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American Labor and the Cold War

American Labor and the Cold War: Grassroots Politics and Postwar Political Culture

Robert W. Cherny
William Issel
Kieran Walsh Taylor
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    American Labor and the Cold War
    Book Description:

    The American labor movement seemed poised on the threshold of unparalleled success at the beginning of the post-World War II era. Fourteen million strong in 1946, unions represented thirty five percent of non-agricultural workers. Why then did the gains made between the 1930s and the end of the war produce so few results by the 1960s?

    This collection addresses the history of labor in the postwar years by exploring the impact of the global contest between the United States and the Soviet Union on American workers and labor unions. The essays focus on the actual behavior of Americans in their diverse workplaces and communities during the Cold War. Where previous scholarship on labor and the Cold War has overemphasized the importance of the Communist Party, the automobile industry, and Hollywood, this book focuses on politically moderate, conservative workers and union leaders, the medium-sized cities that housed the majority of the population, and the Roman Catholic Church. These are all original essays that draw upon extensive archival research and some upon oral history sources.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5505-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Robert W. Cherny, William Issel and Kieran Walsh Taylor

    The American labor movement seemed poised on the threshold of unparalleled success at the beginning of the post-World War II era. Fourteen million strong in 1946, unions represented 35 percent of nonagricultural workers, and federal power insured collective bargaining rights. The contrast with the pre-war years was strongest for those workers who retained vivid memories of the 1920s and early 1930s. Then, the labor movement lacked government legitimacy, and, at the worst point of the Great Depression, the union movement barely enrolled 5 percent of the non-farm workforce; one out of every four workers lacked a job. Now, the future...

  7. Labor and the Cold War: The Legacy of McCarthyism
    (pp. 7-24)
    Ellen Schrecker

    The political repression of the McCarthy period had a deleterious impact on American labor. Only the Communist Party was as deeply affected. Not only was the entire left wing of the labor movement destroyed, but many of the people who came under fire had union ties, such as the Hollywood Ten, or the thousands of maritime workers thrown out of their jobs because of the federal government’s Korean War Port Security program. We cannot ignore the damage that McCarthyism did to the lives and careers of these men and women; but if we are to understand its broader impact on...

  8. Uncivil War: An Oral History of Labor, Communism, and Community in Schenectady, New York, 1944–1954
    (pp. 25-57)
    Gerald Zahavi

    During the first half of the twentieth century, Schenectady—lying at the eastern boundary of New York’s Mohawk Valley—was a small, bustling, and ethnically diverse industrial city that depended on two major industries for its economic survival and growth: the behemoth General Electric (GE) Works located at the center of the city, and the smaller adjacent American Locomotive Company (ALCO). Though both constituted the economic foundations of the city, the GE plant—by virtue of its size—clearly figured as the more significant force in the city’s development. The GE Works drew skilled and unskilled workers to the city;...

  9. Mixed Melody: Anticommunism and the United Packinghouse Workers in California Agriculture, 1954–1961
    (pp. 58-71)
    Don Watson

    Varieties of labor anticommunists emerged during the Cold War. Leaders as diverse as George Meany, Philip Murray, Walter Reuther, Father Charles Owen Rice, and Roy Brewer, plus thousands at shop-steward level played roles. Many had concerns about Stalin. Many fought over political and religious ideology and union turf. Where was the line to be drawn between concern about the role of Communists and harassment? The expulsion of eleven unions from the CIO in 1949 and 1950 did not end this question.

    The United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) was unique among CIO unions during the Cold War. While other CIO...

  10. The United Packinghouse Workers of America, Civil Rights, and the Communist Party in Chicago
    (pp. 72-84)
    Randi Storch

    When the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) formed in 1943, workers in Chicago’s meatpacking industry supported interracial and militant unionism. This union culture was characterized by a largely white ethnic leadership that openly reached out to black and white ethnic workers, who in turn promoted racial equality as one part of a larger agenda for workers’ rights. Chicago meatpackers’ vote for Herb March, a Jewish Communist trade unionist, to lead their district and to represent their locals on UPWA’s international executive board symbolized this spirit. In the early 1930s, when the AFL and independent unions focused more directly on...

  11. “An Anarchist with a Program”: East Coast Shipyard Workers, the Labor Left, and the Origins of Cold War Unionism
    (pp. 85-117)
    David Palmer

    For East Coast shipbuilding trade unionists, the Cold War began before the end of World War II. A broad left-wing developed in the major Atlantic Coast shipyards of the Northeast during the early 1940s that became the target of anticommunist business, government, and union leaders. While the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) played a role in this shipyard labor left, other forces were equally significant even though they lacked the institutionalized organization of the CPUSA.

    Labor historians often characterized Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO) unions as battlegrounds within which activists of the CPUSA “left” combated those of the...

