Kentucky Labor Institute
  • Action Center
    Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
    Did you know...that the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, first printed in 1903, is the oldest peer-reviewed publication dedicated to Kentucky history?Subscribe to the Register (only $40 per year).
    Action Center
    Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
    Did you know...that the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, first printed in 1903, is the oldest peer-reviewed publication dedicated to Kentucky history?Subscribe to the Register (only $40 per year).
  • Kentucky Union History
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    Toil, Trouble, Transformation: Workers and Unions in Modern Kentucky

    By John Hennen

    Organized labor played a significant role in the construction of the American middle class. For the post–World War II generation, the power of unions was arguably the most important factor in the trend toward economic security, the democratization of the political system, expanded access to higher education for the children of work- ers, and the civic life of American communities. Yet today, students, the general public, our political class, and even those few American workers who are members of labor unions often have little knowledge of the significance of the American labor movement to the histori- cal influence of labor—and of industrial conflict—on the nation’s political economy. This essay encourages readers and researchers to reexamine the rich history of organized workers in Kentucky. Its key premise is that in order to evaluate the economic crisis facing contem- porary Americans, including the long-term erosion of wages, salaries, benefits, job control, purchasing power, and economic security for workers, it is necessary to understand the institutional history, and post-1970s decline, of organized labor. Essentially, this is a call to bring organized labor more fully into the history of Kentucky and the nation. It is also a call to bring more awareness of the impor- tant legacies of workers’ institutions to civic life. Most of the topics referred to in these pages have been underrepresented in the larger

    JOHN HENNEN is a professor of history at Morehead State Univer- sity. He is the author of The Americanization of West Virginia: Creating a Modern Industrial State, 1916–1925.



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    narrative of Kentucky history and present numerous opportunities for new studies.

    Influenced by the cultural and social dynamism of the civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and antiwar movements, the study of working-class life has been transformed in the past half century. Pio- neering labor historians, led by the “big three” of John R. Commons, Selig Perlman, and Philip Taft of the “Wisconsin School” of labor history, concentrated on the framework of bureaucratic unionism, embodied by the unions of the American Federation of Labor and later the Congress of Industrial Organizations, to create the field of labor history between 1900 and 1960.1 With the democratization of higher education in the United States after World War II, academics who themselves came from working-class backgrounds, encour- aged to pursue university degrees with GI Bill benefits, revised the institutional emphasis of labor history.2 This refocusing marginal- ized the old institutional model in favor of more inclusive cultural, community-based studies of workers and working families, creating a “new labor history.” Historical sociologist Sally Maggard noted in 1987 that traditional labor history’s “singular attention to an indi- vidual’s relationship to the wage economy,” in studies geared toward male wage earners, had created “an artificial separation between the realms of work and family.” Maggard insisted that “we need to look inside family situations to understand how women will react to union organizing drives, strike activities, and political action in general.”3

    A revised look at workers’ institutional history, then, should be integrated with, not detached from, “other aspects of social iden- tity—race, gender, sexuality, religious faith”—which overshadowed

    1 Labor economist Commons and his graduate students published a multivolume Documentary History of Industrial Society and a four-volume history of the early labor movement, A History of Labour in the United States, between 1918 and 1935. Commons’s student and colleague Perlman published A Theory of the Labor Movement in 1928. Taft published a definitive two-volume history of the American Federation of Labor in 1957 and 1959.

    2 As Ira Katznelson has pointed out, the democratization of higher education was imperfect. See Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (New York, 2005), esp. ch. 5, “White Veterans Only.”

    3 Sally Ward Maggard, “Women’s Participation in the Brookside Coal Strike: Militance, Class, and Gender in Appalachia,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 9 (1987): 17.


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    historical studies of workers’ shop-floor organization by the 1970s.4 Writing in 2001, historian Brian Kelly praised the “new labor history” as a necessary corrective to the traditional descriptions of high-level bargaining between the “lieutenants of labor and their counterparts in the boardrooms of organized capital.” The new studies “moved out from the point of production” to appreciate not only union labor (which has never represented more than one-third of private-sector workers, and then for only a brief period after World War II), but “unorganized workers; slaves, wage earners and their families; black, white, and immigrant workers; men, women, and children.” But the new history, arguably, had the unintended consequence of render- ing organized workers and their unions less relevant, casting them as narrow interest groups devoid of a meaningful role in the ongoing struggles for social and economic justice in the late twentieth century.5

    Kelly notes that within a decade of the emergence of the new labor history, “even scholars who were exhilarated by the expansion of their field” voiced reservations that the retreat from shop-floor studies, or “conflict at the point of production,” and the structure of unionized industrial relations might lead to, as labor historian David Brody put it, “sacrificing a sense of the larger context of workers’ lived experience.” Along the same lines, but more pugnaciously, Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese criticized the new history’s “fascination with custom” and “private existence” as inadequate for understanding the “fundamental problem of power and order.” After all, “history is primarily the story of who rides whom and how,” not only the expression of individual agency; therefore, labor historians must not descend into the alleged postmodern “cult of the fragmen- tary,” but rather incorporate the working-class and working-class institutions “within the totality of social relations.”6 One need not fully embrace that view, however, as there is no inherent contradic-

    4 Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York, 2010), 216.

    5 Brian Kelly, Race, Class, and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908–1921 (Urbana, Ill., 2001), see the introduction, esp. pp. 4–7 (quotations are from 5).

    6 Kelly synthesizes the re-evaluation of the new labor history. See ibid., 5, for the Brody and Genovese quotations.


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    tion between the (now established) “new labor history” and a revised institutional awareness.7

    The current American economic crisis demands a new awareness of the saga of organized labor, the most significant countervailing force against unchecked corporate power in the twentieth century. The decline of private-sector unions has multiple causes, accompa- nying expanded economic globalization in the past half century or so. Some of these factors are self-inflicted wounds, brought on by internal power struggles, overly concessionary bargaining, stilted social vision, and the detachment of union bureaucracy from the rank-and-file.8 Other factors emerged with the hollowing out of the U.S. industrial base, as corporations fled the United States for cheap labor costs overseas. These factors, combined with conscious political and corporate tactics to demonize unions, the cultural attractiveness of the anti-union Ronald Reagan presidency to many working-class people, and a weakened commitment to labor by the Democratic Party in the 1990s, also were critical. The arguments over which of these factors were (or are) most important will not take up a lot of space in this essay.

    Preconditions: The Late Nineteenth Century

    After the Civil War, the United States was transformed by ur- banization and large-scale industrialization. Within Kentucky that transformation was originally concentrated in Louisville, Newport, and Covington, the latter two being northern Kentucky Ohio River cities bordering the commercial hub of Cincinnati. In addition, the coalfields of eastern Kentucky were on the cusp of radical industrial

    7 For an excellent model, one that Kentucky historians should emulate for studies of unions in the commonwealth, see Christopher Waldrep, Southern Workers and the Search for Community: Spartanburg County, South Carolina (Urbana, Ill., 2000). Lou Martin’s 2008 dissertation from West Virginia University, “Working for Independence: The Failure of New Deal Politics in a Rural Industrial Place,” brilliantly synthesizes community and institutional history. In revised form it will be published by University of Illinois Press in 2015.

    8 See, for example, Thomas Geoghegan, Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be For Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back (New York, 1991); John P. Hoerr, And the Wolf Finally Came: The Decline of the American Steel Industry (Pittsburgh, 1988), esp. ch. 2; and Steve Early, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor: Birth of a New Workers’ Movement or Death Throes of the Old? (Chicago, 2011).


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    and cultural transformation as the nineteenth century drew to a close. A diverse working class of European immigrants, liberated blacks, and internal migrants “magnified the distance between urban and agrarian Kentucky,” and Louisville, with a population of two hundred thousand, became a focal point of the class tensions that emerged in the new corporate industrial order.9

    That order erupted into widespread class conflict for the first time in the summer of 1877. Alarmed by the class tumult unharnessed by the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the first major national strike, the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor proposed to organize industrial society on a cooperative basis.10 The Knights preached solidarity among “workers of all skill levels, races, and ethnicities,” and sought “to secure to the toilers a proper share of the wealth that they create.”11 The Knights of Labor had 177 local assemblies in Kentucky in 1886, mostly in Louisville and Covington, at the peak of its national prominence.12

    The self-consciously working-class character of the Knights’ mobilization in Kentucky revealed contradictions within the diverse movement. The leaders of the Knights of Labor envisioned industrial relations as a network of worker-owned cooperatives. The dissonance between the republican vision of the order and the hard realities faced by workers who saw themselves not as independent producers but as permanent wage workers, “fatally weakened the Knights of Labor in the long run.”13 As the Knights declined, they were replaced by a more pragmatic, class-conscious federation of trade unionists, founded in

    9 Lowell H. Harrison and James C. Klotter, A New History of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky., 1997), 226–29 (quotation is from 229).

    10 Nell Painter, Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era (1987; repr., New York, 2008), 15–18. Also see Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais, Labor’s Untold Story (New York, 1955), 58–64; and David O. Stowell, ed., The Great Strikes of 1877 (Urbana, Ill., 2008). A good summary of the strike in Louisville can be found in Bill Weaver, “Louisville’s Labor Disturbance, July 1877,” Filson Club History Quarterly (hereinafter Filson) 48 (Spring 1974): 177–86.

