, Associate Director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, discusses her book, Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide
(University of North Carolina Press, 2017), and why the 1970s should be seen as more than a moment of decline for the U.S. labor movement.
The power of unions in workers' lives and in the American political system has declined dramatically since the 1970s. In recent years, many have argued that the crisis took root when unions stopped reaching out to workers and workers turned away from unions. But here Windham tells a different story. Highlighting the integral, often-overlooked contributions of women, people of color, young workers, and southerners, Windham reveals how in the 1970s workers combined old working-class tools--like unions and labor law--with legislative gains from the civil and women's rights movements to help shore up their prospects. Through close-up studies of workers' campaigns in shipbuilding, textiles, retail, and service, Windham overturns widely held myths about labor's decline, showing instead how employers united to manipulate weak labor law and quash a new wave of worker organizing.
Recounting how employees attempted to unionize against overwhelming odds, Knocking on Labor's Door
dramatically refashions the narrative of working-class struggle during a crucial decade and shakes up current debates about labor's future. Windham's story inspires both hope and indignation, and will become a must-read in labor, civil rights, and women's history.
Beth A. English is director of the Liechtenstein Institute's Project on Gender in the Global Community at Princeton University. She also is a past president of the Southern Labor History Association.