Today, my new book is released. Always an exciting day! There are some nice early reviews. Here’s the latest, from Shaun Richman at In These Times:
A timely book by professor and blogger Erik Loomis, A History of America in Ten Strikes, details strike waves of previous eras, recasting U.S. history as a continuum of worker protest. Driving both inspiration and lessons from this history is essential to turning the current upswelling of strikes in a wave.
Take the general strike of slaves during the Civil War, recounted by Loomis in chapter two. As soon as the Confederate Army mobilized, as many slaves as were able escaped to Union lines to offer support. Those who remained behind stopped working for their absent masters and turned plantations toward food production for their own needs. This self-emancipation is a historical framework first suggested by W.E.B. Dubois and only recently embraced by a new generation of historians. (Brecher, for example, did not include it in Strike!) It puts the human agency of workers who gained their freedom front and center. Suddenly revealed is the greatest strike wave in American history, hiding in plain sight!
The most storied strike wave is the surge of sit-down strikes of the 1930s that compelled the federal government to intervene with new labor laws that made unions a fact of economic life.
But even that win contained the seeds for our current age of inequality. In the 1938 Mackay v. NLRB Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the new legal protections for strikers, the Court breezily hollowed out that same right. If an employer had not otherwise broken the law, the Court invented the “right to protect and continue his business [while workers are on strike] by supplying places left vacant by strikers” and to put scabs ahead of the line for jobs when the strike is over.
Under the Reagan administration, corporations weaponized the Mackay Doctrine. The era’s most notorious strike may be the 1981 air traffic controllers strike (which Loomis covers), but its importance was mostly symbolic—Reagan’s signal to corporate America that it was game on for union-busting. It was the 1983 Steelworkers’ strike at the Phelps-Dodge copper mine in Arizona that actually created the modern blueprint for corporate union-busting, setting the stage for our current slide in work stoppages. The company bargained the Steelworkers to impasse over pay cuts, reduced benefits and weakened job security, basically forcing them out. Phelps-Dodge got the National Guard to violently remove the strikers from its mine and then bused in scabs from out of state. When enough time had transpired, the scabs voted to legally decertify the union.
And now that Amazon has agreed to pay all its American workers a minimum wage of $15 an hour*, you can feel good about buying your copy from there! Sometimes, I get asked why I link to Amazon and the answer is that the book rankings there actually matter in the publishing world. But really, buy it wherever you want.
*And yes, Bernie Sanders does deserve a lot of credit for pushing Amazon in this direction.