    11 Painter, Standing at Armageddon, 30. Blacks were admitted to the Knights, although the assemblies were segregated, and violence against black laborers by Knights was not uncommon. 12 The Kentucky Encyclopedia, s.v. “Labor Organizations” (by Joseph Krislov); Painter,

    Standing at Armageddon, 31–35.
    13 Painter, Standing at Armageddon, 45.


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    1884, which soon became known as the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The AFL, in its early decades almost completely restricted to skilled white craftsmen, emerged as the dominant—and exclusion- ary—voice of organized labor in the United States. And so it was in Kentucky, with at least one significant exception, the United Mine Workers of America.

    Coal miners had begun organizing in both the eastern and west- ern Kentucky fields by the 1870s, many of them represented by the Knights of Labor. The Knights merged with another miners’ union, the National Progressive Union of Miners and Mine Laborers, to form the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in 1890. The Mine Workers deviated from the common practice of the AFL in two significant ways: (1) from the beginning, the UMWA rejected the exclusion of African Americans, a policy that contrasted with the AFL and with most American institutions in the age of “scientific racism,” and (2) the UMWA organized along industrial lines, that is, eligibility for all who worked in coal, not just the highly skilled. From the union’s standpoint, a racially integrated industrial organi- zation was both idealistic and pragmatic. As miners, said a UMWA official in 1898, “the colored men are with us in the mines,” entitled to “as much consideration from the officials of the organization as any other members.”14 Such inclusivity in terms of job classification and racial or ethnic identity promoted class solidarity and a united front against employers’ attempts to divide workers along those lines.

    The New Century

    Aside from the ideal of inclusivity in the coal miners’ major union, class and racial solidarity occasionally assumed prominent posi- tions in other Kentucky workers’ actions. Class and racial cohesion

    14 Henry C. Mayer, “Glimpses of Union Activity Among Coal Miners in Nineteenth- Century Eastern Kentucky,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 86 (Summer 1988): 217–23; UMWA organizer W. C. Pearce quoted in Robert Zieger, For Jobs and Freedom: Race and Labor in America since 1865 (Lexington, Ky., 2007), 66–67. For an overview of the early work of the UMWA in the western Kentucky coalfield, see especially James Duane Bolin, “‘An Air of Tenseness’: Labor Strife and Tragedy in Kentucky’s Western Coal Field, 1888–1939,” Filson 73 (Jan. 1999): 3–33.


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    against monopoly capitalism failed during the famous Black Patch tobacco war in the first decade of the new century, but black and white women employed in the tobacco manufacturing industry in Louisville demonstrated considerable class solidarity in a three-week strike in 1910. Led by Lula Spalding, over three thousand tobacco workers, mostly women and girls, walked out for higher wages and improved lighting and ventilation. The action was widely covered by the Louisville Courier-Journal, and the local Teamsters Union endorsed the strike and refused to haul tobacco in the city. Eventually, however, their dire economic condition forced the women to return to work at their old pay rate.15

    This inspiring, yet failed, action reflected the radically unbalanced distribution of economic power in American industrial life. Workers and union organizers saw class solidarity not only as a positive means to promote equity but as a defensive posture against the class power and cohesiveness of their employers. Employer organizations, includ- ing the National Association of Manufacturers, founded in 1903, and the National Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1911, organized the employing class into powerful lobbying and policy bodies. Such national organizations were joined at local and regional levels by an array of employer associations and businessmen’s leagues. These asso- ciations formed powerful pressure groups at national and state levels, assisted for the most part by a judicial system that acted favorably with probusiness, antilabor judgments in cases that came before the bar. For example, the 1917 decision by the United States Supreme Court in Hitchman Coal Company v. Mitchell deemed constitutional all the practices embraced by industrialists to limit workers’ freedom and obstruct unionization—including blacklisting, “yellow dog” contracts (forbidding union membership as a condition of employment), denial of collective bargaining, use of private company police, and sweeping

    15 For Lula Spalding’s strike, see Kentucky Department of Education, Labor History in Kentucky: A Teaching Supplement for Middle and Secondary Education (1986), section four, 28, which cites the Louisville Courier-Journal from late March to mid-April 1910. For the tobacco wars see Tracy Campbell, The Politics of Despair: Power and Resistance in the Tobacco Wars (Lexington, Ky., 1993).


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    injunctions against concerted actions by workers.16
    By the turn of the century, eastern Kentucky coal country (domi-

    nated by Bell, Harlan, Letcher, and Perry counties) was in the throes of an industrial revolution, one in which sources of labor, according to sociologist Alan Banks, must “expand to meet the requirements of capital.” Other requirements of capital included the cultivation of “politicians with pro-business attitudes,” a “moral and intellectual climate” favoring capital accumulation, and an “infrastructural foun- dation for the maintenance and reproduction of new class relations.”17

    The “infrastructural foundation” for the new class relations in much of the Appalachian coal industry was the company town, a corporate fiefdom in which absolute authority in all spheres of civic and economic life was vested in the employer, be it an independent company or the subsidiary of a major corporation. Living conditions in such towns ranged from barely habitable camps to well-organized planned communities with beneficent services. The thread that uni- fied them all was the relationship between employer and worker: not that of citizen to citizen, but master to servant.18

    “Model” company towns combined scientific management practices with benevolent paternalism and relatively comfortable surroundings. They were usually founded by highly capitalized corporations, although an early Martin County model town, Him- lerville (1921?1929), was a true cooperative community, founded

    16 John C. Hennen, The Americanization of West Virginia: Creating a Modern Industrial State, 1916–1925 (Lexington, Ky., 1996), 103–6; Hitchman Coal and Coke Company v. Mitchell, Individually, et. al, 245 U.S., 1917, 229–74, excerpted in Ronald L. Lewis and John Hennen, West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural-Industrial State (Dubuque, Iowa, 1996), 191–94.

    17 Alan Banks, “Class Formation in the Southeastern Kentucky Coalfields, 1890–1920,” in Appalachia in the Making: The Mountain South in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Dwight Billings, Mary Beth Pudup, and Altina Waller (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1995), 321–48 (quotations are from 321).

    18 Crandall Shifflett’s Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company Towns of Southern Appalachia, 1880–1960 (Knoxville, Tenn., 1991) is a major work on the structure and layers of political economy and social relations in company towns. Other important analyses of company towns can be found in Ronald D Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880–1930 (Knoxville, Tenn., 1982); and John Gaventa, Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley (Urbana, Ill., 1980).


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    by Hungarian immigrant businessman Martin Himler, with worker ownership and participation in production and marketing decisions. By contrast, the towns of Benham and Lynch in Harlan County were owned by International Harvester and International Coal and Coke, respectively, and Jenkins, in Letcher County, by Consolidation Coal. All three were built between 1911 and 1917 and flourished as coal markets expanded to supply European belligerents during the First World War. Such model company towns were known for strict anti- unionism, good schools, sound housing, and good utilities—all paid for with miners’ wages and company profits. Many industrialists of the era embraced the principles of the “open-shop” movement, pio- neered by the National Association of Manufacturers, which rhetori- cally recognized an individual’s right to join a union but virulently rejected collective bargaining or any kind of union security at the workplace. Following the armistice and the failed 1919 national steel strike, powerful industrialists such as Elbert Gary of United States Steel refined the open-shop movement into a business model called the American Plan. The ideological premise of the American Plan was that anti-unionism was patriotic, and that unionization was a symptom of creeping communism, bent on the destruction of the industrial system that had preserved democracy by winning the Great War. Model towns, such as Benham and Lynch, generally practiced a softer version of the American Plan known as “welfare capitalism,” or programs built on the belief that a satisfied working class would be stable and productive, even if workers sacrificed much of their personal control over the job. One company in Virginia referred to their welfare program as “contentment sociology.”19

    By the mid-1920s, organized labor in Kentucky and nationwide was embroiled in a struggle for survival. The situation was particularly grim in the eastern Kentucky coalfields. Failed strikes over wages and job control in the few unionized operations, where the UMWA had gained a shaky foothold during World War I, had consolidated the strength of the various employers’ associations and weakened labor.

    19 For the American Plan in West Virginia and Kentucky see Hennen, Americanization of West Virginia, 99–118. On “contentment sociology,” see Shifflett, Coal Towns, 101.


