Turn to the working class: the New Left, black liberation, and the U.S. labor movement (1967-1981) Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Taylor, Kieran Walsh
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • In the late 1960s and 1970s, thousands of young black, white, Asian, and Latino radicals from diverse class backgrounds concluded that a deep and longlasting transformation of the nation’s politics required them to concentrate their organizing efforts on worksites and within trade unions. They took jobs in steel mills, hospitals, auto plants, and truck barns. They rented rooms in working-class districts and immersed themselves in blue-collar community life. They organized workers from the salmon canneries in Alaska to the lumber mills of Mississippi and within unions as powerful as the United Autoworkers of America and as obscure as the United Glass and Ceramic Workers. They worked as union lawyers, organizers, and researchers, and they educated the public regarding strikes and around occupational health issues. Some of these radicals aimed to build labor support for the antiwar, African American, and women’s liberation movements. Some sought to reform corrupt and ineffective trade unions. Still others harbored more ambitious dreams of a worker-led socialist revolution. Structured around case studies in Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco, and Seattle, Turn to the Working Class offers the first scholarly account of their contributions to the American radical tradition. The efforts of labor radicals in the 1970s were complicated and contradictory, and they ultimately failed to achieve their most ambitious goals. Challenging the notion that the legacies of the 1960s protest movements were solely those of backlash and reaction, however, it argues that those who made the working-class turn advanced a spirit of militancy, promoted labor feminism and civil rights unionism, and reinvigorated a dormant tradition of international solidarity that had largely been extinguished from the labor movement during the anti-communist crusades. As workers continue to grapple with the impact of economic globalization, those traditions will be essential building blocks in ongoing struggles for democracy and economic justice.
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  • In Copyright
  • Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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