Family, economics and the road to the American Revolution."

Slate has a review of Serhii Plokhy's The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (Basic).

H-Net has two new reviews of note. The first is a review of Neville Kirk's Labour and the Politics of Empire: Britain and Australia 1900 to the present (Manchester University Press).  The second is a review of The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom by Glenn David Brasher (University of North Carolina Press).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Book Roundup

Continuing with works published this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, The Washington Post reviews Todd S. Purdum's An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Holt). An excerpt can also be found here on NPR. Of the book, the Post writes,
"Probably “An Idea Whose Time Has Come” will be of most use to readers who were too young to appreciate what happened in Washington in 1964 (as indeed was Purdum, who was born in 1959) or who came along well after it had receded into dim memory, which is what most American historical memory tends to do anyway." 
It's also been 50 years since Rachel Carson's death in 1964, and her life and writings are celebrated by both the New Statesman, which discusses her "sea trilogy" here, and HNN, which has a review of Robert K. Musil's Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America's Environment (Rutgers University Press).
"Despite the central role of women in the environmental movement, surprisingly little is known about them. Furthermore, what is known is usually limited to the work of Rachel Carson, whose powerful call to action, Silent Spring (1962), is widely credited with jump-starting the modern environmental movement. But, as shown by Robert Musil’s new book, Rachel Carson and Her Sisters, Carson is merely the most visible of numerous women who have had a powerful impact upon how Americans have viewed the natural environment and sought to preserve it."
Also in biography, the Washington Independent Review of Books reviews Mark Perry's The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur (Basic Books).  And Jill Lepore discusses Senator Elizabeth Warren's memoir, A Fighting Chance (Metropolitan Books) in The New Yorker.

Two books on gay rights are featured in reviews this week. History Today reviews David A.J. Richards's The Rise of Gay Rights and the Fall of the British Empire: Liberal Resistance and the Bloomsbury Group (Cambridge University Press). The second book is Jo Becker's Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality (Penguin Press). The New Republic covers the book in a piece here, and The Washington Post reviews the book here.
"This book is not intended to be a tome on gay history, but Becker should brace for accusations of omission, particularly by longtime activists who will feel marginalized. “Forcing the Spring” is a riveting legal drama, a snapshot in time, when the gay rights movement altered course and public opinion shifted with the speed of a bullet train."
The Federal Lawyer has still more reviews online this month. Reviews of Andrew Kahrl's The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South (Harvard University Press)  and Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster) can be found here.

An excerpt of Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes Our Fortunes (Oxford University Press) by Mark Robert Rank, Thomas Hirschl, and Kirk Foster can be found in Salon.

Slate reviews Nikil Saval's "detailed cultural history of how the office grew to become the definitive 20th century workplace," Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace (Doubleday).

H-Net adds several good reviews this week. There is a review of Emma Christopher's A Mericless Place: The Fate of Britain's Convicts after the American Revolution (Oxford University Press), a review of The Dunning School: Historians, Race and the Meaning of Reconstruction edited by John David Smith and J. Vincent Lowery (University Press of Kentucky), a review of Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman's American Umpire (Harvard University Press), and a review of Anne E. Marshall's Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (University of North Carolina Press).

The Los Angeles Times reviews Alex Beam's American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church (Public Affairs).  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 2014 JAH

The March 2014 issue of the Journal of American History is out. Articles of interest include:

Privileges of Locomotion: Expatriation and the Politics of Southwestern Border Crossing

By the early 1830s, nearly twenty thousand U.S. citizens had quit their country for lives as colonists in Mexican Texas. Eric R. Schlereth asks readers to consider this migration without presupposing the inevitable rise of a U.S. empire in North America. To gain this perspective, he explores the history of Anglo colonization in Texas as an expression of expatriation, or a personal right under international law to change political allegiance at will. This right proved deeply resonant to Mexican officials in Texas and Anglo colonists alike. Tracing how the principle of expatriation influenced life in Mexican Texas during the 1820s and the 1830s reveals individuals from both groups creating a legal order at the U.S.-Mexico border determined by agreement that free individuals possessed natural rights to move throughout world.

Suffragettes and Soviets: American Feminists and the Specter of Revolutionary Russia

That the U.S. woman suffrage amendment passed within a few years of the Russian Revolution was no mere coincidence. Many know that antisuffragists (the “antis”) used charges of socialism and “bolshevism” to discredit American suffragists. Some know that proponents of woman suffrage taunted their opponents with reminders that women in “darkest Russia” had obtained the vote before their American sisters. But historians have been so loathe to validate red baiters’ accusations that they have ignored U.S. feminists’ abiding attention to revolutionary Russia. In her essay, Julia L. Mickenberg argues that the Russian revolutionary agenda–in theory if not in practice–provided a framework for reimagining the terms of women’s citizenship, and as such, was of vital interest to U.S. feminists. It also reveals historical continuities between abolitionists, feminists, and “friends of Russian freedom.”