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    Throughout eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, non- unionized miners seeking representation by the UMWA also struck in 1919 and 1922, usually with disastrous results. Legal expenses incurred by the UMWA in the aftermath of the West Virginia mine war of 1920?1921 had practically bankrupted the union. Facing a fiscal emergency, UMWA leader John L. Lewis adopted a practice of withholding or withdrawing UMWA support for non-union strikers. To Lewis, this was a necessary business decision. To mine families hoping for better lives, the UMWA hierarchy seemed ineffectual if not deceitful.20

    The 1922 national coal and railroad strikes have received little attention from Kentucky historians. One exception is a 1999 article in which Alan Banks challenges the traditional narrative that Ken- tucky coal diggers ignored the 1922 strike called by the UMWA. Banks attributes the conventional wisdom to a broadly internalized assumption that Kentucky coal miners were “fiercely independent mountaineers uninterested in their own collective self-improvement. The implication is that a real strike never took place in southeastern Kentucky and that the area was scarcely touched by the industrial turmoil rocking the rest of the nation. The problem with this view is that it is not in accord with the evidence.” Banks uncovered internal disputes between local miners and UMWA organizer Van Bittner, whom the locals believed was indifferent to their grievances against open-shop operations. Such disputes did undermine UMWA rank- and-file solidarity in the ultimately failed strike. But his analysis of production statistics, the deployment of state militia into several eastern Kentucky strike zones, and extensive contemporary newspaper accounts suggests that conventional interpretations of the quiescence of Kentucky miners during the 1922 strike should be re-evaluated.21

    20 John C. Hennen, Introduction to Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields (1932; repr., Lexington, Ky., 2008), 3–4. This book is a reissue of the 1932 report by the well-known “writers committee,” spearheaded by the novelist Theodore Dreiser, who had come to Kentucky to survey strike conditions.

    21 Alan Banks, “Miners Talk Back: Labor Activism in Southeastern Kentucky in 1922,” in Confronting Appalachian Stereotypes: Back Talk from an American Region, ed. Dwight Billings, Gurney Norman, and Katherine Ledford (Lexington, Ky., 1999), 215–27 (quotation is from


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    Compounding the crisis in the coalfields in 1922 was the national railroad shopmen’s strike; more than 80 percent of the nation’s “shop- men” (machinists, boilermakers, blacksmiths, electricians, sheet-metal workers, and railway carmen) struck to protest the open-shop cam- paign embraced by the major railroads. The 1922 shopmen’s strike in Kentucky was widespread, with substantial violence and importation of strikebreakers. Due to the exclusion of African Americans from most AFL unions, employers were often successful in bringing in African American strikebreakers and had some success in the 1922 rail strike. Colin Davis notes, however, that the organizers of the 1922 strike consciously sought to mobilize support from African American and other minority laborers, also with some success. In some cases railway clerks joined forces with the shopmen, notably in the Ashland-Russell area, and Governor Edwin Morrow dispatched a small detachment of state militia to tamp down violence in Corbin (where black railroad workers had been violently expelled by white vigilantes in 1919).22 The Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which was struck by over twelve thousand workers, hired 4,435 special guards, a ratio of 3:1.23 Although the shopmen failed in most of their objectives, progressive legislators in both major parties were alarmed by the interruption of the nation’s business and passed the national Railway Labor Act in 1926, a precursor to the New Deal model of federal intervention to regulate labor-management relations in major private industrial sectors.24

    The defeat of the coal and rail strikes of 1922, followed by bitter UMWA failures in the northern West Virginia fields between 1925 and 1928, exacerbated a destabilizing internal conflict in the UMWA.

    216). Occasional documents in the coal collection archives at Southeastern Community College in Cumberland, Kentucky, reveal that coal operators in Lynch, Benham, and other Harlan County coal communities were deeply concerned about the possibility of strike activity in 1922.

    22 George C. Wright, Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865–1940: Lynchings, Mob Rule, and “Legal Lynchings” (Baton Rouge, La., 1990), 144–47. Wright points out that no mention of the Corbin riot can be found in the papers of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad at the University of Louisville and that the L&N sent no more black workers to Corbin.

    23 Kentucky Department of Education, Labor History in Kentucky, section four, 30; Colin Davis, Power at Odds: The 1922 National Railroad Shopmen’s Strike (Urbana, Ill., 1997), 68–69.

    24 R. Emmett Murray, The Lexicon of Labor (New York, 1998), 148–49.


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    The unrest prompted a 1926–1928 “Save the Union” insurgency which tried to unseat Lewis and his lieutenants. This quixotic ef- fort was crushed by Lewis, using his monopoly of union machinery and control of the UMWA Journal. Several of the insurgents were expelled, and many Save the Union supporters (whether outspoken or silent)—as well as unorganized workers—were willing to listen when the American Communist Party briefly abandoned its practice of “boring from within” and established unions in favor of creating radical alternatives to the procapitalist AFL. The so-called dual union campaign by the Communist Party included the formation of the National Miners Union (NMU), which came to eastern Kentucky in the summer of 1931.25

    The NMU attached itself to a desperate situation for thousands of Harlan and Bell County miners, who had struck the Black Mountain Coal Company after draconian wage cuts in February 1931. Origi- nally, the UMWA had supported the strike and enrolled thousands of new members in Harlan and Bell. When it became clear to Lewis and his chief spokesman in Kentucky, Philip Murray, that they might not be able to control the militancy of the eastern Kentucky strikers, the UMWA withdrew. Thus, it was not the UMWA, but the communist NMU, that briefly offered hope in Bell and Harlan.26

    The outline of the tragic 1931?1932 strike in “Bloody Harlan” is well known, but the internal union conflict within the larger class struggle of the era is sometimes overlooked.27 Because of the NMU’s

    25 Encyclopedia of Appalachia, s.v. “Save the Union Movement” and “National Miners Union” (by Teresa Statler-Keener); Encyclopedia of the American Left, s.v. “Dual Unionism” (by James Barrett). James Barrett’s William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism (Urbana, Ill., 2001) documents the divisiveness brought by dual unionism in the American communist movement. Harlan Miners Speak documents some of the work of the NMU in Harlan and Bell counties in 1931–1932.

    1. 26  Hennen, Introduction to Harlan Miners Speak, 3–4.

    2. 27  The essential study is still John Hevener’s Which Side Are You On? The Harlan County

    Coal Miners, 1931–1939 (Urbana, Ill., 1978). See also David C. Duke, Writers and Miners: Activism and Imagery in America (Lexington, Ky., 2002), ch. 1; Paul Taylor, Bloody Harlan: The United Mine Workers of America in Harlan County, Kentucky, 1931–1941 (Lanham, Md., 1989); and Philip D. Supina, “Herndon J. Evans and the Harlan County Coal Strike,” Filson 56 (July 1982): 319–35.


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    presence, the political and media establishment in the destitute coalfields redoubled their vigilance. Holiness preacher Jim Grace, Baptist elder and working-class troubadour Jim Garland, and 1922 strike veteran Sam Reece formed the indigenous organizing core of the “Reds.” Sociologist Dwight Billings has addressed the apparent contradiction of Baptist and Holiness leadership of a strike directed by communists, but the NMU practice of organizing soup kitchens engendered considerable support from God-fearing mine families who had suffered from hunger and malnutrition for months. The Red Cross and county relief administrators were not able to provide much help, and coal associations pressured them not to assist families of strikers. For a while some strike families saw the work of Christian justice in the relief brought by the NMU; Jim Garland wrote that “one would have to have lived in the mountains to realize the importance of the churches’ support to the NMU’s initial success.” Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, reporting on the strike in 1932, claimed that the striking miners “are more religious than any similar body of proletar- ians. . . . The religious character of these proletarians would offer a splendid opportunity for a proletarian religion.”28

    Eventually, however, the radical union could not withstand the constellation of forces working against it, led by the Harlan County Coal Operators Association. A 1935 state investigation concluded that “coal mine operators in collusion with certain public officials” had imposed a “virtual reign of terror.”29 The NMU did not have the money to sustain either the relief program or the strike. Moreover, although the depth of misery of white and black mine families soft- ened racial prejudice between fellow workers—black miners were a significant cohort in the eastern Kentucky fields, part of the internal migration from the American South during the Great War—few socially conservative white Kentuckians were prepared to accept the

    28 Garland quoted by Dwight Billings, “Religion as Opposition: A Gramscian Analysis,” American Journal of Sociology 96 (July 1990): 18; Reinhold Niebuhr, “Religion and Class War in Kentucky,” Christian Century, May 1932, pp. 637–39, quoted in Alessandro Portelli, They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History (New York, 2011), 90.

    29 Harrison and Klotter, New History of Kentucky, 365, 366 (quotations).


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    NMU’s vision of full social equality between the races. Others recoiled at NMU support for the Soviet Union, and the NMU’s avowed athe- ism soon alienated its initial Christian allies, undermining Niebuhr’s dream of a mountain Christian proletariat. Following the assassination of NMU youth organizer Harry Simms by Bell County gunmen in February 1932, the strike ended. In 1935 the American Communist Party abandoned the dual union strategy and the NMU disbanded.30

    New Deal–Era Industrial Relations

    The tendency for American workers to see economic and politi- cal problems in collective rather than individualistic terms energized much of labor and the unemployed in the 1930s. The political chal- lenge for the architects of the New Deal was to harness that energy and influence it. The development of New Deal industrial relations began with the labor provisions of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933. The NIRA included Section 7(a), which ac- knowledged the right of workers to organize for purposes of bargain- ing collectively with their employers. Industrial workers throughout the country, encouraged by this apparent federal endorsement and protection of their rights to organize, unleashed a massive union cam- paign in major industries, including coal, rubber, steel, and textiles. John L. Lewis and the UMWA, claiming (disingenuously) that “the president wants you to join a union,” reversed the declining fortunes of the union with amazing speed on the basis of 7(a). Nonagenarian Sy Slavin of Louisville recalls that as the labor movement was on the verge of a massive uprising, working-class solidarity in his native Brooklyn was “in the air that you breathed.”31 The revolutionary potential of such solidarity reached into Kentucky, and nervous coal operators, fearing more radical alternatives if they did not deal with the UMWA, negotiated a sweeping series of Appalachian Agreements with Lewis

    1. 30  Hennen, Introduction to Harlan Miners Speak, 8–9.

