The Unending Climb for Labor Equality in the United States
by Christopher Mengel
Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson eds. (2017). Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 247 pp., glossary, contributors, index, $28.00 (paper).
Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism is a collection of essays that gives new relevance to the historiography of American labor history. The foundations of Karl Marx’s theory of historical materialism and that of social history methodologies of E.P. Thompson, clearly shaped and influenced the direction of these essays and the interpretations of United States labor history. Laying of labor versus capital in the Critique of Capitalism, the essays in Against Labor are permeated with Marxist theory and solidify their arguments by incorporating modern research, sources and case studies. The essays in Against Labor explore hegemonic Marxist concepts between U.S. employers and unions, and build a theatrical framework on Marx’s materialist doctrine, which he simplifies as: “[classes] dividing society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.”.
Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson’s Introduction to Against Labor incorporates numerous sources from the last decade to demonstrate the history of United States employers’ actions to curb the influential power of United States unions to act on behalf of the working-class. Additionally, Peter Rachleff’s essay, “Capital and Labor in the 21st Century: The End of History?,” expertly summarizes the examples of class conflicts discussed in Against Labor to bolster the use of the materialistic doctrine as a theoretical tool to analyze U.S. labor history in the modern era. Along these lines of the analysis, Rachleff’s interpretation of modern U.S. class conflict introduces two significant historiographical contributions to Marx’s historical materialism in which he explores the emergence of a capitalist-class consciousness in the United States and analyzes Marxist deficiencies of race by considering hegemonic racial relationships inherent in the United States working-class.
Mars argues that the historical significance of the relationship between materialism and productive means is considered to be: “The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society…which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.” Furthermore, in Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party, he theorizes the economic, legal, and political means used by the capitalist class to maintain its hegemony, however, Rachleff’s chapter affirms that Marx’s allusion to consciousness among the capitalist class lacks evidence and clarity. Additionally it could be argued that Marx’s treatment of racial divisions within the working class has no historical relevance In passing, Marx alludes that the cost of production is systemically tied to the means of subsistence for the benefit of one’s race. However, Elizabeth Esch and David Roediger’s essay, “Scientific Management, Racist Science, and Race Management” describes the historical intentional use of racial animosities as a program to foster contention amongst the working-class as a benefit to U.S. employers. Esch and Roediger expand upon Marxist theory: “If we take seriously Marx’s observation that capital implied the capitalist himself…serious study of how race thinking informed the capitalist personalities embodied in various level of management must occur.” Esch and Roediger are not disavowing themselves from Marxist theory but are challenging Marx’s tendency to ignore race in his construct of historical materialism.
Fuerer and Pearson’s Introduction in Against Labor establishes the theoretical backbone by defining a class consciousness amongst United States employers in their concerted efforts to destabilize the legitimacy and power of U.S. unions. In recognizing that “antiunionism [sic] was a unifying theme for all types of U.S. employers,” Fuerer and Pearson argue that anti-unionism was a “central tenant” which became “a project of a self-aware class rather than the instrument of big or small employers.” Additionally, Fuerer and Pearson further support their arguments by analyzing Antebellum slave-dependent U.S. labor markets concluding that: “[U.S. employers] organized as a class in specific locales to recruit and manage the spectrum of free and unfree labor. Here is where they first acted together to shape labor-market regimes capable of controlling the political economy.”
Howard R. Stranger’s essay “A Moderate Employer’s Association in a “House Divided”: The Case of the Employing Printers of Columbus, Ohio 1887-1987” continues to advance the theme of a capitalist class consciousness in the United States. Stranger skillfully uses the actions and communications of two employer associations, the United Typothetae of America, and the Printing Arts Association of Columbus, to demonstrate a collaborative effort to advance the hegemonic power structure of its respective members. Akin to E.P. Thompson’s social history methodologies, Stranger’s meticulous research illustrates a unified employer class consciousness to deflect the growing influences of the working-class.
Thomas A. Klug’s essay, “Employer’s Path to Open Shop in Detroit 1903-07,” builds upon the theoretical construct of a United States employer-class consciousness. Klug freely admits that the accidental discovery of the minutes of the “Employers Association of Detroit” presented a unique opportunity to refute the positive narratives dictated by the powerful as it relates to ownership-employee relationships. but his invaluable analysis of these rarely disclosed meetings clearly denotes a deliberate collaboration amongst the U.S. employer class determined to impart its influence in the political discourse of United States labor policy.