A Higher “Standard of Life” for the World: U.S. Labor Women’s Reform Internationalism and the Legacies of 1919

Worker and democracy movements surged around the world in 1919, as did hope for a more just international world order. Dorothy Sue Cobble recovers the surprisingly robust traditions of social justice internationalism among U.S. labor women in the aftermath of World War I. She chronicles the internationalist initiatives of the Women’s Trade Union League of America, the largest U.S. working women’s organization in this era, and uses U.S. and non-U.S. sources to compare the class and gender politics of U.S. and European women trade unionists. Her study challenges reigning scholarly tropes of American exceptionalism, expands understandings of U.S. internationalism in the World War I era, and reveals the significance of the 1919 moment for later transformations in global gender and economic policy.

“Don’t Agonize, Organize!”: The Displaced Homemakers Campaign and the Contested Goals of Postwar Feminism

In an article that challenges portrayals of 1970s feminism as a movement that demeaned and neglected middle-class housewives, Lisa Levenstein examines a major feminist campaign on behalf of “displaced homemakers”–middle-aged housewives who had lost men’s financial support after divorce or widowhood. The leaders of this campaign participated in national feminist efforts to secure social policies that recognized the economic value of middle-class women’s household labor. Fearing that these policies would attract broad popular support, conservatives misrepresented the displaced homemakers campaign and claimed that feminists sought to penalize full-time mothers. At the same time, left-wing activists condemned displaced homemaker advocates for neglecting the struggles of welfare recipients. Such criticisms contributed to the reorientation of modern feminism away from advocacy on behalf of housewives and agitation that emphasized the economic value of women’s unpaid labor in the home.
A full list of the book reviews is available here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

New Release: Pettigrew, "Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752"

New from the University of North Carolina Press: Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 (Dec. 2013), by William A. Pettigrew (University of Kent). A description from the Press:
In the years following the Glorious Revolution, independent slave traders challenged the charter of the Royal African Company by asserting their natural rights as Britons to trade freely in enslaved Africans. In this comprehensive history of the rise and fall of the RAC, William A. Pettigrew grounds the transatlantic slave trade in politics, not economic forces, analyzing the ideological arguments of the RAC and its opponents in Parliament and in public debate. Ultimately, Pettigrew powerfully reasons that freedom became the rallying cry for those who wished to participate in the slave trade and therefore bolstered the expansion of the largest intercontinental forced migration in history.
Unlike previous histories of the RAC, Pettigrew's study pursues the Company's story beyond the trade’s complete deregulation in 1712 to its demise in 1752. Opening the trade led to its escalation, which provided a reliable supply of enslaved Africans to the mainland American colonies, thus playing a critical part in entrenching African slavery as the colonies' preferred solution to the American problem of labor supply.
A blurb of note:
"With startling precision, Pettigrew reveals the role of liberal political and market institutions in bringing about the massive eighteenth-century acceleration of the British Atlantic slave trade. All of us must ponder this deeply researched account of how 'a distinctively British conception of freedom' drove the expansion of slavery." --Christopher Tomlins
More information is available here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Minimum Wage in Australian and World History

On Monday, February 24, 2014, at 4:00, the Washington History Seminar, “Historical Perspectives on International and National Affairs,” continues with Australia's Historic Minimum Wage: A World History Approach, by Marilyn Lake of the University of Melbourne:
Histories of the minimum wage are usually written within national analytic frameworks. Research in the New York Public Library on the first minimum wage, legislated in Victoria, Australia, in 1896, convinced historian Marilyn Lake that a world history approach was necessary, one that located this experiment in “state socialism” in the context of both the longue duree of imperial labor relations and encounters between the subjects of the British and Chinese empires in the new world of urban Melbourne.
The seminar will take place in the Woodrow Wilson Center, 6th Floor Moynihan Boardroom, in the Ronald Reagan Building, Federal Triangle Metro Stop.  Reservations requested because of limited seating:  The seminar is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Slater on Public-Sector Unionism Since 1980