    2. 31  Slavin, who taught social work at the University of Louisville for thirty years, founded

    the Kentucky Labor Institute (KLI) in 2010 at age eighty-nine. The KLI promotes research and public outreach campaigns among prolabor educators, community activists, and organized labor. Seymour (Sy) Slavin, interview with author, July 19, 2011.


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    before the end of 1933. Prompted by a threat from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to impose a federal wage and production model on the coal industry, a power he technically could enforce under the National Recovery Administration machinery of the NIRA, coal operators and Lewis signed union recognition and wage and grievance agreements covering miners throughout the coal regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.32

    For workers, the National Labor Board (NLB), established by the NIRA to enforce 7(a), proved to be a toothless agency with little enforcement power. It was routinely ignored, challenged, and defeated in court by employers who scorned unionization. In 1934, a series of militant strikes in trucking, shipping, and textiles compelled the Roosevelt administration, fearing mass rebellion, to more definitively endorse independent unionism. Aware that the Supreme Court would probably invalidate the NIRA, prolabor Democrats in Congress, led by New York senator Robert Wagner, drafted legislation to strengthen Section 7(a).33

    Consequently, when the NIRA was overturned in 1935, the National Labor Relations Act, commonly known as the Wagner Act, passed over bitter opposition from business leaders. A stronger ad- ministrative apparatus, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), was established to enforce systematic rules for union representation elections and to provide a forum for workers to air grievances through

    32 The development of the New Deal and “New Deal industrial relations” has been extensively studied. A few helpful works include George T. Blakey, Hard Times and New Deal in Kentucky, 1929–1939 (Lexington, Ky., 1986); Melvyn Dubofsky, Labor and the State in Modern America (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1994); Nelson Lichtenstein, Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit (Urbana, Ill., 1995); and William Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York, 1963). On the Appalachian Agreements, see Jerry Thomas, An Appalachian New Deal: West Virginia in the Great Depression (Lexington, Ky., 1998), 98.

    33 The 1934 actions are well covered. See, for example, Janet Irons, Testing the New Deal: The General Textile Strike of 1934 in the American South (Urbana, Ill., 2000); Bruce Nelson, Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Longshoremen, and Unionism in the 1930s (Urbana, Ill., 1988); David Wellman, The Union Makes Us Strong: Radical Unionism on the San Francisco Waterfront (New York, 1995); Mike Quin (Paul William Ryan), The Big Strike: The Story of the Great San Francisco General Strike of 1934 (New York, 1949); John Salmond, The General Textile Strike of 1934, from Maine to Alabama (Columbia, Mo., 2002). For a first-person account of the 1934 Minneapolis truckers’ strike, by the prominent Trotskyist and Socialist Workers Party leader Farrell Dobbs, see Teamster Rebellion (1972; repr., New York, 2004).


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    a network of NLRB regional districts. Encouraged by the new law, Lewis and several other union leaders from the AFL formed the Com- mittee for Industrial Organization to organize the millions of workers in basic industries who had been ignored by the craft-oriented AFL. The committee became the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) following its expulsion from the AFL in 1936, even as the AFL was forced to broaden its base and begin organizing unskilled workers into so-called federal unions. By World War II, millions of new members populated the two federations.34

    Even after Lewis negotiated the 1933 Appalachian Agreements, and after the U.S. Steel subsidiary mining operations in Lynch, in Harlan County, signed collective bargaining contracts with the UMWA in 1936, many Harlan County coal companies refused to recognize the unions. The International Harvester mining operation at Benham never did sign a UMWA agreement; Benham employees were instead represented by a UMWA competitor, the Progressive Miners of America, which functioned as a quasi-independent, quasi-company hybrid. After a bitter strike in 1938?1939, the Harlan County Coal Operators Association finally negotiated contracts with the UMWA, entering a forty-year period of strongly adversarial, but contractually regulated, coalfield industrial relations.35

    The CIO in Kentucky was organized as the Kentucky Industrial Union Council (KIUC) at a meeting in Lexington in 1938 and soon lured three-quarters of the Kentucky State Federation of Labor (KSFL) into KIUC affiliates.36 As the Roosevelt administration jockeyed to put the nation on a war footing in 1939?1940, both the KSFL and

    34 An engaging, ideological left account of the CIO is Art Preis, Labor’s Giant Step: The First Twenty Years of the CIO: 1936–55 (1964; repr., New York, 1992). A more recent, and essential, history of the CIO, which merged with the AFL in 1955, is Robert Zieger, The CIO, 1935–1955 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1995). For a collection of essays on the leftist opposition to the “bureaucratization” of the 1930s movement, see Staughton Lynd, ed., We Are All Leaders: The Alternative Unionism of the Early 1930s (Urbana, Ill., 1996).

    35 See Hevener, Which Side Are You On?, for the best account of the mid-to-late 1930s struggles.

    36 The Kentucky Encyclopedia, s.v. “Labor Organizations” (by Joseph Krislov); Zieger, CIO, 228.


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    the KIUC added new membership—over twenty-three thousand by 1941, more than half of that number in Louisville. By the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, the UMWA and the Kentucky federations were making their marks in Kentucky politics, working as a dominant force within the Democratic Party. Following a pattern established in other states, especially outside the Deep South, labor’s new political influence in Kentucky secured passage of a state-level “Little Wag- ner Act” to facilitate mediation of disputes without resorting to the national framework. When John L. Lewis bolted the CIO in 1941, taking the UMWA with him, the KSFL again became the dominant Kentucky labor federation.37

    The national mobilization for war production established an unprecedented structure for the integration of industry, government, and labor. Although the unions of the AFL and the CIO generally adhered to a “no-strike” agreement (the UMWA was an exception), conflicts over job control and pace of production persisted. The Roo- sevelt administration’s National War Labor Board pressured union leadership to forego contractual-wage-rate and work-rule precedents and adopt a system of “premium pay,” or “incentive pay plans.” When the United Auto Workers (UAW) leadership promoted such incentive plans for maximum production, their rank-and-file, including the UAW local at the new Ford plant in Louisville, protested, claiming that such arrangements were “merely schemes to speed up work and fragment the workforce.” The UAW leadership withdrew its endorse- ment of the plan. Over time, more and more workers came to see the National War Labor Board’s wage and anti-inflation policies as unfairly restrictive on their right to just compensation for critical wartime production. Although CIO affiliates—less so, the AFL unions—were generally “willing to sacrifice in the name of the war’s larger purposes,” an undercurrent of dissatisfaction troubled wartime industrial relations. The astounding conversion of American industry to wartime production could not have occurred without patriotic

    37 Department of Education, Labor History, section four, 38–39; Kentucky Encyclopedia, s.v. “Labor Organizations” (by Joseph Krislov).


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    cooperation, but labor’s determination to emerge from the war in a strong bargaining position, combined with industry’s determination to control and roll back the new power of organized labor, foretold contentious times in the postwar period.38

    The Postwar Years

    A wave of strike activity followed World War II, as labor sought to protect its hard-fought status facilitated by the New Deal industrial relations and the wartime expansion. Management was equally deter- mined to hold the line on structural gains by labor, usually willing to negotiate over wages and benefits but not over the organization and management of production. Soon after the war, business and its politi- cal allies lobbied to add amendments to the National Labor Relations Act that would check the further growth of the labor movement. A coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats joined forces in this campaign. Southern Democrats, who had supported New Deal legislation, such as the Social Security and Fair Labor Standards acts, in exchange for sweeping exemptions for agricultural and domestic (read cheap African American) labor, now feared that CIO plans to thoroughly organize the South would undermine the economic and political health of white supremacy. From their standpoint, labor had already gotten too big in the coal, steel, and textile industries in the South and had to be reined in. Southern leaders also anticipated that a difficult environment for organizing would attract new wartime growth industries (oil, electronics, aircraft) “without having to worry about union demands.”39

    1. 38  Zieger, CIO, 167–77 (first quotation is from 167; second quotation is from 173).

    2. 39  Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (New York, 2013),

    389–98 (quotation is from 396). The CIO’s southern campaign was designated “Operation Dixie.” The major work on Operation Dixie is Barbara S. Griffith, The Crisis of American Labor: Operation Dixie and the Defeat of the CIO (Philadelphia, 1988). See also Elizabeth Fones-Wolf and Ken Fones-Wolf, Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South: White Evangelical Protestants and Operation Dixie (Urbana, Ill., 2015). Although Operation Dixie embraced a philosophy of racial inclusion, chief organizer Van Bittner, a veteran UMWA operative, resisted forming alliances with civic integrationist activists and groups and infused Operation Dixie with a rigid antiradicalism that discouraged coalition building. On Bittner, see The West Virginia Encyclopedia, s.v. “Van Bittner” (by John Hennen).


