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The Best Books About Unions And The Labor Movement

“What are the best books about Unions And The Labor Movement?” We looked at 137 of the top Union & Lobor books, aggregating and ranking them so we could answer that very question!

The top 13 titles, all appearing on 2 or more “Best Labor Union” book lists, are ranked below by how many lists they appear on. The remaining 100+ titles, as well as the lists we used are in alphabetical order at the bottom of the page.

Happy Scrolling!

Top 13 Best Books About The Labor Movement And Unions

13 .) Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants and the Struggle for the American Dream written by Katherine Paterson

Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants and the Struggle for the American Dream

Lists It Appears On:

  • Goodreads

On January 12, 1912, an army of textile workers stormed out of the mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts, commencing what has since become known as the “Bread and Roses” strike. Based on newspaper accounts, magazine reportage, and oral histories, Watson reconstructs a Dickensian drama involving thousands of parading strikers from fifty-one nations, unforgettable acts of cruelty, and even a protracted murder trial that tested the boundaries of free speech. A rousing look at a seminal and overlooked chapter of the past, Bread and Roses is indispensable reading.

12 .) Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America written by Joseph A. McCartin

Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America

Lists It Appears On:

  • Goodreads

In August 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) called an illegal strike. The new president, Ronald Reagan, fired the strikers, establishing a reputation for both decisiveness and hostility to organized labor. As Joseph A. McCartin writes, the strike was the culmination of two decades of escalating conflict between controllers and the government that stemmed from the high-pressure nature of the job and the controllers’ inability to negotiate with their employer over vital issues. PATCO’s fall not only ushered in a long period of labor decline; it also served as a harbinger of the campaign against public sector unions that now roils American politics.

11 .) In Dubious Battle written by John Steinbeck

In Dubious Battle

Lists It Appears On:

  • LA Times
  • Signature Reads

This 1936 novel—set in the California apple country—portrays a strike by migrant workers that metamorphoses from principled defiance into blind fanaticism. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

10 .) Rebuilding Labor written by Ruth Milkman and Kim Voss

Rebuilding Labor

Lists It Appears On:

  • Book Depository
  • Five Books

“In order to recruit new members on a scale that would be required to significantly rebuild union power, unions must fundamentally alter their internal organizational practices. This means creating more organizer positions on the staff; developing programs to teach current members how to handle the tasks involved in resolving shop-floor grievances; and building programs that train members to participate fully in the work of external organizing. Such a reorientation entails redefining the very meaning of union membership from a relatively passive stance toward one of continuous active engagement.”―from the Introduction In Rebuilding Labor Ruth Milkman and Kim Voss bring together established researchers and a new generation of labor scholars to assess the current state of labor organizing and its relationship to union revitalization. Throughout this collection, the focus is on the formidable challenges unions face today and on how they may be overcome. Rebuilding Labor begins with a comprehensive overview of recent union organizing in the United States; goes on to present a series of richly detailed case studies of such topics as union leadership, organizer recruitment and retention, union democracy, and the dynamics of anti-unionism among rank-and-file workers; and concludes with a quantitative chapter on the relationship between union victories and establishment survival. This interdisciplinary collection of original scholarship on New Labor offers a window into an otherwise invisible emergent social movement.

9 .) Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class written by Jefferson R. Cowie

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

Lists It Appears On:

  • Goodreads
  • Signature Reads

An epic account of how middle-class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, this wide-ranging cultural and political history rewrites the 1970s as the crucial, pivotal era of our time. Jefferson Cowie’s edgy and incisive book—part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American musical, film, and TV lore—makes new sense of the 1970s as a crucial and poorly understood transition from New Deal America (with its large, optimistic middle class) to the widening economic inequalities, poverty, and dampened expectations of the 1980s and into the present. Stayin’ Alive takes us from the factory floors of Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, to the Washington of Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Cowie also connects politics to culture, showing how the big screen and the jukebox can help us understand how America turned away from the radicalism of the 1960s and toward the patriotic promise of Ronald Reagan. Cowie makes unexpected connections between the secrets of the Nixon White House and the failings of George McGovern campaign; radicalism and the blue-collar backlash; the earthy twang of Merle Haggard’s country music and the falsetto highs of Saturday Night Fever. Like Jeff Perlstein’s acclaimed Nixonland, Stayin’ Alive moves beyond conventional understandings of the period and brilliantly plumbs it for insights into our current way of life.

