Labor Books

I love reading, and I love learning. So reading Labor History books is a perfect fit for me. To that end, I wanted to help those new to Labor History a few books every couple months that would help them get started. The links provided will be to Powells Bookstore here in Portland, a Union bookstore. (I marched in the picket line for their first contract) The prices will be slightly higher than Amazon, and you won’t get that shiny prime shipping. Buying books from Powells is supporting labor. (Note, Voices Of Labor gets a small amount for every book purchased. I use it to keep the site going and updating things to run better)

Find Books related to Labor History

Beyond the Rebel Girl: Women and the Industrial Workers of the World in the Pacific Northwest 1905-1924

More than a century after their founding in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World — or Wobblies as they are commonly known — remain a popular subject for study and discussion among students of labor history and social justice. They are often portrayed as lovable underdogs, with their songs and cartoons, generally irreverent attitude, and stalwart courage in the face of systemic persecution from vigilantes, law enforcement, and government officials.
In Beyond the Rebel Girl, historian Heather Mayer questions the well-worn vision of Wobblies as young, single, male, itinerant workers. While such workers formed a large portion of the membership, they weren’t the whole picture. In small towns across the Northwest, and in the larger cities of Seattle, Portland, and Spokane, women played an integral role in Wobbly life. Single women, but also families — husband and wife Wobbly teams — played important roles in some of the biggest fights for justice. IWW halls in these Northwest cities often functioned as community centers, with family friendly events and entertainment.

Women were drawn to the IWW for its radical vision, inclusionary policies, birth control advocacy, and emphasis on freedom of choice in marriage. The IWW also offered women an avenue for activism that wasn’t focused primarily on the fight for suffrage. Beyond the Rebel Girl deepens our understanding of how the IWW functioned, and how the union supported women in their fight for birth control, sexual emancipation, and better labor conditions, all while facing persecution at the local, state, and federal levels.

The Edge of Anarchy

The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America

The dramatic story of the explosive 1894 clash of industry, labor, and government that shook the nation and marked a turning point for America.

The Edge of Anarchy by Jack Kelly offers a vivid account of the greatest uprising of working people in American history. At the pinnacle of the Gilded Age, a boycott of Pullman sleeping cars by hundreds of thousands of railroad employees brought commerce to a standstill across much of the country. Famine threatened, riots broke out along the rail lines. Soon the U.S. Army was on the march and gunfire rang from the streets of major cities.

This epochal tale offers fascinating portraits of two iconic characters of the age. George Pullman, who amassed a fortune by making train travel a pleasure, thought the model town that he built for his workers would erase urban squalor. Eugene Debs, founder of the nation’s first industrial union, was determined to wrench power away from the reigning plutocrats. The clash between the two men’s conflicting ideals pushed the country to what the U.S. Attorney General called “the ragged edge of anarchy.”

Many of the themes of The Edge of Anarchy could be taken from today’s headlines–upheaval in America’s industrial heartland, wage stagnation, breakneck technological change, and festering conflict over race, immigration, and inequality. With the country now in a New Gilded Age, this look back at the violent conflict of an earlier era offers illuminating perspectives along with a breathtaking story of a nation on the edge.

The Bending Cross

Bending Cross A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs

by Ray Ginger

Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, the midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.—Eugene Debs in 1918

Orator, organizer, self-taught scholar, presidential candidate, and prisoner, Eugene Debs lifelong commitment to the fight for a better world is chronicled in this unparalleled biography by historian Ray Ginger. This moving story presents the definitive account of the life and legacy of the most eloquent spokesperson and leader of the U.S. labor and socialist movements.


A History of America in Ten Strikes
History of America in Ten Strikes

by Erik Loomis

Powerful and accessible, A History of America in Ten Strikes challenges all of our contemporary assumptions around labor, unions, and American workers. In this brilliant book, labor historian Erik Loomis recounts ten critical workers’ strikes in American labor history that everyone needs to know about (and then provides an annotated list of the 150 most important moments in American labor history in the appendix). From the Lowell Mill Girls strike in the 1830s to Justice for Janitors in 1990, these labor uprisings do not just reflect the times in which they occurred, but speak directly to the present moment.

For example, we often think that Lincoln ended slavery by proclaiming the slaves emancipated, but Loomis shows that they freed themselves during the Civil War by simply withdrawing their labor. He shows how the hopes and aspirations of a generation were made into demands at a GM plant in Lordstown in 1972. And he takes us to the forests of the Pacific Northwest in the early nineteenth century where the radical organizers known as the Wobblies made their biggest inroads against the power of bosses. But there were also moments when the movement was crushed by corporations and the government; Loomis helps us understand the present perilous condition of American workers and draws lessons from both the victories and defeats of the past.

In crystalline narratives, labor historian Erik Loomis lifts the curtain on workers’ struggles, giving us a fresh perspective on American history from the boots up.