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    Consequently, when the postwar conservative political reaction sent to Congress a band of aggressively antilabor Republicans, the “Class of ‘47,” southern Democrats were prepared to deal with the new Republicans in Washington and put labor in its place by passing sweeping amendments to the National Labor Relations Act. Officially known as the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, these amend- ments are better known as the Taft-Hartley Act. The legislation was written largely by lobbyists and attorneys from the National Associa- tion of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Passed over the veto of President Harry Truman, Taft-Hartley represented a radical redirection of labor law, which “dramatically shifted power in favor of owners and managers” and “transformed the prospects for U.S. unions—across the country and especially in the South.” Taft-Hartley and its later amendments expanded the power of em- ployers to delay and obstruct union representation elections, permit- ted so-called captive meetings in which management could lobby against unionization, imposed loyalty affidavits on union officials (anti-communist oaths, designed to stifle the social and political radicalism of the 1930s and expel leftist influence from unions), and outlawed secondary boycotts (refusal by union members to handle products manufactured by “scabs,” or replacement workers). The most damaging provision, from the standpoint of labor, permitted states to pass antilabor legislation that outlawed the closed shop (a require- ment that only union members be hired) and imposed restrictions on contractual union security. Union financial solvency was ensured by the contract’s provision of the “check off,” which automatically deducted union dues from the regular pay of employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Taft-Hartley allowed states to abol- ish the check off. Taft-Hartley also permitted so-called maintenance of membership, or “free rider,” clauses, which permit a worker in a bargaining unit to withhold dues payment while still legally requiring the union to represent that worker. These provisions are incorporated into a general framework known as “right-to-work” laws, which make the winning and maintenance of collective bargaining agreements


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    exceedingly difficult. Seven members of the Kentucky congressional delegation, including Senator John Sherman Cooper and Representa- tive Thruston Morton, both Republicans, voted for Taft-Hartley.40

    Conservative historian Gregory Schneider describes Taft-Hartley as “one of the 80th Congress’s most effective pieces of legislation,” calling it “spectacularly successful at minimizing the power of orga- nized labor, whose tentacles had reached so deep into the industrial economy. Big labor was never again so powerful as in the twenty years or so after World War II, its influence on the wane due to Taft-Hartley, as well as the declining industrial economy.”41 Since Taft-Hartley, twenty-six states have adopted right-to-work laws, most recently in historically solidly union Michigan and Indiana. Kentucky, where organized labor can still mobilize some prolabor voices in the state assembly, does not have a right-to-work law, although such legislation is regularly introduced in legislative committee, and Kentucky senator Rand Paul has introduced national right-to-work legislation.42 Or- ganized labor strongholds in vital manufacturing and transportation sectors in Louisville, and at the Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Paducah, an important element in the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, have historically contributed to neutralizing right-to-work campaigns in Kentucky. Lobbying, worker education and media campaigns, and direct action emanating from private service-sector unions in Kentucky, especially in the health-care industry, have also been an important factor.43 Public-sector unions, such as the Kentucky Educa-

    40 Murray, Lexicon of Labor, 162–63, 172–73; Philip Dray, There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America (New York, 2010), 496–97; Katznelson, Fear Itself, 389–98 (quotations are from 393); 80 Cong. Rec. H7489 (June 20, 1947); 80 Cong. Rec. S7538 (June 23, 1947).

    41 Gregory L. Schneider, The Conservative Century: From Reaction to Revolution (New York, 2009), 69–70.

    42 Sean Higgins, “Sen. Rand Paul Introduces National Right-to-Work Bill,” Washington Examiner, February 1, 2013.

    43 Dray, There is Power in a Union, 496–97; Murray, Lexicon of Labor, 130, 180. In 1999, workers and/or their survivors who were exposed to deadly doses of plutonium radiation poisoning at the Paducah plant between 1952 and 1975, after decades of struggle, finally won some compensation from the U.S. government. Paducah is known as the Atomic City due to the centrality of the atomic industry to its political economy. Workers at the plant


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    tion Association, the Amalgamated Transit Workers (Louisville Local 1447), and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), although not covered by the NLRA, are cur- rently opposed to a right-to-work law in Kentucky.

    Coal, a Sick Industry

    While the labor movement absorbed the implications of Taft- Hartley, intensive mechanization in the coal industry pressured John L. Lewis to accept a 1950 national contract with coal operators who later formed the Bituminous Coal Operators of America. Lewis agreed to the shutdown of so-called inefficient mines in order to preserve UMWA protection at more productive mines. Lewis tied increases in UMWA health and retirement benefits to increased production, thereby “incentivizing” mechanization of larger mines and eroding the demand for miners. Although the specter of layoffs and mine shutdowns briefly contributed, says historian Ron Eller, to “labor quiescence” in the Appalachian coalfields, by the late 1960s Lewis’s successors could not contain rank-and-file resistance to the UMWA leadership’s culture of corruption. Indifference by the UMWA bu- reaucracy to mine safety and to the epidemic of the miners’ occupa- tional disease, black lung, sparked a dissident rank-and-file rebellion comprised of disabled miners and widows from eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and southern West Virginia. The Association of Disabled Miners and Widows, and an allied dissident group, the Black Lung Association, mobilized a mass movement, which resulted in black lung legislation and the creation of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration by 1969?1970.

    have been represented by the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union, which merged with the United Paperworkers International Union in the mid-1990s to form the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union, which itself later merged with the United Steelworkers of America in 2005. See Martin McLaughlin, “Workers Poisoned for Decades at Kentucky Nuclear Weapons Plant,” September 21, 1999, (accessed June 18, 2014). Kentucky labor’s lobbying campaigns, including right-to-work strategy, can be followed at the website of the Kentucky AFL-CIO,


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    Union insurgents also kicked out the UMWA hierarchy and im- plemented democratic reforms through the agency of the Miners for Democracy. In eastern Kentucky, the UMWA engaged in a bitter and sometimes violent 1973?1974 contract renewal strike with Eastover Mining Company. This bitter and tragic episode was marked by the remarkable mobilization of the wives of striking miners, a movement well documented by Sally Maggard, Lynda Ann Ewen, Shaunna Scott, Alessandro Portelli, and documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple.44 Eastover, a subsidiary of Duke Power, finally signed a new contract. The union’s victory was short lived, however, and the company was able to leverage drastic cutbacks on medical and retirement benefits by the time of the renewal of the contract in 1978, reflecting significant changes in the coal industry.45

    By the end of the 1970s, the insurgent spirit within the UMWA had waned. At the Brookside mine in Harlan County, dissatisfaction with the weak 1978 contract eroded support for the UMWA. This, coupled with residual bitterness from the 1973?1974 strike, left an opening for a company-dominated organization, the Southern Labor Union, to defeat the UMWA in a new certification election. Divisive internal politics and structural and technological changes in the industry, which dramatically reduced the demand for miners, left the UMWA poorly equipped to sustain its Cold War?era author- ity. Over the next few decades, the power of the UMWA inevitably declined as Appalachian coal operations were incorporated into massive international energy conglomerates. These companies were

    44 Ronald D Eller, Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945 (Lexington, Ky., 2008), 18–19, 160–61 (quotation is from 19); Sally Maggard, “Women’s Participation in the Brookside Coal Strike,” 16–21; Lynda Ann Ewen, Which Side Are You On? The Brookside Mine Strike in Harlan County, 1973–1974 (Chicago, 1979); Barbara Kopple, Harlan County, U.S.A. (Cabin Creek Films, documentary, 1976); Shaunna Scott, Two Sides to Everything: The Cultural Construction of Class Consciousness in Harlan County, Kentucky (Albany, N.Y., 1995); Portelli, They Say in Harlan County. For an insightful overview of the miners’ “rebellion,” see Paul Nyden, “Rank- and-File Movements in the United Mine Workers of America, Early 1960s–Early 1980s,” in Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from Below During the Long 1970s, ed. Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Cal Winslow (London, 2010), 173–97.

    45 Hennen, Introduction to Harlan Miners Speak, 16, 21; Hevener, Which Side Are You On?, 184; Scott, Two Sides to Everything, 61, 64–65.


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    able to squeeze concessions from the UMWA and, eventually, prac- tically destroy unionized labor in central Appalachia. Union mines were routinely driven into bankruptcy by their corporate overseers (even profitable mines were sometimes shut down) and reorganized under new charters on a non-union basis. The ability of the UMWA to exercise countervailing power to eastern Kentucky coal operators has disappeared, and UMWA membership elsewhere in the state has dwindled.46 The erosion of employment in the industry virtually eliminated the presence of female coal miners, who had made sig- nificant gains in the occupation during the 1970s and early 1980s.47

    The Red Scare

    During the late 1940s and early 1950s, as the re-engineering of the coal industry loomed, Kentucky workers were also on the defensive against a growing business and congressional assault on organized labor. Labor’s enemies were skilled at conflating investigative findings about corruption in some unions with the labor movement as a whole. They were equally adept at exploiting the nation’s fears of communist subversion with allusions to anti-Americanism (that is, anticapitalism) in the labor movement. Red Scare zealots pointed to the influence of communist shop stewards and radical rank-and-file activists in left-leaning unions such as the Farm Equipment and Metal Workers (FE); the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE); the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers

    46 Eller, Uneven Ground, 18–19, 160–61. At this writing, the UMWA and the Patriot Coal Company, a subsidiary of Peabody Coal, are fighting in the courts over Patriot’s planned reduction in retiree benefits for UMWA members. The union claims that Peabody purchased Patriot in order to spin off failing coal operations into the company, then filed chapter eleven bankruptcy so as to renege on a Patriot-UMWA collective bargaining agreement. See Tyler Kuykendall, “Peabody: UMWA’s Troubles ‘between the union and Patriot Coal,’” State Journal (Charleston, W.Va.), January 29, 2013 (updated February 28, 2013), http://www.statejournal. com/story/20790941/peabody-umwas-troubles-between-the-union-and-patriot-coal (accessed January 12, 2015).

