Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor

Knopf. Aug. 2019. 416p. notes. index. ISBN 9781101874431. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101874448. BUS
Journalist Greenhouse presents a sympathetic but critical survey of American labor since 1900, providing rich portraits of individuals and groups who have faced challenges in their working lives. While focusing primarily on efforts to organize employees and the situation of unions, the author nonetheless occasionally considers the plight of laborers outside of that movement, including low-wage and independent workers in recent years. Rather than a clearly defined chronology, he describes vivid episodes about laboring people over more than a century to demonstrate the historical development of labor conditions and counteracting actions by workers. Since this is not a survey of labor history, some decades, events, and people get noticeably more attention than others. Dramatic chapters cover tragedies such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, successes such as the Sit-Down Strikes, and failures, including the PATCO Strike. Portraits of union leader Walter Reuther’s effectiveness are followed by discussion of failures by the next generation of officials and more recent developments in the gig economy.
VERDICT Although somewhat uneven in its coverage of labor history, this lively and informative read will appeal to those interested in the current challenges facing American workers.
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