8 .) The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 written by David Montgomery

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

Lists It Appears On:

  • Chomsky List
  • Goodreads

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 different types of workers and the connections between their activity at work and their national origins and neighborhood life.

7 .) The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle

Lists It Appears On:

  • Goodreads
  • Signature Reads

For nearly a century, the original version of Upton Sinclair’s classic novel has remained almost entirely unknown. When it was published in serial form in 1905, it was a full third longer than the censored, commercial edition published in book form the following year. That expurgated commercial edition edited out much of the ethnic flavor of the original, as well as some of the goriest descriptions of the meat-packing industry and much of Sinclair’s most pointed social and political commentary. The text of this new edition is as it appeared in the original uncensored edition of 1905. It contains the full 36 chapters as originally published, rather than the 31 of the expurgated edition.

6 .) The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon written by William M. Adler

The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon

Lists It Appears On:

  • LA Times

In 1914, Joe Hill, the prolific songwriter for the Industrial Workers of the World (also known as the Wobblies), was convicted of murder in Utah and sentenced to death by firing squad, igniting international controversy. In the first major biography of the radical historical icon, William M. Adler explores an extraordinary life and presents persuasive evidence of Hill’s innocence. Hill would become organized labor’s most venerated martyr, and a hero to folk singers such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. His story shines a beacon on the early-twentieth-century American experience and exposes the roots of issues critical to the twenty-first century.

5 .) They’re Bankrupting Us!: And 20 Other Myths about Unions written by Bill Fletcher Jr.

They're Bankrupting Us!: And 20 Other Myths about Unions

Lists It Appears On:

  • Goodreads

From Wisconsin to Washington, DC, the claims are made: unions are responsible for budget deficits, and their members are overpaid and enjoy cushy benefits. The only way to save the American economy, pundits claim, is to weaken the labor movement, strip workers of collective bargaining rights, and champion private industry. In “They’re Bankrupting Us!”: And 20 Other Myths about Unions, labor leader Bill Fletcher Jr. makes sense of this debate as he unpacks the twenty-one myths most often cited by anti-union propagandists. Drawing on his experiences as a longtime labor activist and organizer, Fletcher traces the historical roots of these myths and provides an honest assessment of the missteps of the labor movement. He reveals many of labor’s significant contributions, such as establishing the forty-hour work week and minimum wage, guaranteeing safe workplaces, and fighting for equity within the workforce. This timely, accessible, “warts and all” book argues, ultimately, that unions are necessary for democracy and ensure economic and social justice for all people.

4 .) Why Unions Matter written by Michael D. Yates

Why Unions Matter

Lists It Appears On:

  • Book Depository
  • Goodreads

A comprehensive, readable introduction to the history, structure, functioning, and yes, the problems of U.S. unions. For labor and political activists just coming on the scene or veterans looking for that missing overview, this is the best place to start

3 .) Work Song written by Ivan Doig

Work Song

Lists It Appears On:

  • Goodreads
  • LA Times

An award-winning and beloved novelist of the American West spins the further adventures of a favorite character, in one of his richest historical settings yet. “If America was a melting pot, Butte would be its boiling point,” observes Morrie Morgan, the itinerant teacher, walking encyclopedia, and inveterate charmer last seen leaving a one-room schoolhouse in Marias Coulee, the stage he stole in Ivan Doig’s 2006 The Whistling Season. A decade later, Morrie is back in Montana, as the beguiling narrator of Work Song. Lured like so many others by “the richest hill on earth,” Morrie steps off the train in Butte, copper-mining capital of the world, in its jittery heyday of 1919. But while riches elude Morrie, once again a colorful cast of local characters-and their dramas-seek him out: a look-alike, sound-alike pair of retired Welsh miners; a streak-of-lightning waif so skinny that he is dubbed Russian Famine; a pair of mining company goons; a comely landlady propitiously named Grace; and an eccentric boss at the public library, his whispered nickname a source of inexplicable terror. When Morrie crosses paths with a lively former student, now engaged to a fiery young union leader, he is caught up in the mounting clash between the iron-fisted mining company, radical “outside agitators,” and the beleaguered miners. And as tensions above ground and below reach the explosion point, Morrie finds a unique way to give a voice to those who truly need one. Watch a Video