    47 Sociologist Suzanne Tallichet has written the definitive account of women in the mines. See Suzanne Tallichet, Daughters of the Mountains: Women Coal Miners in Central Appalachia (University Park, Pa., 2006).


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    of America (UCAPAWA); and the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers (FTA). The Taft-Hartley requirement that union of- ficers swear anticommunist affidavits was only one tool used against radical, militant, and social-democratic unionists in the red-baiting environment. Although communists and other radicals had played “an indispensable role” in building the new unions of the 1930s and 1940s, they now seemed “un-American” in the context of the Cold War. The pervasive Red Scare atmosphere contributed to internal conflicts within the two great labor federations, the AFL and the CIO. Louisville in the late 1940s and early 1950s offers an instructive case study of the impact of the Red Scare on labor militancy.48

    At the center of industrial union, civil rights, and social jus- tice campaigns in postwar Louisville were four progressive unions known collectively as the Seventh Street Unions, which “shared a militant perspective, a weekly newspaper, and a bustling union hall on Seventh Street.” Not only were the Seventh Street Unions—the Transport Workers Union of America (TWUA, city bus drivers), the United Public Workers (UPW, garbage collectors), a local of the United Furniture Workers, and Farm Equipment Workers (FE) Local 236—dedicated to vigilant enforcement of their collective-bargaining contracts, but they were also at the vanguard of civic coalitions fight- ing for a broader vision of industrial democracy, racial equality, and social justice.49 They once convened a caucus within the city CIO assembly called the “Temporary Committee of Free CIO Unions to Bring Dignity and Decency to the Louisville CIO Council.” Many Seventh Street members were active in the Progressive Party challenge to President Truman by presidential candidate Henry Wallace and his running mate, Senator Glen Taylor, in 1948. This dissident movement of leftist Democrats, communists, socialists, and independents op-

    48 For an overview of the purge of communist unions from the CIO, see Zieger, CIO, 277–93; Roy Rosenzweig et al., Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s History (Boston, 2008), 2:565–66 (quotations).

    49 Catherine Fosl, Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South (Lexington, Ky., 2006), 92.


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    posed the belligerence of the mainstream Cold War Democrats—and the conservative establishment and rank-and-filers of the mainstream unions, who coveted the economic benefits, for workers, of Cold War militarization. Local 236’s support for the Wallace movement, writes FE historian Toni Gilpin, forced “an open break between the forces of the labor left in Louisville and the CIO establishment.” These insur- gents decried the rightward tilt of American politics and the threats to democratic principles represented by the excesses of the Red Scare. In addition, they warned that the Democratic Party was distancing itself from the cooperative vision of the New Deal social contract.50

    The FE was one of several radical industrial unions, with leader- ship from the U.S. Communist Party (CPUSA), which had formed within the various CIO organizing committees during the mass mobilizations of the late 1930s. The FE competed with its much larger CIO rival, the United Auto Workers, for the loyalties of farm equipment workers and enjoyed its “major power base” at Interna- tional Harvester plants.

    Although the CIO played a leading role in the struggle to break the barriers of racial segregation, and was a militant advocate for fair contracts and a material standard of living unimaginable for prewar industrial workers, its tolerance for leftist politics—especially com- munists—had withered away by 1949, catalyzed by the break over the 1948 election. As the Cold War heated up, ideological conflicts plagued unions in both the major federations, with the dominant political formulation being one of militant anticommunism and sup- port for the militarization of the American economy. These ideological battles,alongwithpoliticalpressurefromtheTrumanadministration, the Congress, and antiradical media outlets, impelled the CIO to expel nine leftist unions from the federation in 1949?1950, including the FE. Immediately upon the expulsion of the FE from the CIO,

    50 Toni Gilpin, “Left by Themselves: A History of the United Farm Equipment and Metal Workers Union, 1938–1955(PhD dissertation, Yale University, 1992), 515, 536. The dissertation includes an extensive case study of Local 236 in chapter 5, “Louisville Local 236: The ‘Most Perfect Union’”; Dray, There is Power, 505, 563–98.


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    UAW organizers and nearby union presidents of Louisville embarked on a “raid” of the Harvester plant, challenging Local 236 to a new election. The NLRB scheduled such an election, and Walter Reuther, the UAW’s social democratic president and a fervent anticommunist, spoke to Harvester workers just before the vote. Reuther’s union was bitterly divided along ideological lines, and Reuther himself was de- termined to suppress any lingering communist leanings in the labor movement.51 Solidarity within the FE membership, a function of the union’s tradition of “shop-floor militancy” and “careful attention to the grievances of African-American workers” had frustrated the UAW raids in the Midwest and followed Reuther to Louisville. Reuther and the UAW were not well received by the 3,700 Harvester workers in the NLRB-defined bargaining unit who stuck by Local 236, regardless of its exile from the CIO, by a vote of 1,908?1,049.52

    Local 236 was not embraced, however, by the 1,500 workers at International Harvester’s new foundry at the Louisville works, which opened in 1949. The UAW, emphasizing the FE’s commu- nist history and its class-based adversarial stance toward Harvester management, overwhelmed Local 236 and the competing molder’s union to win the foundry’s representation election. Local 236 was later weakened by an ineffective 1952 contract strike and massive layoffs at Harvester, diminishing Local 236’s membership, during the recession of 1953?1954. When the national leadership of the FE decided to merge with the UAW in 1955—the same year as the AFL-CIO merger—Local 236/Louisville was absorbed into the more conservative auto workers’ union.53

    The absorption of Local 236 into the UAW marked a water- shed in Kentucky industrial relations, reflecting trends in the labor movement nationally. Aided by the expulsion of leftist radicals from industrial unions, whether communist or simply tarred with that

    1. 51  Lichtenstein, Walter Reuther, 308–10.

    2. 52  Ibid., 50 (first quotation), 309, 310 (second quotation); Gilpin, “Left By Themselves,”


    53 Gilpin, “Left By Themselves,” 517, 536–40, 551–56.


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    brush, bureaucratic or professionalized business unionism, advocating servicing contracts and withdrawing from the struggle for far-reaching structural economic reform, matured after World War II. The merger of local 236 and the UAW, writes Toni Gilpin, was a triumph for the “labor statesmanship” that “became predominant within the CIO after World War II.” Reuther’s UAW embraced “concepts [such] as the productivity and cost-of-living pay increases,” as well as a trend toward labor-management collaboration. The FE, conversely, resisted time-and-motion regimens, emphasized the adamant protection of job control by the workers, and advocated for the right to strike between contracts if the membership deemed it necessary. The prag- matic Reuther model won out; “the conflict between the FE and the UAW, then, in fact represented a struggle over the proper ideological framework for the labor movement.”54

    The Post-1960s Era

    The decline of union density reflects a convergence of factors, some global, some political, and some ideological. The literature documenting these factors, from across the political and ideological spectrum, is vast. Causes for the decline include the migration of American industries from heavily unionized states to right-to-work states and to foreign soil (since 1990 Kentucky has lost forty-three thousand factory jobs, representing 16 percent of its total); loss of American markets to international competition; the proliferation of corporate mergers; the complexity of the National Labor Relations Board framework and the length of the NLRB election and arbitra- tion processes; workers’ philosophical or ideological opposition to unionization; and the willingness of employers to ignore NLRB

    54 Ibid., 536–68 (quotation is from dissertation abstract). Some labor historians, with justification, disparage the glacial bureaucracy and remoteness from the rank-and-file fostered by the institutionalization of legalistic collective bargaining during the era. Others, such as Jack Metzgar in his memoir of the 1959 steel strike, point out that “bread and butter unionism,” while lacking the radical social vision of the early 1930s, secured significant quality-of-life improvements for union workers and their communities. Jack Metzgar, Striking Steel: Solidarity Remembered (Philadelphia, 2000).