  12. The Battle for Standard Coil: The United Electrical Workers, the Community Service Organization, and the Catholic Church in Latino East Los Angeles
    (pp. 118-140)
    Kenneth C. Burt

    In 1952, the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) battled the newly chartered International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Employees (IUE) in East Los Angeles. The two unions struggled for the right to represent electrical workers at Standard Coil, a secondary supplier that provided parts for the Sabre Jet. The UE had been expelled from the CIO in 1949 for following the Communist Party line, and the CIO chartered the IUE the same day to bring electrical workers back into the CIO fold. A close look at this previously unexamined campaign demonstrates two important points in the evolving...

  13. Popular Anticommunism and the UE in Evansville, Indiana
    (pp. 141-153)
    Samuel W. White

    Following World War II, Evansville, Indiana, proudly proclaimed itself the “refrigerator capital of the world.” In 1946, International Harvester purchased the Republic Steel Plant and began producing refrigerators, supplementing the refrigerator production at Servel, Inc., and Seeger-Sunbeam. Refrigerators and automotive goods came to dominate the postwar economy of Evansville, which depended on the production of these consumer durables as never before. Evansville’s workforce continued to climb after the war, from 64,000 in 1945 to 80,000 in 1950. Of the 80,000 workers employed in the city in 1950, 20,000 produced consumer durables, and more than 10,000 of these workers labored at...

  14. “A Stern Struggle”: Catholic Activism and San Francisco Labor, 1934–1958
    (pp. 154-176)
    William Issel

    On 24 November 1936, twenty-one-year-old Joseph L. Alioto delivered a prize-winning speech in San Francisco. A future mayor of San Francisco, Alioto would soon graduate from St. Mary’s College and go on to earn a law degree at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. In an address entitled “The Catholic Internationale,” Alioto warned his audience at the St. Ignatius Council of the Young Men’s Institute: “Communism has attained the position of a universal power [and] stands today as a cancer in the world’s social organism.” Given its international scope and its appeal as a “counterfeit religion,” only a true religion...

  15. Memories of the Red Decade: HUAC Investigations in Maryland
    (pp. 177-189)
    Vernon L. Pedersen

    The fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of international Communism have prompted historians to reevaluate many aspects of Cold War America. Some of the recently published works, such as the Yale University Press series The Annals of Communism, or Allen Weinstein’sThe Haunted Wood, are based upon newly released documents and focus on resolving old controversies. Weinstein’s book deals with Soviet spies in the United States and offers convincing evidence of the guilt of both Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg. John Haynes and Harvey Klehr have published two volumes of documents,The Secret World of American Communismand...

  16. Negotiating Cold War Politics: The Washington Pension Union and the Labor Left in the 1940s and 1950s
    (pp. 190-204)
    Margaret Miller

    Though it was often vilified in the mainstream press for its Communist leadership, the Washington Pension Union (WPU)—a state-level welfare rights lobby—remains scarcely known, even in histories of the American left. The pension union’s predecessor, the Washington Commonwealth Federation, has been hailed as “one of the most active and broad-based left-wing movements in U.S. history.”¹ However, the WPU, formed by the Commonwealth Federation in 1937, quickly eclipsed its precursor in both membership and clout and became a major player in state political debates over social welfare provision, labor organization, and civil rights. It built a vibrant and nationally...

  17. The Lost World of United States Labor Education: Curricula at East and West Coast Communist Schools, 1944–1957
    (pp. 205-215)
    Marvin Gettleman

    As the tide of battle in World War II swung decisively against the Axis in 1943–1944, the United States Communist Party transformed and upgraded its main East and West Coast labor schools—the Jefferson School of Social Science in New York City, and the California Labor School in San Francisco/Oakland. These changes were responses to the tremendous increase in war production in both cities, and the opportunity, indeed the necessity, to train workers (many of whom, especially in California, had recently migrated from the rural South) in trade union principles and in anti-racism, so as to protect the home...

  18. Operation Dixie, the Red Scare, and the Defeat of Southern Labor Organizing
    (pp. 216-244)
    Michael K. Honey

    Historic possibilities for changing the South seemed to exist at the end of World War II, based on new hopes for organizing southern workers. Just as the war galvanized the American economy, pulling it out of the Depression of the 1930s, it also accelerated industrialization and urbanization in the South. The number of industrial workers in the region jumped from 1.6 million before the war to 2.4 million by August 1945. Growing manufacturing and commercial centers increasingly overshadowed the traditional economy of cotton and agricultural goods production. During the war, one-quarter of the South’s farm population left the land for...

  19. “A Dangerous Demagogue”: Containing the Influence of the Mexican Labor-Left and Its United States Allies
    (pp. 245-276)
    Gigi Peterson

    Through the last decade of the twentieth century, coalitions of Mexican and U.S. activists worked to address the tangled issues of workers’ rights, inter- and intra-American inequities, and racial and ethnic discrimination. Their work echoes that of a previous generation of Mexican and U.S. activists, whose efforts marked the beginning, rather than the end, of the Cold War period. From the mid-thirties through the immediate postwar years, a Mexican labor-left and its allies across the border evoked the U.S. government’s Good Neighbor Policy as justification for anti-imperialist, anti-discrimination, and prolabor struggles. These activists may be termed “grassroots Good Neighbors,” for...

  20. Contributors
    (pp. 277-280)
  21. Index
    (pp. 281-297)