Joseph E. Slater, University of Toledo College of Law, has posted The Strangely Unsettled State of Public-Sector Labor in the Past Thirty Years, which appeared in the Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal 30 (2013); 511.  Here is the abstract:
This article, part of a symposium on the history of various areas of labor and employment law, gives an overview of public-sector labor law and labor relations in the past thirty years. The public sector has for decades been central to labor relations in the U.S.; increasingly, it has also acquired a high profile in the political world. Despite great successes in organizing by public-sector unions, public-sector labor law has long been in a state of tumult (including, but not limited to, high-profile laws passed in 2011 gutting the rights of such unions). Although by the 1980s, it seemed as if public-sector collective bargaining was widely (if not universally) accepted, and that it functioned fairly well, the next three decades featured surprising upheavals. Because there is so much variation within the public sector (it is mainly state and local law), there is no single story of the past three decades. This article discusses illustrative events in this period, events which helped shape the broader history of labor relations. It starts with early history of public-sector labor law, then moves to the last three decades. For the 1980s, it discusses two key (and contrasting) events of the early part of the decade: the crushing defeat of the PATCO strike, and the enactment of the Ohio public-sector labor statute. It then discusses some significant twists and turns in the 1990s. Moving to the twenty-first century, it discusses some (mostly positive) trends for public-sector unions in the first decade of the century, but then turns to the wave of anti-union legislation in 2011 and beyond — although even here, there are some developments in the other direction, e.g. union rights for TSA employees. These events feature defeats and victories over issues as basic as whether public employees should have the right to bargain collectively at all, and they have shaped the entire U.S. labor movement, including the public sector. The also show how public-sector labor relations remains a strangely unsettled issue. The final sections discuss the practical and theoretical policy issues at stake, and attempt to make some predictions for the future.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Books that Shaped Work in America

As part of its centennial, the US Department of Labor, in partnership with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, has launched Books that Shaped Work in America.
The web-based project . . .  launched today as part of the department's ongoing
commemoration of its 100th anniversary, aims to engage the public about the Labor Department's mission and America's history as a nation of workers as portrayed through published works.

"The Books that Shaped Work in America initiative explores the dignity of work and our progress in expanding America's fundamental promise of opportunity for all through the lens of literature," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "Think of this effort as an online book club where people from all walks of life can share books that informed them about occupations and careers, molded their views about work and helped elevate the discourse about work, workers and workplaces. At the same time, the site provides a unique way for people to learn about the mission and resources of the U.S. Department of Labor."

Work, like our nation, is constantly evolving, and so Books that Shaped Work in America is no different. To get it started, 24 individuals, including Perez, eight former secretaries of labor from both Democratic and Republican administrations, department staff (including an intern), civil rights leaders, critics, authors, media personalities and staff from the Library of Congress submitted suggestions. Among the contributors: former Secretaries of Labor George P. Shultz and Robert Reich, authors Daniel H. Pink and Joan Acocella, Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith, Liz Claman of Fox Business News, President of the National Urban League Marc Morial and Scott McGee of Turner Classic Movies. Their recommendations are included on the initiative's website, along with brief summaries of each book and links to related U.S. Department of Labor resources.

Now the public is invited to expand the list. A simple, online form, which can be found [here] makes it easy for anyone to suggest a book.
Not many of the initial 100 titles touch on legal history, even generously defined, but see The Federalist, William Serrin's Homestead, the Webbs’ Industrial Democracy, George Martin's Madam Secretary (although not Frances Perkins's own The Roosevelt I Knew), Ben Hamper's Rivethead, Peggy Noonan’s When Character Was King, and Justice Sotomayer’s My Beloved World.  (I know: I rolled my eyes at some of these, too.)  Feel free to make your own suggestions, especially as I did not recognize any professional historians among the contributors.  (Apologies to anyone I overlooked.)  I believe I’ll nominate Frankfurter and Greene’s Labor Injunction and, to keep things "fair and balanced," Sylvester Petro’s Kohler Strike.

Friday, November 29, 2013

New Release: May, "Soapbox Rebellion"

New from the University of Alabama Press: Soapbox Rebellion: The Hobo Orator Union and the Free Speech Fights of the Industrial Workers of the World, 1909-1916, by Matthew S. May (North Carolina State University). The Press describes the book as follows:
Soapbox Rebellion, a new critical history of the free speech fights of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), illustrates how the lively and colorful soapbox culture of the “Wobblies” generated novel forms of class struggle.
From 1909 to 1916, thousands of IWW members engaged in dozens of fights for freedom of speech throughout the American West. The volatile spread and circulation of hobo agitation during these fights amounted to nothing less than a soapbox rebellion in which public speech became the principal site of the struggle of the few to exploit the many. While the fights were not always successful, they did produce a novel form of fluid union organization that offers historians, labor activists, and social movement scholars a window into an alternative approach to what it means to belong to a union. Matthew May coins the phrase “Hobo Orator Union” to characterize these collectives.
Soapbox Rebellion highlights the methodological obstacles to recovering a workers’ history of public address; closely analyzes the impact of hobo oratorical performances; and discusses the implications of the Wobblies’ free speech fights for understanding grassroots resistance and class struggle today—in an era of the decline of the institutional business union model and workplace contractualism.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Feminine Mystique at 50

