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Black and Blue: African Americans the Labor Movement and the Decline of the Democratic Party Paul Frymer Princeton University Press


31st May 2012 History Books 2 Comments

Black and Blue is an exceptional study of the relationships between the civil rights and labor movements during the second half of the twentieth century…His study of the particular details of this struggle, as well as the institutional circumstances that guided the struggle will be discussed for years to come.
(Mark Graber Balkinization )

Paul Frymer’s Black and Blue is an important book, precisely because it takes what should be so obvious to scholars and makes it appear as such. At least since the mid-1980s, scholars have debated the ‘rise and fall’ of the labor-civil rights movement and its relationship to the power and authority of the Democratic party. Combining the methodologies of politics, the law, and history, Frymer’s interdisciplinary work should help settle this long-running debate and contribute to new (and perhaps even more productive) avenues of inquiry.
(Peter F. Lau Journal of American History )

Black and Blue is a powerful demonstration of how a different theoretical paradigm can result in new interpretations of not only historical events, but current understandings of both racism and judicial legitimacy. Although there are many unanswered questions resulting from this intriguing book, it offers some fruitful new directions for the burgeoning scholarship in intersectionality, as well as continuing in the traditions of American Political Development and New Institutionalism.
(Michelle D. Deardorff Law and Politics Book Review )

[T]his is an exceptionally interesting book. Frymer makes new arguments, uses fresh evidence, and addresses important questions. He casts new light on the historical relationship between labor and the civil rights movement.
(Michael P. Hanagan American Journal of Sociology )

This book will be the standard and basic book for generations to come. It will be and is the sine qua non for serious scholars in this area.
(William Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board )

In the 1930s, fewer than one in one hundred U.S. labor union members were African American. By 1980, the figure was more than one in five. Black and Blue explores the politics and history that led to this dramatic integration of organized labor. In the process, the book tells a broader story about how the Democratic Party unintentionally sowed the seeds of labor’s decline.

The labor and civil rights movements are the cornerstones of the Democratic Party, but for much of the twentieth century these movements worked independently of one another. Paul Frymer argues that as Democrats passed separate legislation to promote labor rights and racial equality they split the issues of class and race into two sets of institutions, neither of which had enough authority to integrate the labor movement.

From this division, the courts became the leading enforcers of workplace civil rights, threatening unions with bankruptcy if they resisted integration. The courts’ previously unappreciated power, however, was also a problem: in diversifying unions, judges and lawyers enfeebled them financially, thus democratizing through destruction. Sharply delineating the double-edged sword of state and legal power, Black and Blue chronicles an achievement that was as problematic as it was remarkable, and that demonstrates the deficiencies of race- and class-based understandings of labor, equality, and power in America.

Black and Blue is an exceptional study of the relationships between the civil rights and labor movements during the second half of the twentieth century…His study of the particular details of this struggle, as well as the institutional circumstances that guided the struggle will be discussed for years to come.

Paul Frymer’s Black and Blue is an important book, precisely because it takes what should be so obvious to scholars and makes it appear as such. At least since the mid-1980s, scholars have debated the ‘rise and fall’ of the labor-civil rights movement and its relationship to the power and authority of the Democratic party. Combining the methodologies of politics, the law, and history, Frymer’s interdisciplinary work should help settle this long-running debate and contribute to new avenues of inquiry.

Black and Blue is a powerful demonstration of how a different theoretical paradigm can result in new interpretations of not only historical events, but current understandings of both racism and judicial legitimacy. Although there are many unanswered questions resulting from this intriguing book, it offers some fruitful new directions for the burgeoning scholarship in intersectionality, as well as continuing in the traditions of American Political Development and New Institutionalism.

[T]his is an exceptionally interesting book. Frymer makes new arguments, uses fresh evidence, and addresses important questions. He casts new light on the historical relationship between labor and the civil rights movement.