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    Accompanying the decline of private-sector unionism since the

    early 1970s has been a marked shift in the language of labor relations, related to the early labor-management collaboration pioneered by Reuther (although to be accurate, the outcome bears no resemblance to Reuther’s vision). Within the established unions, while contract disputes with management were still common through the 1950s and 1960s, the ideological consensus linking Cold War Americanism to economic growth marginalized the social radicalism and class identity of the early CIO years. By the 1980s, writes labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, even the rhetoric of confrontation was abandoned by management in favor of terms such as “employee involvement,” “teamwork,” and “a non-adversarial relationship.” Workers and bosses became “associates” and “advisers.” Labor-management collaboration decried conflict and class identity in favor of “cooperative problem- solving” by “team leaders.” Lichtenstein describes the new language of industrial relations as “Panglossian” and cites critics within labor who claimed that “team production” was indistinguishable from the pre- union era when bosses “drove” workers to maximum productivity.56

    Such critics have serious arguments, but there is no doubt that the rhetoric of teamwork and cooperation have captured the field in industrial relations and that successful practitioners of the concepts embedded in this language dominate important employment sectors in the United States, including those previously heavily unionized.

    55 For the Kentucky statistic see John Cheves and Bill Estep, “A crafts-and-cafés future falls short,” Lexington Herald-Leader, July 14, 2013. Many labor studies and policy publications include comprehensive documentation of the decline of union density. A convenient and clearly written summary analysis is in Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice (New York, 2012), chapters 1–3. Also see Bennett Harrison and Barry Bluestone, The Great U-Turn: Corporate Restructuring and the Polarizing of America (Devon, U.K., 1988); Geoghegan, Which Side Are You On?; Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (New York, 2008).

    56 Lichtenstein, Walter Reuther, 144, 443–44 (quotations). Lichtenstein quotes correspondence from Walter Reuther’s brother Victor, and, for example, union activist and labor educator Mike Parker, in “Industrial Relations Myth and Shop Floor Reality,” in Industrial Democracy in America: The Ambiguous Promise, ed. by Nelson Lichtenstein and Howell J. Harris (New York, 1993), 249–74.


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    There is no better example of post-1960s models of organization, production, and employee relations than Toyota Motor Manufactur- ingofKentucky(TMMK).TheToyotaplantatGeorgetownemploys some 6,500 non-union workers. Production began in 1986, assisted by state and local tax subsidies, which have totaled over $371 mil- lion.57 The Toyota Production System (TPS) was “the original model for lean [production] and the concept of ‘just in time’” production. At the center of “just in time,” or efficient production geared to im- mediate market demands, which theoretically avoids potentially costly stockpiles of goods, is the Japanese principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement. “Foremen” or “supervisors” are out; instead Toyota functions through the work of “team leaders” who “are teachers to develop team members.” Team members are trained to identify “targets for improvement [which] can include reducing labor costs, inventory, or quality problems.”58

    Toyota has re-engineered the automobile industry over the past thirty years, so successfully that other automakers have been pressured to appropriate many of Toyota’s standards. Among those standards, however, are some that have engendered dissatisfaction among some of the workforce. Toyota’s wage and benefits packages are slightly below that of the UAW Ford plant in Louisville, for example, but wage levels have not historically been a critical point of contention for Toyota employees. Periodic swells of unrest at TMMK—the most serious being an unsuccessful UAW campaign to organize the plant in 2007—focus more on complaints that in the pursuit of lean produc- tion, quality control, and continuous improvement, health and safety standards are ignored. Dissident Toyota workers have also emphasized the company’s pattern of expanding the use of temporary workers

    57 Jason Lancaster, “UAW Recruits Toyota’s Georgetown Workers in Odd Ways,” September 10, 2010, (accessed July 1, 2014); Vince Piscopo, “Success doesn’t always trickle down to Toyota workers,” Solidarity (UAW online journal), May/June 2007, always-trickle-down-toyota-workers (accessed July 1, 2014).

    58 Jeffrey K. Liker and Michael Hoseus, “Human Resource Development in Toyota Culture,” November 1, 2008, (accessed July 1, 2014).


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    and periodic threats of wage and benefits reduction.59
    TMMK also established an industry standard—one particularly threatening to young workers—usually called the two-tier wage system. Briefly stated, a two-tier system permits companies to hire new workers at permanently lower wage and benefit levels than more established workers. Rather than anticipating eventual compensation on par with current older workers as they (the new hires) advance in seniority and job performance, the lower-tier workers, sometimes classified as “non-core” employees, are forever locked into a subordi- nate wage and benefit track. By the time TMMK opened in 1986, two-tier was being adopted by the newly built automotive plants in the South and Midwest, “where the proliferation of Toyota, Honda, and other foreign-owned plants has accounted for virtually all recent growth in domestic auto manufacturing. . . . The UAW has never been able to establish a foothold in these foreign-owned factories, strategically located in rural areas with a negligible union presence,

    antilabor state legislation and depressed local conditions.”60
    Facing employer pressure to continuously reduce labor costs, the UAW has acquiesced in the institution of two-tier systems in their contracts with General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford (in Louisville and nationwide), “instead of protesting and striking.”61 Dissatisfaction with the two-tier system among the UAW rank-and-file has grown since the 2007 agreements. UAW members proclaim that “eliminating the two-tier should be a high priority throughout the UAW,” citing statistics that all three unionized automakers would still turn hand- some profits if the two-tier system were eliminated. Responding to these concerns, UAW leaders have gone on record as planning to resist the renewal of the two-tier system during the 2015 contract talks.

    59 Lancaster, “UAW Recruits Toyota’s Georgetown Workers in Odd Ways”; and Piscopo, “Success.”

    60 Max Fraser, “UAW R.I.P.?: to save the domestic auto industry, the UAW may end up killing itself,” Nation, November 5, 2007, (accessed June 28, 2014).

    61 Louis Uchitelle, “How Two-Tier Contracts Became Labor’s Undoing,” Nation, February 5, 2013, (accessed January 12, 2015).


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    Picking up the cudgel, Ford’s regional president, Joe Hinrichs, told a Louisville television station that Ford would fight to keep the two-tier system, calling its elimination a disruption to a successful system.62

    Public sector (government) unionism, which is regulated by a network of federal, state, and local statutes, has fared much better since the 1960s than has unionism among private-sector workers.63 Widespread “union avoidance” strategies—sometimes conducted in-house by antilabor lawyers, but more often, depending on the size of the employer, by professional “consultants” specializing in the union-avoidance profession—for the last four decades were primarily leveraged against private-sector workers.64

    Sally Maggard has brilliantly analyzed the sophistication of private-sector union-avoidance tactics in her study of a monumental organizing strike by female hospital workers at Pikeville Methodist Hospital in the early 1970s. Her article unearths the complex layering of racial, cultural, gender, and bureaucratic impediments in Pikeville that were carefully exploited by management, as well as threads of misunderstanding between the striking women and their union, the Communications Workers of America (CWA). After more than two years, the strike failed and many strikers were fired. By 1983, however, after the National Labor Relations Board had deferred the strikers’ unfair labor practice charges against the hospital to the courts, strikers were awarded back pay.65

    Usually not beset by the type of organized opposition faced by the Pikeville Methodist workers and the CWA, public-sector unions flourished as government at all levels expanded, a process that had

    62 Nick Bunkley, “Fat profits put 2-tier pay on UAW agenda,” Automotive News, February 17, 2014, 2-tier-pay-on-uaw-agenda (accessed June 30, 2014).

    63 Kahlenberg and Marvit, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, 8, 36–37.

    64 For an entertaining and eye-opening memoir by a “union avoidance” consultant, see Martin Jay Leavitt, Confessions of a Union Buster (New York, 1993). See also Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945–60 (Urbana, Ill., 1994).

    65 Sally Ward Maggard, “Gender, Race, and Place: Confounding Labor Activism in Central Appalachia,” in Neither Separate Nor Equal: Women, Race, and Class in the South, ed. Barbara Ellen Smith (Philadelphia, 1999), 185–203.


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    begun with the New Deal. Mobilized in large part by female and minority workers, whose public employment opportunities were ex- panded by the antidiscrimination legislation of the 1960s and 1970s, public-sector union density rose to 36 percent by 2010. Kentucky has a vital public-employee sector, including teachers, transportation workers, and other municipal employees, but is one of a handful of states—almost exclusively in the old Jim Crow South—that denies the right of collective bargaining for state employees.66

    Organized labor historically has promoted and defended the “social contract” values of the Democratic Party, dating from labor’s support for New Deal programs. Powerbrokers in the AFL and CIO (AFL-CIO after the 1955 merger) and local central labor councils— for better and worse—helped insulate Democratic legislators from Republican red-baiting by embracing Cold War policies. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs provided employment and a ladder to the middle class for many previously marginalized minorities. These groups helped vitalize public-sector unions and, with their private- sector union allies, provided the political shock troops that worked for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, the Office of Equal Opportunity programs, and all of the social welfare agenda of the Kennedy and Johnson years.

