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Paperback The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 Book

ISBN: 0521379822

ISBN13: 9780521379823

The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925

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Book Overview

By studying the ways in which American industrial workers mobilized concerted action in their own interest, the author focuses on the workplace itself, examining the codes of conduct developed by... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

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Absence of socialist and unionist American political parties

Montgomery's study examines the different kinds of labor and how these affected the laborers' relationships not only to production, but also to unionization. What he has uncovered is a lack of uniformity and no exemplary relationship; instead, the type of work done played a highly influential role, as did myriad other factors such as race, gender, and age. He has built an immensely impressive body of research and has constructed a powerful study of American labor history. He insightfully separates labor groups and examines them singly: craftsmen; common laborers (or "ditchdiggers"); and operatives. This allows him to construct the clearest picture of turn-of-the-century American workers; instead of approaching them as a uniform, and therefore anonymous, whole. Montgomery's statistics reveal that technological innovations actually increased the number of common laborers needed and used, while it reduced the amount of skilled workers needed, especially in the iron industry. The (very new) electrical industry was the most progressively innovative in all aspects of production and business--though, without the benefit of "Fordism" or mass production--and employed a high number of women. It is this section of his book where Montgomery is most successful at showing the utter lack of conformity from one factory to another, as well as the nearly total absence of job safety. Depending on which factory she worked in, a woman would receive different pay for the exact same work, since it was arbitrarily within the foreman's full discretion. This is indicative of the total lack of coherence, even within the same industries. Throughout his book, Montgomery acutely delineates how the specific type of work influenced the resultant process of unionization. This meant that the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor required more than just one comprehensive unionization program: what addressed the issues of the iron roller missed the mark for the brick hauler or the filament threader or the cloak maker. Montgomery has woven together all the disparate worker groups and has created a fuller image of industrialized and industrializing America. There are very few weak spots in his study and they are, for the most part, trifling. What would improve the picture the House of Labor creates is information on "decent" wages and the standard of living. He includes pay amounts, but does not explain how much was needed to support an individual or an average family of five relatively well. Otherwise, he leaves no stone unturned--including immigrants, race, gender, and youth in his egalitarian analysis. Montgomery is accomplished at taking a job and concisely illustrating how that job was created and evolved, producing a clear and linear image of the work. He is likewise successful at explaining the disparateness of the American working class and its unionization, which reveals how socialist political parties never truly developed in the United S

Labor and its Discontents

David Montgomery writes a book about the social history of the working-class in the United States between the decades dating from 1965 to 1925. Montgomery examines American labor activism from the first trade union in the mid-nineteenth century to the rise of the working class as a rebellious force during the first two decades of the twentieth century (Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor 423, and 434-437). Montgomery ends his book with the humiliating defeat of the American Federation of Labor in the years following World War II (Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor 457). After the Civil War, American workers struggled to gain a voice in how the workplace operated, and to create strong labor unions (Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor 5-6, and 172). Montgomery's intervention is that he gives attention to what was happening on the shop floor, rather than in the union hall or the factory office (Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor 411-424). Montgomery articulates how artisans, machine operatives, and common laborers developed separate codes of job conduct related to their backgrounds (many were immigrants) and neighborhood cultures (Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor 161-162, 411-424, and 425-438). Montgomery argues that rather than generalize he is actually listening to a cacophony of voices (Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor 1-8). Finally, Montgomery argues that at the turn of the century, big companies adopted management styles designed to weaken unions, while radicals competed with unions (Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor 252-254). By the mid-1920s, the labor movement was withdrawing as radical movements were discredited, and workers mostly unorganized (Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor 411-464).

attacks on labor activism

David Montgomery analyzes the United States between 1865-1925 in terms of the conflicting social classes that fought for control of industry and labor relations. He argues that class consciousness permeated all levels of social interaction both inside and outside of the workplace. Labor struggles with management about working conditions, wages, and for control of the shop floor. Montgomery focuses on the workers' lives in his investigation of this battle. Montgomery delineates three different type of workers in the nineteenth century. Skilled workers, such as iron puddlers, maintained a degree of control over the workplace because of their specialized knowledge. Common laborers, such as railroad builders, provided the muscle that shaped industrial America. They exerted power because industry depended on them to survive. Operatives, or unskilled laborers such as textile workers, filled an interum position. Mostly women, these workers operated under a piecework system and possessed limited power over their jobs. The changes in industrial society reduced the power of skilled craftsmen and swelled the ranks of operatives. Industry used a variety of methods to transform the workplace in order to marginalize skilled workers and increase the numbers of more easily controlled operatives. Scientific management served to explain, guide, and justify this transformation. Scientific management separated the mental component of commodity production from the actual work. This separation de-skilled workers and decreased their control over the industrial environment. The open-shop drive consolidated middle class opposition to the workers. Their hostility led to the inability of workers to enact reform legislation to remedy managerial encroachments into the shop floor. Welfare capitalism diverted workers attention from collective action and solidified their support for the company rather than class consciousness. Montgomery deplores scientific management, the open-shop, and welfare capitalism because they detracted from labor's traditional control in the workplace and limited their response to the problems of industrialization.
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