Twenty Best Labor Books – First Cut

On September 7, I’ll be presenting a reading from my new book on the West Virginia mine wars, The Devil Is Here in These Hills, at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA. The store events manager has asked me to compile a Labor Day list of the twenty best books on workers and unions, books that would appeal to the general reader. This list will be available to customers on line and in the store during the month of September.

In this first cut, I’ve combined books on current, ongoing issues and struggles with history books, and have listed a few of local interest, but the list is not rank ordered by merit.

I’d like LAWCHA members to nominate their favorites and then see what’s turns up on our website; it should be interesting, and it will help me make the final list of 20.

  1. Bill Fletcher, Jr., They’re Bankrupting Us! And 20 other Myths about Unions (Beacon Press)
  2. Nelson Lichtenstein, The State of the Union: Century of American Labor Politics. Princeton, University Press, 2013).
  3. Thomas Geoghegan, The Only Thing that Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement (New Press, 2015)
  4. Fernando Gapasian and Bill Fletcher, Jr., Solidarity Divided: The Crisis of Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Social Justice (University of California Press, 2008)
  5. Janice Fine, Workers’ Centers: Organizing Communities on the Edge of the American Dream (Cornell University, 2006)
  6. William M. Adler, Mollie’s Job: Life on the Global Assembly Line (Scribner’s 2001)
  7. Philip Dray, There is Power in Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America (Doubleday, 2010)
  8. Joseph A. McCartin, Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers and the Strike that Changed America (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  9. William P. Jones, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights (W.W. Norton, 2013)
  10. Robert F. Burk, Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary (University of Illinois Press)
  11. Matthew Garcia, From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and Farm Worker Movement (University of California Press, 2014)
  12. Michael K. Honey, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign (W.W. Norton, 2008).
  13. Julie Greene, The Canal Builders: Making America’s Empire at the Panama Canal (Penguin, 2010)
  14. Robert Michael Bussel, From Harvard to the Ranks of Labor: Powers Hapgood and the American Working Class (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999)
  15. David Von Drehle, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America (Grove Atlantic)
  16. Bruce Watson, Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants and the Struggle for the American Dream (Penguin Books, 2006)
  17. Annelise Orleck, Common Sense and Little Fire: Women and Working Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965 (University of North Carolina Press, 1995)
  18. Frances Russell, A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike (Beacon Press, 2005)
  19. William H. Adler, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Icon (Bloomsbury, 2011)
  20. Kevin Kenney, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires (Oxford University Press, 1998)


  • Jacob Remes June 8, 2015

    Jim, thanks for getting this fun game started. Here are some–far fewer than 20–ideas, in no particular order.

    Toni Gilpin et al., _On Strike For Respect: The Clerical and Technical Workers’ Strike at Yale University, 1984-85_
    Annelise Orleck, _Storming Caesars Palace_
    Robert Korstad, _Civil Rights Unionism_
    Ellen Shrecker, _Many Are The Crimes_
    Joe Burns, _Reviving the Strike_

  • joshksky June 8, 2015

    J. Anthony Lukas, _Big Trouble_

  • Introspective June 8, 2015

    Tera Hunter’s To Joy My Freedom; Robin Kelley’s Hammer & Hoe, Alice Kessler Harris’s In Pursuit of Equity, David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness.

  • aaroncavanaugh2 June 8, 2015

    Hi, Why Unions Matter by Michael Yates. Industrial Goodwill by John Roger Commons. Thanks. God bless. Aaron

  • Jacob Remes June 10, 2015

    Some ideas from twitter:

    @prof_casanova: Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams

    @HG_watson: Nickel and Dimed

    @sadbillionaire: 20. Boris and Klein 19. N Shah Contagious Divides 18. Nan Enstad. 17. RDGK Race Rebels 16. Rozensweig, 8 hours, 15. J Cowie RCA bk 14. D Ernst Lawyers Agnst Labor 13. D Frank Purchasing Power 12. S Fraser Hillman bio 11. Roediger and Esch 10. A Lichtenstein 9. Leon Fink on labor intellectuals 8. G Rawick Sundown to Sunup 7. G Lipsitz Rainbow at Midnight 6. Shane Hamilton 5. Tera Hunter 4. J Freeman NY book 3. N Lichtenstein Wal Mart book 2. Andrew Wender Cohen Racketeers Progress 1. M Denning The Cultural Front

    @verybookish: King Coal, by Upton Sinclair

    @heerjeet: Making of the English Working Class

  • CP June 11, 2015

    In no particular order:

    David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor
    Kim Moody, Workers in a Lean World
    Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream
    Rosemary Feurer, Radical Unionism in the Midwest
    Bryan D. Palmer, Revolutionary Teamsters
    Brian Kelly, Race, Class, and Power in the Alabama Coalfields
    Tera Hunter, To Joy My Freedom
    Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage
    David Roediger and Elizabeth Esch, The Production of Difference
    Mark Lause, Young America: Land, Labor, and the Republican Community
    Susan Porter Benson, Counter Cultures
    Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra
    Staughton Lynd ed., “We Are All Leaders”
    Neville Kirk, Comrades and Cousins
    Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All
    Gerald Zahavi, Workers, Managers, and Welfare Capitalism
    Howell Harris, Bloodless Victories
    Peter Way, Common Labor
    Robin Kelley, Hammer and Hoe
    Herbert Gutman, Work, Culture, and Society

  • CP June 11, 2015

    And I should have included Julie Greene’s Pure and Simple Politics

  • Thurman Wenzl June 12, 2015

    Bardacke on Chavez and UFWA

  • Julia Berkowitz June 12, 2015

    Here’s 20 of my favorites:
    1. Everybody Was Black Down There/ Robert Woodrum
    2. The Pullman Strike & the Crisis of the 1890s/ed. Schneirov, Stromquist & Salvatore
    3. Revolutionary Teamsters/ Bryan Palmer
    4. The Memorial Day Massacre and the Movement for Industrial Democracy/ Michael Dennis
    5. The Racketeer’s Progress/ Andrew Wender Cohen
    6. Civil Rights Unionism/ Robert Korstad
    7. The Tribe of Black Ulysses/ Will Jones
    8. Killing for Coal/ Thomas Andrews
    9. Down on the Killing Floor/ Rick Halpern
    10. Sisters in the Brotherhoods/ Jane Latour
    11. Rebel Rank & File/ Ed. Brenner, Brenner & Winslow
    12. Union Women/ Mary Margaret Fonow
    13. Race on the Line/Venus Green
    14. Race Against Liberalism/ David Lewis-Coleman
    15. Labor’s Time/ Jonathan Cutler
    16. Radium Girls/Claudia Clark
    17. The Other Women’s Movement/ Dorothy Due Cobble
    18. In Pursuit of Equity/ Alice Kessler-Harris
    19. Death in the Haymarket/ James Green
    20. Forging a Common Bond/ Timothy Minchin

  • bolobill June 13, 2015

    You left out the best general history of labor in this country, “Labor’s Untold Story” I have given away hundreds of these since first reading it in 1972

  • Rana Khoury June 30, 2015

    Any of the works by Dale Maharidge and photographer Michael Williamson, but especially Journey to Nowhere, Someplace Like America, or And Their Children After Them.

    Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed.


  • Dexter Arnold July 17, 2015

    For books in print geared towards general readers, I’d add Jim’s Death in the Haymarket, Steven Ashby and C.J. Hawking, Staley, Peter Rachleff, Hard-Pressed in the Heartland, Paul Felton The Murder of a Post Office Manager, Joe Burns,Reviving the Strike, and Thomas Bell, Out of This Furnace. Frances Russell wouldn’t make the cut.

  • Janine Giordano Drake July 28, 2015

    What about Bethany Moreton’s _ To Serve God and Walmart_? That really needs to be on this list.

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