Lastly, as a continuation of Marxist methodological influences, Michael Dennis’s essay, “Litigating for Profit: Business, Law, and Labor in the New Economy South,” exemplifies Marx’s exploration of capitalist competition and how it adversely affected the collective labor power of the working class in the United States. Mirroring Marx’s theoretical analysis, Dennis encapsulates capitalist competition as it adversely affects working-class wages. Dennis’s case study discusses the attempt of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to organize grocery workers in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. His research unequivocally demonstrates Marx’s theoretical contention that there is a direct relationship between lowering the cost of production and a decrease in wages for the working-class. In fact, Dennis’s evidentiary inclusion of local newspaper reporting to rebut Michael Julian false proclamations confirms his arguments of capitalist-class collusion to contain labor costs as a strategic method to increase investor profits.
The compendium of essays in Against Labor demonstrates the influence of Marx’s theory of historical materialism. The authors
Feurer, Rosemary and Chad Pearson, Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2017.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels, Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker. New York, Norton, 1978.
Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class. New York, Vintage Books, 1966.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Theses of Feuerbach,” in Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker. (New York, Norton, 1978), 144.
Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson. “Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism”. Eds, Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017), 8-15.
Peter Rachleff, “Capital and Labor in the 21st Century” in Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism, eds. Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017), 237. ”The case studies in this volume – tightly argued and well documented – have sketched a set of shared themes: (1) capitalists in the United State have never accepted labor’s right to organize; (2) capitalists’ resistance to workers’ organizing efforts has relied upon political power and ideological legerdemain as well as economic muscle; (3) despite capitalists’ allegiance to market economies and scorn for government intervention, in critical situations, they have leveraged the state for their own advantage”.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. “Marx on the History of his Opinions,” in Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker. (New York, Norton, 1978), 4.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker. (New York, Norton, 1978), 475-477.
Marx. Manifesto, 479.
Elizabeth Esch and David Roediger. “Scientific Management, Racist Science, and Race Management,” in eds. Rosemary Fuerer and Chad Pearson, “Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism”. Eds, Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017), 30.
Fuerer and Pearson. 5.
Howard R. Stranger. “A Moderate Employer’s Association in a “House Divided”: The Case of the Employing Printers of Columbus, Ohio, 1887-1987“, in eds. Rosemary Fuerer and Chad Pearson, “Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism,” eds, Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017), 184-193. “The homegrown business class preferred stability and slow growth and did not want Columbus to blue-collar (read unionized) city.”
Thomas Klug. “Employers’ Path to the Open Shop in Detroit, 1903-7,” in eds. Rosemary Fuerer and Chad Pearson, “Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism,” eds, Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017), 78-83.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel, Marx states: “Hence, competition crowd upon him on all sides, and besides we remind the reader that the more simple and easily learned labor is, the lower the cost of production is need to master it, the lower the wages sink, for, like the price of every other commodity, they are determined by the cost of production. Marx, 214.
Michael Dennis, “Litigating for Profit: Business, Law, and Labor in the New Economy South,” in eds. Rosemary Fuerer and Chad Pearson, “Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism,” eds, Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017), 218. Michael Julian states: “My responsibility as chief executive of this company is to find a way to satisfy the needs of our customers and at the same time satisfy the need of our employees.”, Citing an article be the Newport News Daily Press, Dennis shows that most grocery stores only “committed 15% of company expenditures to employee wages and benefits.”
If you are married to this sentence, you can move it around somewhere, but five-line sentences are a lot, especially for the first line of a review.
and “that of”
Foundations are laid, not erected
perhaps epistemology would work better here? Marx’s epistemology of history is dialectical materialism.
Does Rachleff claim this or are you saying it? “Continuing, Rachleff argues that Marx’s treatment…”
are the labor markets dependent or is the capitalist class?
“stalwart”: resilient, robust, dependable, valiant… use another word here
Are the newspaper reports rebutting Michael Julian or the proclamations?… less commas, clear-up the sentence; multiple clauses separates the subject from the verb and confuses the subject and the object
If you are going to use a pronoun, it has to be “it,” because you are representing the *compendium of essays* rather than “the essays.” If “they” represents “the essays,” you have to start the first sentence in the paragraph with “The essays”
The analysis of the articles is good. It’s thorough. Some sentences need to be clarified, but the overarching problem is that the introduction and conclusion have different theses.
The thesis of the conclusion is that this book shows the utility of local movements for understanding national labor relations.
The thesis of the introduction is uncertain to me.
mention the importance of analyzing bourgeois class consciousness