Fight like hell The untold history of American labor

Kim Kelly

Book - 2022

"Freed Black women organizing for protection in the Reconstruction-era South. Jewish immigrant garment workers braving deadly conditions for a sliver of independence. Asian American fieldworkers rejecting government-sanctioned indentured servitude across the Pacific. Incarcerated workers advocating for basic human rights and fair wages. The queer Black labor leader who helped orchestrate America's civil rights movement. These are only some of the working-class heroes who propelled American labor's relentless push for fairness and equal protection under the law. The names and faces of countless silenced, misrepresented, or forgotten leaders have been erased by time as a privileged few decide which stories get cut from the fina...l copy: those of women, people of color, LGBTQIA people, disabled people, sex workers, prisoners, and the poor. In this definitive and assiduously researched work of journalism, Teen Vogue columnists and independent labor reporter Kim Kelly excavates that untold history and shows how the rights the American worker has today--the forty-hour workweek, workplace-safety standards, restrictions on child labor, protection from harassment and discrimination on the job--were earned with literal blood, sweat, and tears"--Amazon.

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Informational works
New York : One Signal Publishers/Atria 2022.
Main Author
Kim Kelly (author)
Other Authors
Sara Nelson (writer of foreword)
First One Signal Publishers/Atria Books hardcover edition
Item Description
"Foreword by Sara Nelson, International President, Association of Flight Attendant-CWA, AFL-CIO"--cover.
Physical Description
xxviii, 418 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Foreword
  • Prologue
  • 1. The Trailblazers
  • The Mill Girls of Lowell, Massachusetts
  • "The Blood of Souls in Bondage"
  • The Freed Black Washerwomen of Jackson, Mississippi
  • A Showdown in Atlanta
  • 2. The Garment Workers
  • The Fiery Jewish Girls (Farbrente Yidishe Meydlekh) of New York City
  • "Burning Death Before Our Eyes"
  • Frances Perkins: Labor Activist Turned Architect of the New Deal
  • "A Turning Point in My Life": Sue Lo Kee and the National Dollar Stores Factory Strike
  • Viva La Huelga: Rosa Flores and the San Antonio Farah Strike
  • 3. The Mill Workers
  • Innovation and Bloodshed on the Picket Line
  • Ola Delight Smith and the Battle to Organize the South
  • Militancy in the Southern Mills: The 1934 Textile Strike
  • 4. The Revolutionaries
  • Lucy Parsons and the Haymarket Eight
  • Ben Fletcher and the Rise of Racial Capitalism
  • The United States of America vs. the Wobblies
  • Dr. Marie Equi, Portland's "Queen of the Bolsheviks"
  • The Bloody Responses to Revolt
  • 5. The Miners
  • Women Break Open the Mines of Appalachia
  • Black Labor and the Coal Creek War
  • They Called Her Mother Jones
  • The West Diversifies the Workforce
  • Indigenous and Latino Workers Hold the Line
  • A Half Century Later, Back Where We Began
  • The 2021 Warrior Met Coal Strike
  • 6. The Harvesters
  • Hawaii's Masters and Servants
  • Sugar and Blood
  • Los Braceros, the Dust Bowl, and the Great Mexican-American Migration
  • "Crusader in Rubber Boots and a Big Skirt"
  • "Si, Se Puede!"
  • Nagi Daifuliah and the Largest Farmworker Strike in History
  • "We Want Dignity and Respect"
  • 7. The Cleaners
  • Waiting to Work
  • "The Bronx Slave Market"
  • Building Power in the Power Laundries
  • Dorothy Lee Bolden and the World Ahead
  • "Ya Basta!" ("Enough Is Enough")
  • 8. The Freedom Fighters
  • "Shoot to Kill Any Negro Who Refuse[s] to Surrender Immediately"
  • The Pullman Railway Porters
  • The Pullman Maids' Double Bind
  • "You're Supposed to Be Scared When You Come in Here"
  • "There Was No One More Able to Pull It Together Than Bayard Rustin"
  • 9. The Movers
  • Brewing Up Trouble
  • "No Red-Baiting, No Race-Baiting, No Queen-Baiting!"
  • "We Put the 'Trans' Back in Transportation"
  • Reagan Declares War on Labor
  • Freedom to Fly
  • 10. The Metalworkers
  • A Midwestern Revolution
  • Building Multiracial Alliances in the Michigan Auto Industry
  • Arab Solidarity in Dearborn, Michigan
  • Fighting Sexual Harassment on the Assembly Line
  • Steel Pride
  • 11. The Disabled Workers
  • Circuses for Bread
  • "Handicapped Workers Must Live, Give Us Jobs"
  • Section 504, a Civil Rights Act for the Disabled
  • "They Know We're Desperate for Work": Taking on the Subminimum Wage
  • 12. The Sex Workers
  • San Francisco's "Barbary Coast"
  • "All I Ask Is for a Living Wage and I'll Get Out of It Myself"
  • Ah Toy and the Chinese Immigrant Workers' Struggle
  • Margo St. James's COYOTEs and the HIV/AIDS Crisis
  • The Movement Takes Center Stage
  • Performers' Rights and Community Care
  • 13. The Prisoners
  • The Rise of Prisoners' Labor Unions
  • Women's Prisons and Rebellion
  • The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
  • California's Incarcerated Firefighters
  • Epilogue
  • Endnotes
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Labor journalist Kelly looks back to the early days of U.S. industrialization in this freshly inclusive review of the country's labor history. Beginning with the mill girls of Rhode Island and Massachusetts in 1824, she moves forward chronologically, providing insightful glimpses into dozens of strikes, union actions, and bloody confrontations. Kelly purposefully highlights events involving often overlooked groups, including Indigenous, Black, Hispanic, and Asian American women. Readers will also find famous episodes covered, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Haymarket massacre, but the emphasis is on people and events that remain relatively unknown. Kelly's well-documented research and straightforward writing style allow her to pack an enormous amount of material into these pages, but the narrative never reads as dull or dense. Moving from one topic to another--miners to harvesters to cleaners--she provides a concise but comprehensive narrative that serves as an excellent entry point for new understanding of work in America. With union movements enjoying renewed support and influence, readers will find a lot of value in this previously "untold" history.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist and union organizer Kelly debuts with a rousing look at the contributions of marginalized groups to the U.S. labor movement. She begins by placing the "middle-aged Black warehouse workers" who tried to unionize an Amazon fulfillment center in Alabama in 2021 within a "long lineage of working class heroes," including the 19th-century female mill workers who fought for a workday shorter than 16 hours. Kelly also recounts how an 1881 strike by Black laundresses in Atlanta brought the city's laundry services to a halt on the eve of the International Cotton Exposition, and profiles U.S. labor secretary Frances Perkins, who helped enshrine workplace protections in New Deal legislation after having witnessed the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Elsewhere, Kelly examines how convict leasing helped prop up the South's "faltering post-Confederate economy" and sketches the history of the 1891--1892 Coal Creek War in Tennessee, when "involuntary, incarcerated laborers" were brought in as strikebreakers but were freed repeatedly by the miners they were meant to replace. Shedding new light on key players and episodes within a diverse range of industries--from textile and trucking to sex work--this invigorating labor history is also a powerful call for today's workers to fight for their rights. Agent: Chad Luibl, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Apr.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Kelly's sweeping history of the American labor movement casts a wide swath from the trailblazing Pawtucket women weavers' mill turnout in 1824, to the 2020 effort to organize Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, AL. Focusing on women and workers of color, invariably low-paid physical laborers, Kelly's episodic survey details workplace contributions of usually ignored but essential folk. She marches with fiery Jewish girls in New York's garment district, with women on the picket lines of southern mills, and with Black workers in Appalachian mines. She reaches across the country, covering disabled workers, sex workers, and prisoners' work, and the diversified labor of Asian, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Pacific Islander workers, particularly immigrants, in the fields and factories and on the rails and roads. S Kelly lauds revolutionaries and freedom fighters across class, gender, and race lines (Lucy Parsons; Mother Jones; Dr. Marie Equi; Cesar Chavez; Dorothy Lee Bolden) as vanguard workers who pushed for change in working conditions, psychology, and in society to redress capitalism's cruelties. VERDICT This accessible, inspiring, and instructive read belongs in school libraries, in university classrooms, and in general readers' hands for its lessons about workers' united power and the unfinished business of workplace justice.--Thomas J. Davis

