Labor History

Compiled by Lisa Frank, Carnegie Mellon University  




Labor history is the history of organized labor: trade unions, political parties and social movements.   What follows is a small sampling of books, that are either inspirational classics or indispensable scholarship to gaining a good feel for labor history.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

Adamic, Louis. Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America. New York: Viking, 1934.

Baron, Ava, ed. Work Engendered: Toward a New History of American Labor. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Bell, Thomas. Out of This Furnace: A Novel of Immigrant Labor in America. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976.

Bernstein, Irving. The Turbulent Years. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.

Blewett, Mary H. Constant Turmoil: The Politics of Industrial Life in Nineteenth-Century New England. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.

Braverman, Harry. Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Labor in the Twentieth Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.

Brecher, Jeremy. Strike! Boston: South End Press, 1998.

Brody, David. Steelworkers in America: The Nonunion Era. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960.

Bucki, Cecelia. Bridgeport's Socialist New Deal, 1915-36. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Daniel, Clete. Chicano Workers and the Politics of Fairness: The FEPC in the Southwest, 1941-1945. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.

Denby, Charles. Indignant Heart. Boston: South End Press, 1978.

Deslippe, Dennis A. Rights, Not Roses: Unions and the Rise of the Working-Class Feminism, 1945-1980. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Dubofsky, Melvyn. Hard Work: The Making of Labor History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

_ _ _. We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World. Ed. Joseph A. McCartin. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Du Bois, W.E.B. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. New York, 1935.

Enstad, Nan. Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Fink, Leon. Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

Foner, Philip. The Great Labor Uprising of 1877.  New York:  Monad Press, 1977.

Foner, Philip. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. New York: International Publishers, various years.

Forbath, William E. Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Gabin, Nancy F. Feminism in the Labor Movement: Women and the United Auto Workers, 1935-1975. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Gaventa, John. Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1980.

Georgakas, Dan and Marvin Surkin. Detroit, I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution. Boston: South End, 1998.

Green, James. The World of the Worker: Labor in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Hill and Wang, 1980.

Gutman, Herbert. Work, Culture and Society in Industrializing America, 1815-1919. New York: Knopf, 1976.

Hill, Herbert. Black Labor and the American Legal System: Race, Work, and the Law. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985 ed.

Hinshaw, John and Paul LeBlanc, eds. U.S Labor in the Twentieth Century: Studies in Working-Class Struggles and Insurgency. Amherst: Humanity Books, 2001.

Hirsch, Susan E. After the Strike: A Century of Labor Struggle at Pullman. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Honey, Michael K. Black Workers Remember: An Oral History of Segregation, Unionism, and the Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

_ _ _.  Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organizing Memphis Workers. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Irons, Janet Christine. Testing the New Deal: The General Textile Strike of 1934 in the American South. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Jones, Jacqueline. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women Workers and the Family from Slavery to the Present. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.

Katznelson, Ira and Artistide R. Zolberg, eds. Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Kelly, Brian. Race, Class, and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-1921. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Kessler-Harris, Alice. Out To Work: A History of Wage Earning Women in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Kleinberg, S.J. The Shadow of the Mills: Working Class Families in Pittsburgh, 1870-1907. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989.

Kornbluh, Joyce L. Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1964.

Laslett, John H.M. Colliers Across the Sea: A Compartative Study of Class Formation in Scotland and the American Midwest, 1830-1924. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Le Blanc, Paul. A Short History of the U.S. Working Class: From Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century. Amherst: Humanity Press, 1999.

Lens, Sydney. The Labor Wars: From the Molly Maguires to the Sitdown Strikes. New York: Anchor Books, 1973.

Lynd, Staughton, and Alice Lynd. Rank and File: Personal Histories of Working Class Organizer. Boston: Beacon, 1973.

_ _ _. The New Rank and File. ILR/Cornell University Press, 2001.

Matles James J. and James Higgins. Them and Us: Struggles of a Rank and File Union. New York: 1974.