2 .) Triangle: The Fire That Changed America written by Katharine Weber

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

Lists It Appears On:

  • LA Times
  • Signature Reads

Esther Gottesfeld is the last living survivor of the notorious 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire and has told her story countless times in the span of her lifetime. Even so, her death at the age of 106 leaves unanswered many questions about what happened that fateful day. How did she manage to survive the fire when at least 146 workers, most of them women, her sister and fiance among them, burned or jumped to their deaths from the sweatshop inferno? Are the discrepancies in her various accounts over the years just ordinary human fallacy, or is there a hidden story in Esther’s recollections of that terrible day? Esther’s granddaughter Rebecca Gottesfeld, with her partner George Botkin, an ingenious composer, seek to unravel the facts of the matter while Ruth Zion, a zealous feminist historian of the fire, bores in on them with her own mole-like agenda. A brilliant, haunting novel about one of the most terrible tragedies in early-twentieth-century America, “Triangle “forces us to consider how we tell our stories, how we hear them, and how history is forged from unverifiable truths.

1 .) There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America written by Philip Dray

There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America

Lists It Appears On:

  • Goodreads
  • LA Times
  • Signature Reads

From an award-winning historian, a stirring (and timely) narrative history of American labor from the dawn of the industrial age to the present day. From the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, the first real factories in America, to the triumph of unions in the twentieth century and their waning influence today, the con­test between labor and capital for their share of American bounty has shaped our national experience. Philip Dray’s ambition is to show us the vital accomplishments of organized labor in that time and illuminate its central role in our social, political, economic, and cultural evolution. There Is Power in a Union is an epic, character-driven narrative that locates this struggle for security and dignity in all its various settings: on picket lines and in union halls, jails, assembly lines, corporate boardrooms, the courts, the halls of Congress, and the White House. The author demonstrates, viscerally and dramatically, the urgency of the fight for fairness and economic democracy—a struggle that remains especially urgent today, when ordinary Americans are so anxious and beset by eco­nomic woes.