On Tuesday, November 19, 2013, at 4:15 PM, in the Knafel Center (formerly Radcliffe Gymnasium), 10 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study will host Fifty Years after The Feminine Mystique: What's Changed at Home and at Work?  According to the announcement:
Two notable scholars will look back at Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and consider whether movement toward equality has persisted or stalled since the book was published in 1963. What has changed in roles at home and at work? How has law figured in the balance? Do we have new mystiques today?

The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, which houses the extensive papers of Betty Friedan and the records of the National Organization for Women, is sponsoring this event to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Feminine Mystique.

Stephanie Coontz teaches at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and serves as the director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonpartisan association of family researchers and practitioners. Her most recent book is A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.

Ariela Dubler
, the George Welwood Murray Professor of Legal History at Columbia Law School, writes and teaches in the areas of constitutional law, family law, and legal history. She is currently writing a book, "The Parental Difficulty," about the ways that the law has contributed to our understandings of mothers' and fathers' roles at home and at work.

Nancy F. Cott,
the Pforzheimer Family Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library and the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of History at Harvard, will introduce the event and the panelists.

An exhibit of selected items from the Friedan papers will be on view in the library during a reception following the speakers' panel. The exhibit, It Changed My Life: The Feminine Mystique at Fifty, emphasizes the writing and reception of The Feminine Mystique, and it also honors the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women.

This event is free and open to the public. More information here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Discussion of Vinel's "Employee"

We have previously noted the publication of  The Employee: A Political History, by Jean-Christian Vinel, Professor of History at Universite Paris-Diderot.  Now comes word that the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor is sponsoring a discussion of the book on Friday, November 8th at 4:00 PM in Healy 105, Georgetown University.  Melvyn Dubofsky, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History at the State University of New York at Binghamton, will offer comments.  Joseph A. McCartin, Professor of History and the Director of the Initiative, will preside.  The announcement explains:
As labor law protections grow weaker and employers gain more power in the workplace, Professor Vinel offers a provocative new analysis of this shift. He shows how decades of legal and political struggle over what it means to be an "employee" has disempowered workers and he suggests how we can reverse this injustice.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Symposium on Tomlins, "The State and the Unions"

Labor History recently published a symposium in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of The State and the Unions, by Christopher L. Tomlins (UC Irvine). The articles are available only to subscribers, but the introduction, by Craig Phelan, is open access, as are the abstracts.

Here, for example, is the abstract for the contribution by Jean Christian Vinel (Université Paris Diderot) (whose book, The Employee, we mentioned earlier this week):
The thrust of this article is to review the evolution of the historiography of American labor law since the publication of Christopher Tomlins' widely celebrated The State and the Unions (1985). More than an isolated effort, Tomlins' critique of New Deal labor law was part of a broader analytical paradigm which should be called the ‘critical synthesis’. Dominating the field until the mid-1990s, the critical synthesis owed a part of its success to the crisis of labor history. Then, it gradually receded as labor unions continued their steep decline and historians of labor rekindled their faith in American liberalism and the Democratic Party. In analyzing the rise and fall of the critical synthesis, the article thus lays bare all the factors – scientific, social, and political – that contribute to the making and unmaking of analytical paradigms in the political history of labor. Finally, in doing so, the article places the debate on the Employee Free Choice Act in historical perspective.
Here is the abstract for Tomlins's response, titled "The State, the Unions, and the Critical Synthesis in Labor Law History: A 25-Year Retrospect":
This article responds to Jean-Christian Vinel’s assessment of the ‘critical synthesis’ whose proponents created labor law history as a new and flourishing field of scholarship in the decade after 1978. Vinel accords my book, The State and the Unions (1985) a key role in the development of this new field. Here, I situate my book in relation to the critical synthesis, and assess the capacity of critical legal scholarship to address the current parlous state of the U.S. labor movement. I look to current labor historians to engage with and build on the work that the labor law historians undertook.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vinel's Political History of "The Employee"

Jean-Christian Vinel, who teaches American history at Université Paris-Diderot, has recently published The Employee: A Political History, with the University of Pennsylvania Press.  The book appears in the series Politics and Culture in Modern America, edited by Margot Canaday, Glenda Gilmore, Michael Kazin, and Thomas J. Sugrue.

