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A Renegade Union

A Renegade Union: Interracial Organizing and Labor Radicalism

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    A Renegade Union
    Book Description:

    Dedicated to organizing workers from diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, many of whom were considered "unorganizable" by other unions, the progressive New York City-based labor union District 65 counted among its 30,000 members retail clerks, office workers, warehouse workers, and wholesale workers. In this book, Lisa Phillips presents a distinctive study of District 65 and its efforts to secure economic equality for minority workers in sales and processing jobs in small, low-end shops and warehouses throughout the city. Phillips shows how organizers fought tirelessly to achieve better hours and higher wages for "unskilled," unrepresented workers and to destigmatize the kind of work they performed. _x000B__x000B_Closely examining the strategies employed by District 65 from the 1930s through the early Cold War years, Phillips assesses the impact of the McCarthy era on the union's quest for economic equality across divisions of race, ethnicity, and skill. Though their stories have been overshadowed by those of auto, steel, and electrical workers who forced American manufacturing giants to unionize, the District 65 workers believed their union provided them with an opportunity to re-value their work, the result of an economy inclining toward fewer manufacturing jobs and more low-wage service and processing jobs._x000B__x000B_Phillips recounts how District 65 first broke with the CIO over the latter's hostility to left-oriented politics and organizing agendas, then rejoined to facilitate alliances with the NAACP. In telling the story of District 65 and detailing community organizing efforts during the first part of the Cold War and under the AFL-CIO umbrella, A Renegade Union continues to revise the history of the left-led unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09450-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION Renegade Union Organizing from the ʺBottomʺ Up
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book tells the story of a group of men and women who kept a controversial labor union going through some of the more tumultuous events of the twentieth century. From the Great Depression through World War II, the beginnings of the Cold War, the civil rights era, and the Vietnam War, through the Reagan era and into the early 1990s, the men and women of Local 65 focused on improving the lives of the largely “invisible” people who worked in small, ten- to forty-person warehouses and wholesale shops throughout New York City, in small publishing houses in New York...

  6. 1 Community-Based, ʺCatch-Allʺ Organizing on New Yorkʹs Lower East Side
    (pp. 15-41)

    By 1933, during the darkest years of the Depression, Arthur Osman and his co-workers found themselves working sixteen or more hours a day stocking and selling merchandise, manipulating customers, and trying to turn a profit for their boss. While the job may have been better than sewing the garments by the piece or pushing a cart through the streets hawking merchandise, it no longer offered the upward mobility it had generations earlier, leaving Osman and the rest of the people who worked at Eckstein’s trapped in low-wage jobs with no control over their own or their families’ futures.

    Many of...

  7. 2 Getting beyond Racial, Ethnic, Religious, and Skill-Based Divisions
    (pp. 42-65)

    At the time of its CIO-affiliation, Local 65 was predominantly Jewish and had organized people at all skill levels in small wholesale shops on the Lower East Side. In 1937 and 1938, the union began to target people who worked in “dead-end” jobs, first in the garment industry in Osman’s old stomping grounds on the Lower East Side, then branching out to other industries in Midtown, in Uptown, and increasingly in Brooklyn and the Bronx, the goal being to bring low-wage male and female workers, including blacks, more Jews, and immigrants, into the union. The strategy put the union at...

  8. 3 ʺLike a Scab over an Infected Soreʺ: Full and Fair Employment during and after World War II
    (pp. 66-90)

    Local 65 struggled during World War II to keep a hold on its 16,000 members and, even more important, to sustain among them a commitment to “catch-all” organizing. The union experienced high turnover rates within its shops and warehouses and a disruption in leadership as Arthur Osman and David Livingston went off to war. In 1945, more than four thousand members down and with Osman and Livingston back at the helm, “65” attempted to pick up where it had left off in 1941. It joined other unions and organizations in New York City to push for full and fair employment...

  9. 4 Attacked from the Right and the Left: Community-Organizing, Civic Unionism during the Early Years of the Cold War
    (pp. 91-113)

    This chapter examines the challenges Local 65 faced during the early years of the Cold War. Its position within the labor movement changed quickly once the Republican-dominated 80th Congress (1946–48) took office. By the close of 1948, the union had undergone an investigation by a subcommittee within the House of Representatives appointed by Fred Hartley and chaired by Charles Kersten designed to root out Communist activity within the New York City distributive trades. Local 65 had broken away from the URWEA (renamed the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union, RWDSU-CIO) and maintained an independent status with other “seceding”...

  10. 5 A Third Labor Federation? The Distributive, Processing, and Office Workers of America (DPO)
    (pp. 114-136)

    This chapter provides a fascinating look at how the union’s leadership attempted to continue its social revolution within the completely changed context of the emerging Cold War with the Soviet Union. By 1948, “65” was for all intents and purposes expelled from the CIO. It refused to give up on what it called “catch-all” organizing, its version of community-based civic unionism and joined with other refugees of the CIO to continue to organize poor workers in areas as varied as New York City, Chicago, Texas, and the RJ Reynolds plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, under the auspices of the Distributive,...

  11. 6 Community Organizing under the AFL-CIO Umbrella
    (pp. 137-166)

    By 1953, after five years of heading up a few of the left-led CIO refugees, the DPO and District 65 were being “attacked from the left and the right” and were on the verge of collapse. It had proved almost impossible to continue to organize without the security provided by the CIO, and the union’s Executive Board finally decided to accept the CIO’s terms for reinstatement. This chapter follows District 65 as it attempted to rebuild and, essentially, prove its worth to the rest of the labor movement and to civil rights organizations like the NAACP. The drama behind the...

  12. CONCLUSION Community-Based, Civic Unionism during the Height of the Civil Rights Era
    (pp. 167-186)

    As Arthur Osman worried about being forced underground or, worse, put into a concentration camp, the nation was compelled to confront the horrors of the Jim Crow South as news of Emmett Till’s murder surfaced. During the late 1950s, District 65, now presided over by David Livingston, began to establish a working relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Philip Randolph. The union staged a rally to protest Till’s murder, sent money to Martin Luther King Jr. in support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and, by 1960, was helping lay the groundwork for what would become the 1963 March...

  13. Abbreviated Chronology List of Local/District 65ʹs Various Affiliates
    (pp. 187-188)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 189-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-232)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-241)