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A working-class view of American labor unions and their history in securing economic justice, however fleeting. "As I write this," writes journalist and labor activist Kelly, "eleven hundred coal miners in rural Alabama are still out on a strike that began on April 1, 2021." Even as knowledge workers flee corporate life, spurred by the pandemic revelation that they can work anywhere, these coal miners are bound to geography and largely overlooked because coal is unpopular in a time of climate change. So it is with the larger history of labor unionism, Kelly suggests, at least in part because so many women and minority members were instrumental in it but are often written out of history. By way of one example, the author considers the case of a woman named Lucy Parsons, who grew up enslaved in the South and, with a husband who had fought for the Confederacy but later converted to anarchism, helped organize workers around the Haymarket riots of 1886. Sadly, Parsons refused to acknowledge her ethnicity and "focused her energies solely on behalf of white factory workers." Nonetheless, Black activists were essential to working people's efforts to secure better conditions, as Parsons was to gaining the eight-hour workday. Here Kelly examines the militancy of Mohawk ironworkers who helped build the skyscrapers of 1920s New York, "walking across two-inch-thick beams hundreds of feet in the air without so much as a tremble," and of the multiethnic Coalition for Immokalee Workers, which exposed what amounted to slave labor on Southern farms in our own time. Injustices continue, from coal miners to immigrant workers bound to company stores and housing in Midwestern meatpacking plants. "Collective working class power was behind every stride forward this country has made," Kelly writes in an urgent closing section, "grudgingly or otherwise, and will continue to be the animating force behind any true progress." A well-reasoned argument for restoring unions to their former role in the lives of American workers. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.