Black and Blue: African Americans, the Labor Movement, and the Decline of the Democratic Party (Princeton Studies in American Politics: Historical, International, and Comparative Perspectives)

The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements

“Clawsons vision of a new labor movement infused with the dynamic strategies and broad agendas of the new social movements is not only persuasive, it is necessary if we ever want to create a decent world for those who must work for a living. A powerful book by one of labors smartest and most enthusiastic champions.”Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

“Dan Clawson doesnt tell unions and other workers organizations what to do; he looks at what they are doing and what seems to be working best. The result is not only an exciting read, but a powerful argument for a more feminist and ethnically aware approach to organizing.”Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

“This thoughtful and bracing book examines a host of new initiatives that link labor organizing to communities, students, minorities, and women. Clawson argues that these experiments may show us the path to a new upsurge from below in which a revived labor movement would play a central role. We should all hope so, not only for the sake of a revived labor movement, but alsofor the sake of a revived American democracy.”Frances Fox Piven, City University of New York

“C. Wright Mills once hoped that the agenda-setting contributions of a brace of labor intellectuals would help the unions move upstream against the main drift. Dan Clawson is just that kind of activist-scholar, whose commitment, insight,and imaginative connectivity are all on wonderful display in The Next Upsurge. His remarkable understanding of labor history, management tactics, and social movement dynamics will advance the kind of informed debate essential to the reconstruction of the American trade unions and the fusion between those institutions and new forms of 21st-century social protest.”Nelson Lichtenstein, author of State of the Union: A Century of American Labor

“Relentlessly optimistic, yet judicious and rooted in careful research on recent developments in labor and other progressive movements, Clawson’s highly readable book makes a compelling case for the potential resurgence of unionism. The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements is a must read for anyone who cares about the future of labor and social justice.”Ruth Milkman, UCLA, Director of the UC Institute for Labor and Employment –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The U.S. labor movement may be on the verge of massive growth, according to Dan Clawson. He argues that unions don’t grow slowly and incrementally, but rather in bursts. Even if the AFL-CIO could organize twice as many members per year as it now does, it would take thirty years to return to the levels of union membership that existed when Ronald Reagan was elected president. In contrast, labor membership more than quadrupled in the years from 1934 to 1945. For there to be a new upsurge, Clawson asserts, labor must fuse with social movements concerned with race, gender, and global justice.

The new forms may create a labor movement that breaks down the boundaries between “union” and “community” or between work and family issues. Clawson finds that this is already happening in some parts of the labor movement: labor has endorsed global justice and opposed war in Iraq, student activists combat sweatshops, unions struggle for immigrant rights. Innovative campaigns of this sort, Clawson shows, create new strategiesdetermined by workers rather than union organizersthat redefine the very meaning of the labor movement. The Next Upsurge presents a range of examples from attempts to replace “macho” unions with more feminist models to campaigns linking labor and community issues and attempts to establish cross-border solidarity and a living wage.

The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements (Ilr Press Book)










  • 2 responses to "Black and Blue: African Americans the Labor Movement and the Decline of the Democratic Party Paul Frymer Princeton University Press"

  • BrianRS
    19:35 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This book takes a long-range look at the problem of how to revive the American labor movement. It rejects quick-fix solutions and argues that: (1) Labor movements grow mainly in relatively brief periods of upsurge, as at the beginning of the 20th century and during the 1930s; (2) Upsurges happen in unpredictable ways due to a confluence of factors many of which are beyond the control of labor leaders and organizers; (3) During upsurges, workers develop new forms of solidarity that extend across boundaries of craft, industry, race and sex – often in defiance of official law. So what should labor activists be doing between now and the next upsurge? Most of the book is directed toward answering that question. Clawson analyzes a number of organizing projects and campaigns. He is especially anxious to highlight successes, but does not shy away from criticizing failures. His tone throughout is supportive and respectful – both of professional organizers and worker activists. The book is indispensable for anyone who is sincerely interested in helping to revive the labor movement.

  • Stevie Keedah
    6:51 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    The central premise of this book is that a progressive “political-social-economic reversal” is likely to occur in the United States and will be driven by a transformed and advancing labor movement. This contention is made against the fact that the unionization rate of private sector workers in the US has dropped from 39 to 9 percent in the last fifty years. The author’s optimism is based on some recent organizing successes and on the possibilities of drawing upon a social movement paradigm. However, it is problematical that the author does little in the way of exploring the ideological or political basis for any such upsurge.