Strikes include

Lowell Mill Girls Strike (Massachusetts, 1830-40)

Slaves on Strike (The Confederacy, 1861-65)

The Eight-Hour Day Strikes (Chicago, 1886)

The Anthracite Strike (Pennsylvania, 1902)

The Bread and Roses Strike (Massachusetts, 1912)

The Flint Sit-Down Strike (Michigan, 1937)

The Oakland General Strike (California, 1946)

Lordstown (Ohio, 1972)

Air Traffic Controllers (1981)

Justice for Janitors (Los Angeles, 1990)

A History of American Labor

A History of American Labor

by Joseph G Rayback

 The History of American Labor delves into the history of labor in America from the colonial days until the mid-1950’s. Rayback’s work is considered to be a foundational text for any readers of American labor union history.

From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend A Short Illustrated History of Labor in the United States

by Priscilla Murolo

Hailed in a starred Publishers Weekly review as a work of impressive even-handedness and analytic acuity . . . that gracefully handles a broad range of subject matter, From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend is the first comprehensive look at American history through the prism of working people. From indentured servants and slaves in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake to high-tech workers in contemporary Silicon Valley, the book [puts] a human face on the people, places, events, and social conditions that have shaped the evolution of organized labor (Library Journal).

From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend also thoroughly includes the contributions of women, Native Americans, African Americans, immigrants, and minorities, and considers events often ignored in other histories, writes Booklist, which adds that thirty pages of stirring drawings by ‘comic journalist’ Joe Sacco add an unusual dimension to the book.

Radium Girls The Dark Story of Americas Shining Women

by Kate Moore

The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Writings of Big Bill Haywood: Speeches and Pamphlets on Unions, Socialism, Syndicalism, and Revolution

by William Haywood

William D Big Bill Haywood was one of the most colorful figures in American labor history. While working in an Idaho silver mine as a young man, he joined the Western Federation of Miners, and quickly became a member of its Executive Board and then its Secretary-Treasurer. Haywood preached a militant brand of unionism which advocated the overthrow of capitalism by a mass general strike and the use of sabotage. In 1905, a former Governor of Idaho was killed by a bomb; Haywood and two other WFM leaders were tried and acquitted of planning the murder. In 1905, Haywood was a founding member of the revolutionary labor union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW–the Wobblies) and soon became its Secretary-Treasurer and best-known member. In 1917, 165 IWW members, including Haywood, were arrested and charged with violating the Sedition and Espionage Acts by opposing the First World War. Sentenced to 20 years in jail, Haywood skipped bail and fled the country in 1921.

Big Red Songbook 250+ IWW Songs

by Archie Green, David Roediger, Franklin Rosemont

In 1905, representatives from dozens of radical labor groups came together in Chicago to form One Big Union—the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known as the Wobblies. The union was a big presence in the labor movement and everywhere its members went, they sang. In The Big Red Songbook, the editors have gathered songs, rare artwork, personal recollections, discographies, and more into one big all-embracing book. In addition to the 250+ songs, writings are included from Archie Green, Franklin Rosemont, David Roediger, Salvatore Salerno, Judy Branfman, Richard Brazier, James Connell, Carlos Cortez, Bill Friedland, Virginia Martin, Harry McClintock, Fred Thompson, Adam Machado, and many more.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Modern American Revolutionary

by Lara Vapnek

In 1906, fifteen-year old Elizabeth Gurley Flynn mounted a soapbox in Times Square to denounce capitalism and proclaim a new era for womens freedom. Quickly recognized as a formidable public speaker and organizer, she devoted her life to creating a socialist America “free from poverty, exploitation, greed and injustice.” Flynn became the most important female leader of the Industrial Workers of the World and of the American Communist Party, fighting tirelessly for workers rights to organize and to express dissenting ideas. Weaving together Flynns personal and political life, this biography reveals previously unrecognized connections between feminism, socialism, free love, and free speech. Flynns remarkable career casts new light on the long and varied history of radicalism in the United States.

Going Down Jericho Road The Memphis Strike Martin Luther Kings Last Campaign

by Michael K Honey

Memphis in 1968 was ruled by a paternalistic “plantation mentality” embodied in its good-old-boy mayor, Henry Loeb. Wretched conditions, abusive white supervisors, poor education, and low wages locked most black workers into poverty. Then two sanitation workers were chewed up like garbage in the back of a faulty truck, igniting a public employee strike that brought to a boil long-simmering issues of racial injustice. With novelistic drama and rich scholarly detail, Michael Honey brings to life the magnetic characters who clashed on the Memphis battlefield: stalwart black workers; fiery black ministers; volatile, young, black-power advocates; idealistic organizers and tough-talking unionists; the first black members of the Memphis city council; the white upper crust who sought to prevent change or conflagration; and, finally, the magisterial Martin Luther King Jr., undertaking a Poor People’s Campaign at the crossroads of his life, vilified as a subversive, hounded by the FBI, and seeing in the working poor of Memphis his hopes for a better America.

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