Shorter Hours, the UAW, and the Struggle for American Unionism
Narrated by Gregg A. Rizzo
Approximately 6 hours
Book published by Temple University Press
The movement for a shorter workweek that once defined the labor movement in the United States was largely displaced by the new corporatist structure of organized labor in the post-New Deal era. Labor's Time examines the changes that occurred within organized labor and traces their influence on the decline of the shorter hours movement. Focusing on the internal union politics of the influential United Automobile Workers and Local 600, its chapter at Henry Ford's massive River Rouge factory, Jonathan Cutler demonstrates how an all-but-forgotten interracial movement for a shorter workweek during the 1950s and 1960s became a casualty of an increasingly top-heavy union bureaucracy that lost touch with the desires, fears, and aspirations of rank and file workers and dug its own grave in the process.
Jonathan Cutler examines the political context in which the shorter hours movement emerged within Local 600 in the 1940s, then chronicles the attempts by Walter Reuther, the head of the UAW, to suppress it. Cutler also reviews the role the Communist Party played in the controversy. Finally, he documents the UAW response to rank and file pressure for a shorter workweek, and how the local's own organizational flaws allowed Reuther and the national union to wrest control from the dissidents.
Fresh and boldly written, Labor's Time recreates a moment when unions—as a movement, not as an amalgam of leaders—could have transformed the landscape of work in the United States.
Jonathan Cutler is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Wesleyan University and co-editor of Post-Work.
“This story is extraordinarily important, with implications far beyond the internal politics of a single union. For its detailed explication of Reuther's opposition to shop-floor militancy, Labor's Time should be required reading for all students of the so-called labor-management accord of the postwar period. Moreover, Cutler expertly explores the place of Cold War politics within Reuther's UAW. ...Labor's Time is an important new work in U.S. labor studies.”
“This is, quite simply, the most brilliant and original study of American labor to appear in a generation. Jonathan Cutler shows that the ascendancy of labor 'statesmen' and their ideology of political and industrial responsibility has meant not just the death of the shorter-hours movement, but also the end of the labor movement as a dynamic force in American life. Introducing entirely new conceptions of work, power, desire, and freedom, Labor's Time is a monumental achievement.”
—Thaddeus Russell, Barnard College, and author of Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Remaking of the American Working Class
“The fight for shorter hours! Now there's a lost bit of American history that is in sore need of remembrance. Jonathan Cutler's perceptive and thoroughly researched history of one key part of that struggle deserves to be read and debated so that the fight against 'overwork' is once more near the top of America's social agenda.”
—Nelson Lichtenstein, author of Labor's War at Home: The CIO in World War II
“Jonathan Cutler's book is essential reading for those concerned about the fate of America's overworked and underpaid workers. Labor's Time is an engaging and well-researched account of union struggles over work hours. At a moment when many employers are demanding longer workdays and 'shaving' hours from employees' time sheets, Cutler's book makes an important scholarly intervention into an issue whose history has profound implications for the present.”
—Thomas J. Sugrue, Bicentennial Class of 1940 Professor of History and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania
“This is a very readable, engaging account of a critical moment in labor history.”
“In telling the story, Cutler raises bigger questions about democracy, power, and direction for the labor movement. His book is fascinating and informative, and it made me think”
—Against The Current
“Cutler is an expert guide... [his] enormous research into the intricacies of the internecine battles with the UAW over the thirty-hour workweek is important in its own right. His insightful and deeply researched study into the struggles compose the majority of his book. ”
“Jonathan Cutler has written an excellent, tightly focused study of the internecine power struggles between the Walter Reuther-led United Auto Workers (UAW) and Local 600 at the River Rouge Ford complex outside Detroit.”
—The Journal of American History
“A worthy read... Cutler has contributed an important piece of work on an issue that, though largely ignored, sits at the core of the most important developments in postwar labor”
“Cutler's book goes beyond a detailed account of the shorter hours movement…it touches on the beginning of the end of organized labor's power in the United States, the racial politics of labor, cold war politics, and social policy discourse.... He does an outstanding job researching the details of the movement... I would recommend using this book to supplement a more general set of readings in a graduate seminar on labor unions, labor history, or social movements.”
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