    In the 1990s some unions took advantage of the community support systems of “ghettoized” Latinos and blacks doing low-wage service work to apply militant pressure and win labor contracts for such workers as janitors, nursing home attendants, and dry-wall workers, etc. In a different vein, Harvard clerical workers were able to develop a potent solidarity over the course of fifteen painstaking years of developing relationships resulting in a unique and cooperative contract with Harvard University. However, few workers now live in small urban communities where many may work for the same or similar employers. Suburbanization has undermined that key basis of worker solidarity. The focus on immigrant communities and unique organizing situations seems to write off the vast majority of American workers.

    The author casts a longing eye on the civil and feminist movements of the past as possible paradigms for a renewed labor movement. But he does not acknowledge the fundamental difference between movements trying to exercise basic political rights and one that is cast as infringing on private property rights, which is exactly how corporations view unionization drives. The Civil Rights movement led to general public pressure to stop the deprivation of basic rights to all citizens. Any number of other movements such as the 1960s anti-war movement, the environmental movement, and more recently the anti-sweatshop movement has successfully illuminated various flaws or hypocrisies in our political and economic systems. However, none of those movements has posed a fundamental challenge to the capitalistic economic system.

    In the decades prior to WWI, before the resurgence of labor in the 1930s, sizeable segments of the American working class were well aware that capitalism took away control of their economic destinies. The Knights of Labor, the IWW, and the socialists all contested this loss of control. But their influence had largely disappeared by the late 1920s. It was, in fact, the extreme excesses of capitalism, coupled with the fact of an urbanized working class, which led to the resurgence of labor in 1930s. Despite unemployment rates of 30 percent, the state and economic elites were able to contain discontent by creating a labor relations system whereby unions partnered with management in a social accord where adequate wages and benefits were the quid pro quo for restraining worker activism. The grievance systems found in most bargaining agreements were elementary forms of workplace systems of justice. However, in no sense, did workers achieve democracy within workplaces.

    What is to be learned about the labor upsurge of the 1930s? As noted, a sizeable minority of the working class gained mostly material benefits along with some job security. But a majority of the working class was not included in this compact, especially blacks and women. Was there a transformation in the political thought of the working class? At best, this labor upsurge resulted in a short lived, mildly social democratic slant in the larger political system. In the last 30 years the American working class has supported politicians who have constructed a global neoliberal system that has been highly detrimental to their interests.

    A key theme in the book is that had the labor movement joined with social movements over the past decades, the economic terrain would now be favorable to workers. But the constituencies and relationship to the remainder of society of unions and single issue movements are sufficiently different to call into question any synergistic joining together. The author continues this theme by calling for a “fusion” of labor with progressive movements. Other than a few isolated instances of labor-community actions and some middle-class college kids smearing egg on the face of some oblivious college administrators, the nature of how this fusion would work is not addressed. Actually, some critics see serious shortcomings in emphasizing the mobilization of close-knit communities in union campaigns, calling it “militancy without democracy.” Worker democracy to many is no less than the full participation of workers or elected representatives in most workplace decision making.

    This author, like most labor advocates, does not address whether American labor unions effectively serve the interests of the working class. The labor-friendly institutions of European social democracies provide one measuring standard. A combination of labor-influenced political parties, works councils, and active employment policies surpass the minimalist American system. Furthermore, those bodies and structures serve the entire working class and not the small minority found in American unions. European unions operate within the confines of this system.

    In addition, labor commentators seldom comment on the political sophistication and participation of the American working class. Given the fact that economic and political elites have generally constructed a political and economic system that immensely benefits them, it is difficult to understand a labor strategy that does not directly and substantially attempt to transform that system. Ad hoc organizing or single issue mobilizations are unlikely to substantially alter the status quo.

    The reader is left wondering what is the basis for any sort of progressive upsurge. The forces and thinking for such an upsurge simply do not exist. The labor movement has not in 80 years led a radical challenge to the current economic system that favors the few over the many. Of course, if unemployment ever reaches 30 percent again, there will be an upsurge of some type. But the author’s suggestion of an upsurge is not based on that occurring.

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