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Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880–2010

John H. M. Laslett
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 460
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  • Book Info
    Sunshine Was Never Enough
    Book Description:

    Delving beneath Southern California's popular image as a sunny frontier of leisure and ease, this book tells the dynamic story of the life and labor of Los Angeles's large working class. In a sweeping narrative that takes into account more than a century of labor history, John H. M. Laslett acknowledges the advantages Southern California's climate, open spaces, and bucolic character offered to generations of newcomers. At the same time, he demonstrates that-in terms of wages, hours, and conditions of work-L.A. differed very little from America's other industrial cities. Both fast-paced and sophisticated,Sunshine Was Never Enoughshows how labor in all its guises-blue and white collar, industrial, agricultural, and high tech-shaped the neighborhoods, economic policies, racial attitudes, and class perceptions of the City of Angels. Laslett explains how, until the 1930s, many of L.A.'s workers were under the thumb of the Merchants and Manufacturers Association. This conservative organization kept wages low, suppressed trade unions, and made L.A. into the open shop capital of America. By contrast now, at a time when the AFL-CIO is at its lowest ebb-a young generation of Mexican and African American organizers has infused the L.A. movement with renewed strength. These stories of the men and women who pumped oil, loaded ships in San Pedro harbor, built movie sets, assembled aircraft, and in more recent times cleaned hotels and washed cars is a little-known but vital part of Los Angeles history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95387-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    John H. M. Laslett
  5. Introduction: Scope and Purpose
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the summer of 2011, theLos Angeles Timespublished several letters commenting on the fading role of labor unions in american society. one critic, annoyed that local grocery workers might strike, suggested that unions were no longer relevant in the modern united States: “History has passed the unions by.” A Latina correspondent disagreed, saying that her immigrant father would never have gotten his job in a metalworking shop had it not been for his trade union. Let the grocery workers strike, she said; “I will not cross a picket line.”¹

    As it turned out, L.A.’s grocery workers did not...


    • ONE Myth versus Reality in the Making of the Southern California Working Class, 1880–1903
      (pp. 13-38)

      In its final report in 1915, the federally appointed U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations portrayed a nation torn by industrial violence, unemployment, and social discontent. Everywhere the commissioners looked, from the New York sweatshops to the Pennsylvania steel mills, and from the southern textile towns to the western metal mines, class lines were hardening. even the Socialists were gaining political support. Unless something was done, America seemed poised for a social revolution.¹

      Yet the commission largely exempted Los Angeles from its criticisms. Except for the October 1910 bombing of theLos Angeles Timesbuilding, L.A. had never experienced industrial violence...

    • TWO “It’s Class War, without a Doubt”: The Open Shop Battle Intensifies, 1904–1916
      (pp. 39-61)

      On the night of October 1, 1910, downtown Los Angeles was shaken by a terrifying blast. TheLos Angeles Timesbuilding at First and Broadway had exploded. Some thought it was an earthquake. But a huge fire, fed by flammable ink, soon reduced the entire building to rubble. giant linotype machines, heavy as railroad cars, crashed through the floor of the composing room into the basement, where they ignited the gas mains. Thousands of spectators, some in their nightclothes, stood silently, watching the disaster. By the time the smoke had cleared, twenty-one people were declared dead, including several compositors and...

    • THREE Grassroots Insurgencies and the Impact of World War I, 1905–1924
      (pp. 62-82)

      Before World War I, the open shop empire of the Los Angeles business elite stretched far beyond the city limits. It reached north into the citrus belt of the San Gabriel Valley, east toward San Bernardino, and south into ranch lands on the Mexican border.¹ In these places it was met—and frequently opposed—by groups of peripatetic railroad workers, IWW members (Wobblies), farmhands, and Mexican radicals who formed a small but significant minority in the deserts and coastal plains surrounding the metropolis.

      These insurgents are important to our story not only because their aims clashed with those of the...

    • FOUR Moving to the “Industrial Suburbs”: From Hollywood to South Gate, and from Signal Hill to the Citrus Belt, 1919–1929
      (pp. 83-104)

      During the 1920s the population of Los Angeles grew at an alarming rate, stimulated by an oil boom, a new surge in Southern California land prices that rewarded speculators, and the rapid growth of mass production industry. Annexations increased the city’s land area by approximately eighty square miles, and its population rose from 936,000 to 2.2 million. Like many who had migrated before the First World War, most of these newcomers were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who came from the plains states of the Midwest and who brought some savings with them.¹ Among the rest, the ethnic mix differed somewhat from...


    • FIVE Unemployment, Upton Sinclair’s EPIC Campaign, and the Search for a New Deal Political Coalition, 1929–1941
      (pp. 107-130)

      During the early years of the Great Depression, which started with the Wall Street crash of October 1929, the Los Angeles labor movement remained weak. It was not until the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 that it was able to mount a sustained–and ultimately successful—campaign against the open shop employers who had dominated the Southern California labor scene for so long. This chapter begins by describing the impact of the Depression on the Southland. But instead of turning immediately to the union upsurge, the remainder of the chapter tells the story of workers’ political...

