Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class

Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class

Jefferson R. Cowie

Language: English

Pages: 488

ISBN: 1595587071

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A wide-ranging cultural and political history that will forever redefine a misunderstood decade, Stayin’ Alive is prize-winning historian Jefferson Cowie’s remarkable account of how working-class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s. In this edgy and incisive book—part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American music, film and television lore—Cowie, with “an ear for the power and poetry of vernacular speech” (Cleveland Plain Dealer), reveals America’s fascinating path from rising incomes and optimism of the New Deal to the widening economic inequalities and dampened expectations of the present.

Winner of the 2011 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians for the Best Book on American History

Winner of the 2011 Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians for the Best Book in American Social History

Winner of the 2011 Labor History Best Book Prize

Winner of the 2011 Best Book Award from the United Association for Labor Education

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the combative liberal attorney Joe Rauh, suggested a vibrant new direction for labor in the 1970s. Nader had taken on the automobile 26 hope in t he confusion, – industry in the middle of the sixties and proven the unsafe design of many American cars as well as survived GM’s sustained efforts to destroy his reputation. Young people flocked to work with Nader in his Washington-based consumer safety advocacy group, which became known as “Nader’s Raiders” for its efforts to root out

organized labor as little more than a threat to the success they already enjoyed. In dissent they often saw descent, and they acted accordingly. At the same time that unions delivered unprecedented affluence to the postwar working class, they bordered on what one critic called “a new feudal order in which loyalty was the highest and finest virtue, a hierarchy that fed off ignorance and called it solidarity.” In the case of the UMWA, John L. Lewis selected weak insiders to head the union rather than

Scripture and in the music of our children we are told: ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.’ . . . And for America, the time has come at last.” As he turned to close his speech, his flat Midwestern tones came to life: “Come home to the belief that we can seek a newer world. And let us be joyful in the homecoming.” He closed with a reference that arced from the New Deal to the 1960s by quoting Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”—which, not incidentally,

our own new coalition based on Silent Majority, blue-collar Catholics, Poles, Italians, Irish. No promise with Jews and Negroes. Appeal not hard right-wing, Bircher, or anti-Communist.” He sensed the moment and devoted his presidency to making the New Majority out of such sentiments. His sole domestic political goal was to disassemble the Roosevelt coalition and to rebuild the pieces into his own modern coalition. All else—the Watergate break-in, the liberal domestic policy initiatives, much of

captured fears of rank and fi le power in the early seventies in his opening salvo in the confl ict. “There’s only one thing worse than a wildcat strike,” he declared, “a wildcat strike that succeeds.” And this was a wildcat that largely succeeded, potentially tipping the balance toward a runaway rank and fi le rather than the sober and statesmanlike union leadership on which the post-war paradigm of labor relations depended. Nixon’s conciliatory caution with regard to the postal strike would stand

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