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The Bosses' Union: How Employers Organized to Fight Labor before the New Deal

by Vilja Hulden

University of Illinois Press, 2023


Paper: 978-0-252-08692-2

eISBN: 978-0-252-05388-7

OA eISBN: 978-0-252-04497-7

Cloth: 978-0-252-04483-0

About the Book
At the opening of the twentieth century, labor strife repeatedly racked the nation. Union organization and collective bargaining briefly looked like a promising avenue to stability. But both employers and many middle-class observers remained wary of unions exercising independent power.

Vilja Hulden reveals how this tension provided the opening for pro-business organizations to shift public attention from concerns about inequality and dangerous working conditions to a belief that unions trampled on an individual's right to work. Inventing the term closed shop, employers mounted what they called an open-shop campaign to undermine union demands that workers at unionized workplaces join the union. Employer organizations lobbied Congress to resist labor's proposals as tyrannical, brought court cases to taint labor's tactics as illegal, and influenced newspaper coverage of unions. While employers were not a monolith nor all-powerful, they generally agreed that unions were a nuisance. Employers successfully leveraged money and connections to create perceptions of organized labor that still echo in our discussions of worker rights.

About the Author
Vilja Hulden is a teaching assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.
"Hulden's book is chock-full of revealing details recounting the ways that business leaders organized, lobbied politicians, secured legal assistance during union confrontations, and employed labor spies. . . . Read this terrific book to learn more about the many roots and characteristics of that ugly, undemocratic agenda." --Jacobin

"The volume's wide range and mastery of the business and labor history of those years makes it a highly recommended study for specialists in those fields and more. Highly recommended." --Choice

"With keen analysis and vivid prose, Vilja Hulden brilliantly illuminates how U.S. employers fought furiously to undermine unions and blunt demands for workplace democracy in the early twentieth century, creating a warped legacy that still haunts our labor relations and diminishes our politics. This powerfully argued book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the long historical roots of today’s reawakened fights for worker justice.”--Joseph A. McCartin, author of Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America

Working Class in American History, Labor & Industrial Relations, 19th Century, 20th century, Political Science, United States, History
Open Access Information

Label: CC BY-NC

License: CC BY-NC-ND