    • SIX Raising Consciousness at the Workplace: Anglos, Mexicans, and the Founding of the Los Angeles CIO, 1933–1938
      (pp. 131-152)

      On June 22, 1934, J. W. Buzzell, secretary of the Los Angeles Central Labor Council, told his fellow council members that for weeks on end after the passage of Section 7a of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in 1933, he had been pressured, day after day, “to attend meetings of groups of workers seeking to organize.”¹ For the first time in American history, federal law banned company (that is, employer-created) labor unions and provided definitive support for independent union organizations. By the end of that summer, the American Federation of Labor in Los Angeles, whose ranks in 1932 had...

    • SEVEN Battle Royal: AFL versus CIO, and the Decline of the Open Shop, 1936–1941
      (pp. 153-174)

      In some areas of basic industry in Los Angeles, the establishment of CIO unions, which were the major catalyst for union growth in the 1930s, came more easily than it did in the east or the Midwest. Once a union had won recognition as the legitimate bargaining agent in an industry’s headquarters city, such as Chicago or Pittsburgh, a nationwide contract sometimes resulted, which automatically brought recognition to local unions in that industry’s West Coast subsidiaries.

      For example, following the dramatic sit-down strike of auto workers in 1936–1937, in Flint, Michigan, general Motors signed a historic contract with the...

    • EIGHT L.A. Workers in World War II: “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back”? 1941–1945
      (pp. 175-206)

      World War II brought unprecedented social, economic, and cultural changes to the way of life of most Southern Californians. But their effects on working men and women in the city began well before America entered the conflict on December 7, 1941. In the build-up to the war, the federal government awarded a substantial number of large defense contracts, particularly for ships and warplanes, to companies in Los Angeles, which brought many new migrants to the city in search of employment more than a year before Pearl Harbor. By September 1942, Los Angeles had secured 64 percent of all California’s contracts...


    • NINE “Caught between Consumption and the Cold War”: Rebuilding Working-Class Politics, 1945–1968
      (pp. 209-237)

      Most present-day observers, if asked to describe the impact of the Cold War in Southern California, would probably refer to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, which made Whittier-born Richard Nixon famous, or to the blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten.¹ These events were important. But however absorbing such developments were for the American public, they tell us little about who was actually responsible for the anti-Communist crusade in California or about how it affected not just the world of high politics but also the day-to-day world of workers and ordinary citizens.

      Focusing on these events also neglects the social...

    • TEN Employment, Housing, and the Struggle for Equality in the Civil Rights Era, 1965–1980
      (pp. 238-266)

      The Watts riots in South Central L.A. began on the evening of Wednesday, August 11, 1965, when a white police officer on a motorcycle pulled over a young African American man named Marquette Frye for reckless driving at Avalon and 116th Street. The LAPD officer ordered Frye to get out of his car and take a sobriety test, which he failed. The officer then arrested the youth and radioed for a patrol car to take him to jail. A crowd gathered, including Frye’s mother and brother, who scuffled with police. As the police car left the scene, several angry youths...

    • ELEVEN Globalization, Labor’s Decline, and the Coming of a Service and High-Tech Economy, 1970–1994
      (pp. 267-297)

      “If we read our stars aright, the seventies ought to see, not the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but a new age for workingmen,” prophesied two labor intellectuals at the beginning of the new decade. “If history moves on its present course, the worker and his union will again have a place in the sun.”¹ For a time, as the country struggled to move beyond its preoccupation with Vietnam and the racial turmoil of the sixties, that prediction seemed to be justified. The record of U.S. labor protest in 1970 alone was remarkable. The early seventies witnessed 2.4 million...

    • TWELVE False Dawn? L.A.’s Labor-Latino Alliance Takes Center Stage, 1990–2010
      (pp. 298-320)

      On March 14, 2006, theLos Angeles Timesdescribed the recovery of Southern California unions from the years of stagnation and decline they suffered in the 1970s and 1980s—a recovery resulting largely from an unprecedented effort to organize immigrant workers. As evidence, theTimespointed to the recent and successful Justice for Janitors campaign, to the rapid growth of public employee unions, and to the May 2005 election of former union organizer Antonio Villaraigosa as the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles in more than a hundred years. The newspaper reminded its readers that until the 1930s, Southern California...

  9. Conclusion: Comparative Reflections
    (pp. 321-330)

    This volume has described both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Los Angeles labor movement over the years. Though its strengths were many, it is indisputable that for much of its history unions in Southern California were relatively weak in comparison to those in America’s other great industrial cities. To what extent did this relative weakness result from obstacles faced by the entire U.S. labor movement, and to what extent did it result from features that were special to Los Angeles?

    This concluding section argues that both sources of weakness were involved, though to varying degrees. Although more research...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 331-412)
    (pp. 413-416)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 417-442)