Lizabeth Cohen

Making a New Deal

Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1913-1939

Cambridge University Press 2014

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Lizabeth Cohen‘s Making A New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 was originally published in 1990, and recently re-published in 2014. In this book,...

Lizabeth Cohen‘s Making A New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 was originally published in 1990, and recently re-published in 2014. In this book, Cohen explores how it was that Chicago workers, who could not overcome ethnic and racial divisions during a wave of failed strikes in 1919, came together in the mid to late-1930s across ethnic and racial lines “to make a New Deal” for themselves and their fellow laborers. They made that “New Deal” as members of national labor unions and a national Democratic Party. These successes were possible because of community and cultural changes that took place in the 1920s, Cohen argues. During that decade, ethnic and race-based community organizations, new institutions of mass culture like chain stores and movie theaters, and employers’ “welfare capitalist” programs all vied for workers attention and loyalty. Paradoxically, the very programs employers hoped would prevent the growth of unions actually helped break down ethnic and racial barriers, building upon new experiences of shared consumerism. As the Great Depression unfolded, workers managed to form the cross-race and cross-ethnic alliances that had alluded them in 1919 and the early 1920s. Union organizers succeeded in building a new culture of unity and achieving new levels of organization and worker power. Industrial laborers and their unions challenged their employers to live up to the “welfare capitalism” they had promised in the years before the financial crisis. As their level of organization grew, Chicago workers also became New Deal Democrats invested in national politics. The new edition includes an updated preface by the author.

Lizabeth Cohen serves as the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies at Harvard University, as well as the Dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.


Isabell Moore is a PhD Student in the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on social movements in the 20th century and she is involved in activism for racial, gender, economic and queer justice.

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