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

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

Author: Priscilla Murolo
Publisher: The History Press
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 384
Cover Price: $ 18.95

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Management's perpetual dream of cheap labor explains the invention of slavery, though few may couch it in those terms. Drawing such connections with impressive evenhandedness and investigative and analytic acuity, this readable popular history covers U.S. labor from precolonial times to the late 1960s, with two short chapters on the last few decades. Brandishing little-known facts, the authors reshape common views of social history. Remarkably, for instance, hundreds of black indentured servants came to the colonies from Africa in the 1600s, and throughout the century, as the "peculiar institution" was legalized, these free men and women were forced into slavery. Less astonishing but still significant, the Wobblies pushed as much for free speech as union organizing, and their newspapers were illustrated by famous avant-garde artists. Sometimes the authors simply highlight an obvious fact that has languished in obscurity for instance, that the American Revolution was sparked by the discontent of working people, not the wealthy or landowning, or that many defenders of slavery believed that all labor should be enslaved.

Murolo (who teaches American history at Sarah Lawrence College) and Chitty (a librarian at Queens College) gracefully handle a broad range of subject matter. Chinese railroad labor is considered alongside housework and steel-mill work making it easier to understand the complex historical relationships between work, gender, ethnicity, race, immigration and sex.

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Background Information

The American labor movement began tentatively during the Industrial Revolution and reached maturity during the New Deal with the support of and for FDR. American slaves were almost entirely African and formed the basis of the cotton economy of the South until the Civil War. The Industrial Workers of America, also known as the Wobblies, strove to create one big union for all workers. No longer needing Chinese labor on the transcontinental railroad, the United States shut down immigration from China with a Congressional act in 1882.