    Kentucky labor worked with state and local branches of the NAACP and with the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), a civil rights organization directed by Anne and Carl Braden, to pressure Kentucky legislators and a sympathetic Governor Edward Breathitt to embrace progressive antidiscrimination law in the Ken- tucky Civil Rights Act of 1966. In 1968, Kentucky became the first state in the South to pass a Fair Housing Act. Labor, like the rest of the country, was deeply divided over the Vietnam War, particularly as the Johnson administration redirected resources from the build- ing of the Great Society to the destruction of Southeast Asia. As an indicator of the fracturing of American society, in December 1969 over three hundred black workers at Louisville’s Harvester foundry

    66 Kahlenberg and Marvit, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, 36–37, 97. 264

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    waged a “black Friday” strike against discrimination at the plant. An organization called the Black Workers Coalition, associated with a national League of Revolutionary Black Workers, formed in Louis- ville, mainly at the UAW locals.67

    Although organized labor has struggled in Kentucky, there have been some successes over the past few decades. Local 1199, the Na- tional Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, began orga- nizing hospital and nursing-home workers in the American South in 1969. Founded in New York as a pharmacist and drugstore workers’ union in the early 1930s, 1199 has a legacy of commitment to civil rights, social justice, and the dignity of work. Described by Martin Luther King Jr. as his favorite union, Local 1199 was the earliest labor union to declare its opposition to the war in Vietnam. It car- ried on in some ways the militant, equalitarian traditions of the old CPUSA-influenced radical unions that had been expelled from the CIO. Workers at Highlands Regional Hospital in Prestonsburg and King’s Daughters Hospital in Ashland embraced Local 1199 in hard- fought organizing struggles in the mid-1970s and have survived bitter strikes and many attempts by management to decertify the union. In 1989, Local 1199 merged with the Service Employees International Union, and Local 1199/SEIU West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio now has over thirty thousand members.68

    Another highlight in an otherwise discouraging era for labor was the dramatic victory by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

    67 Geoghegan, Which Side Are You On?, 50–51; Kahlenberg and Marvit, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, 20–21; Dray, Power, 551–52; Harrison and Klotter, New History of Kentucky, 390–91; “Speech on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers,” Workers’ Advocate Supplement, January 15, 1985, (accessed July 3, 2014). The essential work on the social welfare constructs of the Kennedy- Johnson years is Thomas Kiffmeyer, Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty (Lexington, Ky., 2008). For a synopsis of the Bradens’ work with SCEF, see the epilogue to the 1999 edition of Anne Braden’s memoir, The Wall Between (Knoxville, Tenn., 1999). The Bradens’ SCEF years are well covered in Fosl’s Subversive Southerner.

    68 John Hennen, “Local 1199 Comes to Appalachia: Beginnings, 1970–1976,” in Culture, Class, and Politics in Modern Appalachia: Essays in Honor of Ronald L. Lewis, ed. Jennifer Egolf, Ken Fones-Wolf, and Louis C. Martin (Morgantown, W.Va., 2009), 224–50; and John Hennen, “Local 1199 at Highlands Regional,” North of Center (Lexington, Ky.,), March 7, 2012, (accessed July 7, 2014).


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    (IBT) over the United Parcel Service (UPS) in 1997. The IBT em- ployed innovative community-outreach tactics and a sophisticated union media strategy. Local 89 of the IBT, which represents workers at the UPS distribution center in Louisville, helped resist the company’s campaign to slash labor costs with contingent employment and a two-tier wage structure, and to impose unilateral managerial changes to the pension plan. The UPS strike energized union members and supporters nationally, and galvanized public consciousness about the corporate assaults on unions and the middle class. The public sup- ported the UPS strikers by 55 percent to 27 percent, a drastic reversal from public reaction to the 1981 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike, the 1982 professional football players strike, and the 1994 strike by Major League Baseball players. UPS workers, writes Robert Dray, “were by far more familiar figures to most Americans than air traffic controllers or professional athletes, and there was a common perception that the men and women in brown uniforms . . . worked hard to earn their pay.” There was a general sentiment in the land, wrote one pollster, “that management is less fair and less loyal to workers than it used to be.” Americans believed if a highly efficient and profitable company of the “new economy,” one “based on information, organization, and smarts . . . cannot offer workers middle-class wages; if it pays $8.50 an hour instead of $20, that’s a bad omen for the future.”69

    The UPS strike was a formative episode in the experience of many young Local 89 members and other unionists. At times in the recent past it seems as if the lessons that strike provided about work- ing with the public, coalition building with local unions and civic groups, shaping discourse, and emphasizing elemental issues such as fairness, justice, and equal opportunity were set aside. But maybe

    69 Dray, Power, 655 (first and second quotations), 656; Steven Greenhouse, “High Stakes for 2 Titans,” New York Times, August 5, 1997, A14 (third and fourth quotations). Ronald Reagan’s firing of the PATCO workers is usually identified as the politically sanctioned “revolutionary spark” that legitimized a corporate “war” on labor. The definitive work on the strike, and on labor relations in the airline industry after World War II, is Joseph A. McMartin, Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America (New York, 2011).


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    not. The 2007 organizing campaign at Toyota, although unsuccessful, was carried out by the UAW in a coalition with Jobs for Justice. In 2011, members of IBT Local 89, IBT Local 783, and other unions were visible allies with the Occupy Louisville movement, recognizing common interests rather than emphasizing differences, which had hindered coalition work during the Vietnam era.

    What cannot be denied is that with the collapse of the collective bargaining power of American unions since the 1970s, the productiv- ity of American workers has increased while wages have not. Studies by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, to name only two of many, have demonstrated that the growth in income inequality and declining wages even in times of expanding productivity are linked to declines in union membership. The concentration of income and wealth in fewer and fewer hands has escalated dramatically; the per- centage of corporate taxes as a share of national revenue has declined precipitously; job security and defined benefits for practically all work- ers have melted away; and the moral imperative of government at all levels to serve the public rather than narrow private interests has been overwhelmed.70 “Union density”—the term labor economists use to describe the percentage of unionized American workers—peaked in the United States at about 33 percent (of private-sector workers) in 1955. In 2013, private-sector union membership was 6.6 percent. In Kentucky in 2013, union membership for all workers, private and public, was 11.2 percent, down from 14.8 percent in 1989.71

    Having been highly successful in crippling private-sector labor since the 1980s, right-wing Republicans in power have clearly laid out a plan to destroy public-sector unions as well. According to writer John Judis, they “seem to believe that, if they can further defang the

    70 See, for example, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913–1998,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 118 (2003):1–39. See also Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Stefanie Stantcheva, “Taxing the 1%: Why the Top Tax Rate Could Be Over 80%,” Vox: CEPR’s Policy Portal website, 1-why-top-tax-rate-could-be-over-80 (accessed January 12, 2015).

    71 Kahlenberg and Marvit, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, 8; See “Union Membership in Kentucky—2013,” Bureau of Labor Statistics website, regions/southeast/news-release/UnionMembership_Kentucky.htm (accessed January 22, 2015).


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    unions, they can permanently alter the country’s political landscape.” It should be noted that some forty Kentucky legislators, a large major- ity of them Republicans, are affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This is an organization dedicated to weakening and eliminating public-sector unionism and has drafted templates for much of the recent wave of legislation designed to do just that. ALEC has also drafted model legislation for the campaigns to privatize public education and restrict voting rights.72

    Scholars have implemented innovative research designs, often us- ing non-traditional sources, when doing labor studies. Yet, with the exception of collective bargaining relations in the coal industry, little sustained research has been undertaken on many of the Kentucky stories in this essay. Work needs to be done, for example, on the Sev- enth Street Unions in Louisville. Race relations within the Kentucky labor movement, especially efforts to transform the received culture of white and black workers within the context of worker solidarity and self-interest, needs serious students. But access to the records of private-sector unions and businesses, especially after World War II, can be difficult. There are other sources through which historians can examine the labor history of the commonwealth. The archives at the Anne Braden Research Center would be an ideal point of debarka- tion for Kentucky labor topics, as would the labor reporting in the 1940s and 1950s by Carl Braden in the Louisville Courier-Journal and other newspapers. Ethel B. DuPont taught economics at the University of Louisville in the 1920s and for years wrote a weekly labor column, “In Labor’s Ranks,” for the Louisville Times. Court affidavits, city council minutes, newsletters, individual collections of union members, oral histories, and occasional forgotten collec- tions in the basement or storage shed of local unions are enormously

    72 Kahlenberg and Marvit, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, 21; John Hennen, “ALEC in Kentucky,” North of Center, June 6, 2012, http://noclexington. com/?p=7174#more-7174 (accessed June 27, 2014).The work of ALEC is well documented. To see samples of ALEC’s model legislation, read its philosophy, and find its state associates, visit the ALEC website, For a critical examination of ALEC, see the Center for Media and Democracy, “ALEC Exposed,” Past and present Kentucky legislators with ALEC ties are listed there.


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    valuable but also exceedingly time consuming to collect.73 But it is a worthy endeavor to study how, as legendary Louisville activist Ira Grupper put it, the lines are perpetually drawn between “Them and Us. And there are more of Us.” That is Grupper’s lesson for workers and unions. Historians should equally take it to heart.74

    73 Once in a while a researcher can strike gold. Two of my own “ah ha” moments occurred when the staff at the Columbus, Ohio, offices of SEIU/Local 1199 West Virginia/ Kentucky/Ohio opened up their 1980–1989 papers for my use and when the office workers at the Huntington, West Virginia, local of the same union escorted me to a shed stuffed with documents from the 1973–1985 period. Unfortunately many of the local’s historical records were destroyed in a fire in the early 1990s.

    74 Ira Grupper, interview with author, February 8, 2008.


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