Explains the press:
In the present age of temp work, telecommuting, and outsourcing, millions of workers in the United States find themselves excluded from the category of "employee"—a crucial distinction that would otherwise permit unionization and collective bargaining. Tracing the history of the term since its entry into the public lexicon in the nineteenth century, Jean-Christian Vinel demonstrates that the legal definition of "employee" has always been politically contested and deeply affected by competing claims on the part of business and labor. Unique in the Western world, American labor law is premised on the notion that "no man can serve two masters"—workers owe loyalty to their employer, which in many cases is incompatible with union membership.

The Employee: A Political History historicizes this American exception to international standards of rights and liberties at work, revealing a little known part of the business struggle against the New Deal. Early on, progressives and liberals developed a labor regime that, intending to restore amicable relations between employer and employee, sought to include as many workers as possible in the latter category. But in the 1940s this language of social harmony met with increasing resistance from businessmen, who pressed their interests in Congress and the federal courts, pushing for an ever-narrower definition of "employee" that excluded groups such as foremen, supervisors, and knowledge workers. A cultural and political history of American business and law, The Employee sheds historical light on contemporary struggles for economic democracy and political power in the workplace.
TOC and blurbs from Joseph McCartin, Nelson Lichtenstein, and Craig Becker after the jump.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Release: Smith, "Freedom's Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction""

New from the University of North Carolina Press: Freedom's Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction, by Stacey L. Smith (Oregon State University). A description from the Press: 
Most histories of the Civil War era portray the struggle over slavery as a conflict that exclusively pitted North against South, free labor against slave labor, and black against white. In Freedom's Frontier, Stacey L. Smith examines the battle over slavery as it unfolded on the multiracial Pacific Coast. Despite its antislavery constitution, California was home to a dizzying array of bound and semibound labor systems: African American slavery, American Indian indenture, Latino and Chinese contract labor, and a brutal sex traffic in bound Indian and Chinese women. Using untapped legislative and court records, Smith reconstructs the lives of California's unfree workers and documents the political and legal struggles over their destiny as the nation moved through the Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction.
Smith reveals that the state's anti-Chinese movement, forged in its struggle over unfree labor, reached eastward to transform federal Reconstruction policy and national race relations for decades to come. Throughout, she illuminates the startling ways in which the contest over slavery's fate included a western struggle that encompassed diverse labor systems and workers not easily classified as free or slave, black or white.
A few blurbs:
"A real winner: ambitious, thoughtful, and splendidly rendered. Smith peels back history to rework the labor landscapes of nineteenth-century California and reintroduce the state into dynamic, Reconstruction-era political and social debates."--William Deverell

"A brilliant and long overdue examination of late-nineteenth-century California's complicated race and labor history. By comparing the stories of bound Native American, African American, Chinese, Latino, and Hawaiian workers, Smith reveals the complexities of California's racial and labor histories and goes even further to demonstrate the larger implications for the California experience for understanding national stories of abolition, emancipation, Reconstruction, and immigration."--Michael Magliari
More information is available here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Phillips Sawyer on Godcharles v. Wigeman

We've previously noticed Laura Phillips Sawyer's article on the Godcharles decision.  Until August 31, Camridge Journals is letting us read it for free: Contested Meanings of Freedom: Workingmen's Wages, the Company Store System, and the Godcharles v. Wigeman Decision, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 12 (July 2013): 285-319.  Here is the abstract:
In 1886, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a law that prohibited employers from paying wages in company store scrip and mandated monthly wage payments. The court held that the legislature could not prescribe mandatory wage contracts for legally competent workingmen. The decision quashed over two decades of efforts to end the “truck system.” Although legislators had agreed that wage payments redeemable only in company store goods appeared antithetical to the free labor wage system, two obstacles complicated legislative action. Any law meant to enhance laborers' rights could neither favor one class over another nor infringe any workingman's ability to make voluntary contracts. These distinctions, however, were not as rigid and laissez faire-oriented as depicted by conventional history. Labor reformers argued that principles of equity must supplement these categories of class legislation and contract freedom. This essay explores how legal doctrine helped both sides of the anti-truck debate articulate the contested meanings of liberty. Ultimately, the Godcharles ruling enshrined the specialness of workingmen's labor contracts and rejected the use of equity principles to justify contract regulations, but the controversy also informed future labor strategies, especially the turn to state police powers as the rubric under which workers' safety, morals, and health could be protected.