Meier, August, and Elliot Rudwick. Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Metzgar, Jack. Striking Steel: Solidarity Remembered. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

Milkman, Ruth. Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex During WW II. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Montgomery, David. Workers Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Moody, Kim. An Injury to All: The Decline of American Unionism. New York: Verso, 1988.

Needleman, Ruth. Black Freedom Fighters in Steel: The Struggle for Democratic Unionism. Ithaca: ILR/Cornell University Press, 2003.

Nissen, Bruce. Which Direction Organized Labor? Essays of Organizing, Outreach, and Internal Transformations. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999.

O'Connor, Harvey. Revolution in Seattle. New York: Monthly Review, 196.

O'Connor, Harvey. Steel Dictator. New York: John Day Company, 1935.

Phillips, Kimberley L. Alabama North: African-American Migrants, Community, and Working-Class Activism in Cleveland. Urbana:University of Ilinois Press, 2001.

Rubin, Lillian. Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class Family. New York: Basic Books, 1976.

Silverman, Victor. Imagining Internationalism in American and British Labor. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Smith, Mike and Thomas Featherstone. Labor in Detroit: Working in the Motor City. Arcadia Publishing, 2001.

Soto, Gary. Jessie de la Cruz: A Profile of a United Farm Worker. New York: Persea Books, 2000.

Stansell, Christine. City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Trotter, Joe William. Coal, Class and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-1932. Urbana:  University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Turner, Royce. Coal was Our Life. Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University Press, 2000.

Tyler, Robert L. Rebels of the Woods: The IWW in the Pacific Northwest. University of Oregon Press, 1967.

Varonka, Steve. Molly Justice. Bloomsburg, PA: Coal Hole Productions, 2001.

Wake, Dorothy. Revolutionary Leader of Labor and Social Reform. Xlibris Corporation, 2001.

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper, 1980.


Some of these may be available in your local video rental store.

Even the Heavens Wept. PBS account of the massive coal miners strike in West Virginia after WWI. Thousands of miners who marched to liberate company-controlled coal camps were repressed by federal troops.

With Babies and Banners. Documentary focuses on the role of the Women's Auxiliary Brigade in helping to win the crucial Flint sitdown strike of 1937.

Diana Kilmury: Teamster.  Drama based on the efforts of Canadian Teamster to develop a democratic union in the face of goonish violence. Set in the 1980s. Kilmury ultimately elected International Vice-President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters with Ron Carey in the early 1990s.

Harlan County USA. The use of corporate power and violence to intimidate coal miners' strike in the 1970s is the subject of this powerful documentary.

The Killing Floor. The struggle to develop inter-racial solidarity and effective union organization in the meatpacking industry in World War One and its aftermath is the subject of this drama. Also focuses on the Great Migration of Black Southerners to the urban North.

Labor's Turning Point. Documentary on the dramatic 1934 Teamsters strike in Minneapolis. Thousands of truckers and vigilantes battle for control of the streets.

Matewan. Arguably John Sayles' finest film, a dramatic account of a coal miners strike in West Virginia just after WWI. Much of the movie focuses on the struggle to build solidarity amongst native-born whites, immigrant Italians, and Southern blacks. Union solidarity fails against company violence.

Mouseland. Short speech by Canadian labor politician on a mythical land where mice keep electing cats of various shades and hues to rule them until they wise up. Mice should vote for mice!

Norma Rae. Good Hollywood account of organizing a Southern textile mill in the 1960s. Kind of makes you nostalgic for the days when organizing industrial workers was legal.

Salt of the Earth. Account of New Mexican miners strike. Made at the height of the Cold War by blacklisted movie makers and mining families. Excellent analysis of how workers overcome racism and sexism. Heavily suppressed at the time, it is now one of the films that the Library of Congress is committed to preserving.

Struggles in Steel. Documentary on the harsh history of black steelworkers in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Alabama from the 1860s until the 1980s. Critical of the limitations of unionism, yet staunchly pro-union.


To suggest additions to this section of the bibliography, please send a note to our webmaster, Patty LaPresta.

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