LABOR U.S.A. by Lester Velie


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The author claims that this book is not a history but an attempt to show ""how American unions grew and took their own special middle-class direction"". Writing in a highly popular style Velie's approach is topical. He begins with the expulsion of the Teamsters from the AFL-CIO in 1957, an event which dramatized the vast changes which had been seething since the merger and the disclosures of corruption. He traces the various expressions of American unionism through its leaders: the aggressive and inflexible President of the AFL-CIO, George Meany; Walter Reuther, ""a reformer of almost Messianic intensity"", who confounds his critics by a personal life of conspicuous underconsumption and who is described as the key figure in labor today; the remote and inaccessible David McDonald, President of the United Steelworkers, who is invariably compared unfavorably with his predecessor, Philip Murray; David Dubinsky, President of the ILGWU, who has ""emerged on the national scene as a central figure in the struggle against racketeers in all unions""; and the elusive Jimmy Hoffa, whom Velie calls ""Labor's Dead End Kid"". He rapidly reviews the growth of industrial and craft unionism through the efforts of Lewis and Gompers respectively and he attributes labor's identification as a partner in capitalism with Gompers' attempt to divorce unions from the class struggle. He considers union abuses, the operation of the underworld in labor, the ""sweetheart"" contract (collusion), discrimination--especially in the trade unions, collective bargaining strategy, labor's role in international affairs, the problems of automation. He concludes that unless the unions can capture the loyalty of the white collar workers ""they may shrink within a decade to a minor place in the country's life"". Addressed to a general audience this is clear and readable though occasionally repetitious.

Pub Date: June 24th, 1959
Publisher: Harper