Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

There’s No Place Like CounterPunch

There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.

So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)

Thank you,
Eric Draitser

A Historic Radical Book Returns


Strike! By Jeremy Brecher.  Oakland: PM Press, 2014 edition, 480pp, $24.95.

It is difficult, now, to recall the political impact of an American labor history book appearing in 1972, by a young author, not even thirty and no glittering celebrity nor connected in bureaucratic AFL-CIO upper circles. But impact it had, and for good historical reasons. Labor history, long the domain of official institutional writers paid to catalogue the stories of union founders’ contributions and such or just as dull, academic studies in “labor relations,” hardly wrote about the ordinary participants in working class life at all. Besides, according to the standard accounts, the great events involving unionization had already happened, the welfare state had been achieved, and the biggest working class problem in the future (as explained by sociological savant Daniel Bell) was likely to be the boredom of a lifestyle too easy, with too much leisure!

These accounts made scarce mention of non-unionized workers, but then again, neither did the AFL-CIO. Agreement had been reached within the New Deal in the 1930s that agricultural and domestic workers were not really entitled to protection in any unionization efforts, leaving out most nonwhites and many others. Nor were women office workers, their numbers growing by leaps and bounds in the 1950s, of much interest to labor leaders. George Meany, atop the bureaucracy, embraced big business and declared that the big job of labor was as good as finished. Public workers, health workers and farm workers, among others, were not so sure.

A new generation of radicalized students, looking beyond the campus during the later 1960s, found events rushing to meet them: strikes increased amazingly, often in sectors (like the Post Office) where they had been rare; the United Farm Workers under Cesar Chavez won the hearts of even many Catholic conservatives; and African American workers showed their muscle in shutting down automobile plants long considered “stabilized” by the United Auto Workers. Except where teachers and city workers in particular were making real strides in organizing for better conditions and wages, official labor remained stolid, vastly angrier at antiwar protests than at corporations making vast profits off the war.

Jeremy Brecher, son of a highly popular husband-and-wife writing team on health issues, did not happen to be one of the thousands of graduate students  (including myself), sharing New Left ideas, intent upon writing dissertations on subjects in and around labor history. He was ahead of us! Strike!, a sensation when it appeared, took a tack opposite to traditional histories of labor institutions: it was anti-institutional. The events that interested Brecher were uprisings, from the 1870s onward, struggles outside the control of any central authority, arising with seeming spontaneity and then, being crushed (occasionally, achieving their goal of unionization), fading away as popular movements. This was a  “people’s history” in the phrase of the day, an uplifting of the lives of the ordinary, at exceptional moments.

The New York Times loved it, Howard Zinn declared it one of the most important books on labor history since the Second World War (i.e., since the Red Decade, when not much labor history was actually being written, just made), and the publisher was….an imprint of Rolling Stone, then a young, radical publication! If not exactly a best seller, it sold a lot of copies, and scarcely a young radical did not have it on a convenient shelf. A whole lot of time, to put the matter lightly, has passed since then.

You could say that scholars have filled a lot of previously undetected holes in research, and you would not be wrong. On a subject like the Eight Hour day movement of 1886 centered in Chicago, the mysterious bombing and consequent martyrdom of supposed bombers, a veritable library exists, notable for its use of German-language materials.  Likewise, the upsurge of labor organized and unorganized during the First World War, when labor shortages made progress towards unions of many unskilled workers possible; likewise the CIO of the 1930s-40s, its records trolled, reinterpreted, interviews with living memories captured in oral histories. The number of  such left-inclined labor histories numbered in the hundreds, then in the thousands, and yet few had the deft overview that Brecher offered.

He was and is a fine, popular writer. Then again, he has been unafraid of undertaking the Big View, with all the dangers of missed or overlooked details and contradictions. The subsequent editions of Strike!, never so popular, brought up the story to the end of the twentieth century, and this one carries us up to the present. “Beyond the One-Sided Class War,” the new final chapter, seeks to explore what happens and what may happen when the number of strikes fall to low levels previously unimaginable, unionization drops almost out of sight, and new generations with no experience (perhaps not even family experience) in organized labor face conditions deteriorating on all sides. Disappearing job security, invasive scrutiny from above, intensified work pace and/or longer hours at the computer screen—none of these have real answers outside of collective action.

One particular workplace point, among all these, is worth pondering a little here, because it is so badly misunderstood. The creation of a comic art anthology, Studs Terkel’s Working: a Graphic Adaptation, with the late Harvey Pekar and a generous handful of artists, brought me back repeatedly to a matter that today’s young readers are eager to discuss. Pekar himself spent thirty-five years working at a VA hospital, mostly as a file-clerk, and he called it a “great job,” as Terkel’s interviews in the 1960s would sometimes describe theirs. Why? The lucky ones, millions of them in secure jobs, almost never took their work home, rarely spent an hour off the job unable to release their minds from it. Today’s working people at nearly every level find this working class or lower middle class life of two generations ago unrecognizable. And yet: what kind of revolt or rebellion, sans immediate union prospects, might an increasing desperation lead to?

Brecher does not ask the question is quite this way, but “mini-revolts” is a word that he employs, and it makes sense for much of the restlessness that anyone with eyes and ears can observe among the young. He offers, in the new final chapter, extended observations on Occupy, the Immigrant marches of 2006, and the Wisconsin Uprising, that seem to ring these and other bells. But not entirely, or at least not as I see these incidents. The most remarkable details of the Spring, 2011, mass movements in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, actually centered around the gendered character of the largest constituency—women teacher and health workers—and one particular quality of that crowd: the celebrative mood of the huge numbers, inscribing their own jokes directed at the governor on home made placards, for fellow demonstrators to see and enjoy, not to mention endless singing, not to mention specific events fascinatingly bizarre (costumed Zombie protesters), and so on.

He does capture a central theme, what he calls the “rediscovery of a division of society” between the powerful and the apparently powerless.  Along with the idea most familiar to his original line of thought—that these movements are basically self-organized and self-managed—it’s a start. Jeremy Brecher has no need to go further here. Let the next generations discover this book and do with it what they can do.

Paul Buhle’s latest book is the comic art anthology, Bohemians.

Paul Buhle is a retired historian, and co-founder, with Scott Molloy, of an oral history project on blue collar Rhode Islanders.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians