May 18, 2020
In April 2019, the editors of MLToday had a discussion with the Director of Organization of one of the country’s leading unions, who said that he encounters many young organizers and activists eager to know more about the history and experiences of Communists in the labor movement. We decided to try to respond to this interest by putting together a short list of recommended readings.
Many excellent books exist on the role of Communists and other militants in American labor. For the most part, we chose the following books because they shed light on the strategic, tactical, organizational and practical thinking and activity of Communists in the labor movement. We divided into three categories: histories, memoirs and essays, and novels.
We invite our readers to submit their own recommendations. Over time, we can expand the list. Please send any suggestions you have to: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais, Labor’s Untold Story. This is a history of American labor from the American Revolution through the Cold War originally published by the United Electrical Workers Union.
- Toni Gilpin, The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor and Class War in the American Heartland. This is a recent book on the history of organizing among farm equipment workers from Haymarket to the 1970s. Of particular interest is the discussion of the Louisville local of the Farm Equipment Workers Union which was greatly influenced by Communists.
- Roger Keeran, The Communist Party and the Auto Workers Unions. This is an account of the Communist role in auto including the Communist efforts to unionize the industry before the CIO and the Communist role in building the UAW and leading the Great General Motors sit-down strike of 1936-37.
- Stephen Meyer, “Stalin Over Wisconsin:” The Making and Unmaking of Militant Unionism, 1900-1950. This is the history of the Allis-Chalmers local of the UAW in Wisconsin, a militant local that engaged in two dramatic strikes in the 1940s, and it was the main union targeted by the redbaiting of Walter Reuther and the notorious Taft-Hartley Act.
- Roger Keeran, “The Communist Influence on American Labor,” in New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U.S. Communism. This article explains the manifold ways that Communists influenced labor movement in the 1930s and 1940s.
- Judith Stepan-Norris and Maurice Zeitlin, Left Out. This academic study gives solid evidence that the so-called Communist-led unions were more militant, successful, and democratic than non-Communist led unions.
- Edward P. Johanningsmeier, Forging American Communism: The Life of William Z. Foster. This book has an anti-Communist bias but contains useful information on the early evolution of Foster’s ideas.
- Walter T. Howard, Forgotten Radicals: Communists in the Pennsylvania Anthracite, 1919-1950.
- Philip S. Foner, Organized Labor & the Black Workers, 1619-1973. This is one of ten volumes of American labor history written by a Communist historian.
- Joshua Freeman, In Transit: Transport Workers Union in NYC 1933-1966.
This is a history of the New York Transport Workers, a union founded by partisans of Irish independence and Communists.
- Arthur Zipser, Working Class Giant: The Life of William Z. Foster. This biography by a Communist author gives particular attention to the aspects of Foster’s life in which militants have an interest.
- Joe Burns, Strike Back: Using the Militant Tactics of Labor’s Past to Reignite Public Sector Unionism Today. The title of this 2014 book says it all.
MEMOIRS AND ESSAYS BY COMMUNISTS
- Henry Kraus, The Many and the Few: A Chronicle of the Dynamic Auto Workers. Kraus recalls his involvement in the early auto organizing and the Flint General Motors Sit-down strike and also his editing the first UAW newspaper.
- Len DeCaux, Labor Radical. A Communist who worked with John L. Lewis and the CIO in the 1930s had insights into the ways Communist were forced to operate in American unions.
- Wyndham Mortimer, Organize! A Cleveland Communist auto worker who organized the most successful local union before the UAW, led the drive to establish an independent auto workers union within the AFL, and was the UAW leader who oversaw the General Motors sit-down strike.
- William Z. Foster, American Trade Unionism: Principles, Organization, Strategy, Tactics. Foster led the great steel strike of 1919 and was the leader of the Communist Party’s trade union work from then until the 1940s. All of Foster’s many books are interesting; this one draws on his many writings on labor.
- Peters, The Communist Party: A Manual on Organization. This manual originally published in 1935 is not specifically about labor but has relevance to union organization as well.
- George Morris, American Labor: Which Way? This book conveys Communist thinking on labor in 1961.
- George Morris, Rebellion in the Unions: A Handbook for Rank and File Action. A Communist handbook for labor activists published in 1971.
- Hosea Hudson, Black Worker in the Deep South. This is the autobiography of a sharecropper, steel worker, and Communist in Georgia and Alabama in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
- Gil Green, What’s Happening to Labor? A Communist view of labor in 1976, a time of unrest and rank and file insurgency in the mines, auto and elsewhere.
A. Lozovsky, Marx and the Trade Unions. Originally published in 1935, the book contains the classical views of Marx and Lenin on the trade unions.
- Lloyd Brown, Iron City. This is a story of how Black Communists confronted racism in the community and built multiracial unity.
- Thomas Bell, Out of This Furnace. This is a vivid portrayal of working conditions in an open shop and the difficulties faced by Communists and other progressives seeking to organize.
- Phil Bonosky, Burning Valley. In this semi-autobiographical novel, the author describes the evolution of a Lithuanian-American steel worker from religion toward unionism and radical politics.