There is no doubt that these two volumes will be the definitive work on the history of the American labor movement and will...



There is no doubt that these two volumes will be the definitive work on the history of the American labor movement and will maintain this position for some time to come. Who can quarrel with its documentation, research and scholarly rendition? And if Professor Taft weights the story of American Labor as primarily and exclusively that of ""business unionism""-the struggle for material gains for its members -- isn't it just so? It is all here from the early cordwainers' associations facing judicial action for ""conspiring"" to tamper with free enterprise to the McClellan investigations hammering at the manipulation of multi-million dollar pension and welfare funds for private gain. One cannot challenge the large perspective underlying these pages. There are segments of the history of labor, however, that seem to suffer from the protracted emphasis of the author's story on ""business unionism."" The dual unionism of the Industrial Workers of the World and the organizing energy of American Communists need their own story to be told within the whole drift of American labor. Was their contribution as tangential as Professor Taft so ably argues? Within the A.F. of L. can a case really be made for the exclusion of Negroes from skill crafts in the day of the civil-rights boycott and sit-in? Professor Taft occasionally glances over some of these thorny problems. His intent is to show the labor union following in its aims and struggles along the lines set forth by industry. Unions have become, in their way, microcosms of corporate business with its staffs of technicians and its wealth pocketed in pension and welfare funds. The seeds for this ""business unionism"" were ever-present from its earliest days, and were given expression in the philosophy of Samuel Gompers of the A.F. of L. The final picture is that of a force in American life which, in its social and political implications, has mirrored the prevailing trends of American life and has performed, in turn, a rather conservative stable function. For American labor to expand from this role and take an aggressive rather than passive approach to the problems of the socio-political community becomes the dream of radicals and utopians. There were such men in the peripheral segment described as alien to the mainstream of Taft's history. Perhaps there will be more to take their place and enable labor to gain for itself a maturity within the larger communal context. Professor Taft concludes that it will continue much the same as it has. So much the worse, for as Murray Kempton so aptly appraises the dream and failure of that promise, who even knows who Sidney Hillman was?

Pub Date: June 17, 1964


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1964