The 100+ Additional Best Labor Union Books

A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike
15A History of America in Ten StrikesErik LoomisGoodreads
16A Powerful Influence on Australian Affairs Book Depository
17Against the DayThomas PynchonGoodreads
Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life Of An Old Bolshevik
 Book Depository
19American Labor and European Politics: The Afl As a Transnational ForceGodson, RoyChomsky List
20American Labor and Postwar Italy, 1943-1953: A Study of Cold War PoliticsFilippelli, RonaldChomsky List
21An Injury to All: Decline of American UnionismMoody, KimChomsky List
22BabbittSinclair LewisGoodreads
23Behind the Intifada: Labor and Women’s Movements in the Occupied TerritoriesHiltermann, Joost R.Chomsky List
24Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909Michelle MarkelGoodreads
25Building Power from Below Book Depository
26Champions of Equality Book Depository
27Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United States with Democracy and the Free Market during the Nineteenth CenturyMontgomery, DavidChomsky List
28Clara and Mr. TiffanySusan VreelandGoodreads
29Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That TypeDoreen CroninGoodreads
30CNT in the Spanish RevolutionPeirats, JoseChomsky List
Common Sense and Little Fire: Women and Working Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965
32Death in the Haymarket Signature Reads
33Direct Action Gets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike in CanadaGraphic History CollectiveGoodreads
34Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth CenturyDorothy Sue CobbleGoodreads
35El LectorWilliam DurbinGoodreads
36ElmetFiona MozleyGoodreads
37Exit, Voice, and LoyaltyAlbert HirschmanFive Books
38Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in CaliforniaCarey McWilliamsGoodreads
39Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its LegacyAlbert MarrinGoodreads
40For the WinCory DoctorowGoodreads
From Harvard to the Ranks of Labor: Powers Hapgood and the American Working Class
From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and Farm Worker Movement
Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign
44Good, Reliable, White Men Book Depository
45Green Bans, Red Union Book Depository
How a Blog Held Off the Most Powerful Union in America
 Union Proof
47How Green Was My ValleyRichard LlewellynGoodreads
48Hunger Makes the WolfAlex WellsGoodreads
49I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy HoffaCharles BrandtGoodreads
50In Solidarity Book Depository
51Industrial Relations SystemsJohn T. DunlopFive Books
52James Larkin Book Depository
53Japanese Workers and the Struggle for Power, 1945-47Moore, JoeChomsky List
54Jewish Radicals Book Depository
55Joe Hill: The IWW the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass CountercultureFranklin RosemontGoodreads
56Juice Is Stranger Than Friction: Selected Writings of T-Bone SlimSlim, T-BoneChomsky List
57Kindling the Flame Book Depository
58Labor and the Course of American DemocracyBergquist, CharlesChomsky List
59Leading Change Union Proof
60Live Working or Die Fighting: How The Working Class Went GlobalPaul MasonGoodreads
61Love of Worker BeesAlexandra KollontaiGoodreads
62Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939Lizabeth CohenGoodreads
63Making Sense of the Molly Maguires LAWCHA
64Marikana Book Depository
65Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary LAWCHA
66Marxism and Trade Union Struggle: The General Strike of 1926Tony CliffGoodreads
67Mask of Democracy : Labor Suppression in Mexico TodayLa Botz, DanChomsky List
68Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968Alice Faye DuncanGoodreads
Mollie’s Job: Life on the Global Assembly Line
70No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded AgeJane F. McAleveyGoodreads
71One Big Union Of All The Workers Book Depository
72Organizing to Win Book Depository
73Plantation society, land and labor on Costa Rica’s Atlantic Coast, 1870-1940Chomsky, AvivaChomsky List
74Political repression in modern America from 1870 to the presentGoldstein, Robert JustinChomsky List
75Politics of U.S. LabourMilton, DavidChomsky List
76Poor Workers’ Unions: Rebuilding Labor from BelowVanessa TaitGoodreads
Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance
 Union Proof
78Power in Coalition Book Depository
Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All
 Union Proof
80Profit Over PeopleChomsky, NoamChomsky List
81Revolutionary Movement in Britain, 1900-21Kendall, WalterChomsky List
82RickyRicky TomlinsonGoodreads
83Russian Peasants and Soviet Power: A Study of CollectivizationMoshe LewinGoodreads
84Salt of the EarthBiberman, HerbertChomsky List
85Scotland’s Radical Exports Book Depository
86Self-rule: Cultural History of American DemocracyWiebe, Robert HChomsky List
87Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-60Fones-Wolf, ElizabethChomsky List
88Sleeping Giant Signature Reads
Solidarity Divided: The Crisis of Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Social Justice
90Sometimes a Great NotionKen KeseyLA Times
91Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against AusterityMicah UetrichtGoodreads
92Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their RightsLarry Dane BrimnerGoodreads
93Teamster PoliticsFarrell DobbsGoodreads
94The American Socialist Movement 1897-1912Kipnis, IraChomsky List
The Art and Ideology of the Trade Union Emblem, 1850-1925
 Book Depository
96The Battle for Homestead, 1880-92: Politics, Culture and SteelKrause, PaulChomsky List
97The Bending Cross Book Depository
98The Blind AssassinMargaret AtwoodGoodreads
The Canal Builders: Making America’s Empire at the Panama Canal
The Cnt In The Spanish Revolution Volume 1
 Book Depository
101The Cold War Against LaborGinger, Ann FaganChomsky List
102The Crusades of César Chávez: A BiographyMiriam PawelLA Times
103The Devil Is Here in These Hills Signature Reads
104The General Strike Speech by William D. HaywoodWilliam D.Goodreads
105The Given DayDennis LehaneGoodreads
106The Great Strike: The Miners’ Strike Of 1984 5 And Its LessonsA. CallinicosGoodreads
107The Hoffa Wars: The Rise and Fall of Jimmy HoffaDan E. MoldeaGoodreads
108The Industrial Worker, 1840-60Ware, NormanChomsky List
109The Last BalladWiley CashGoodreads
110The Making of the English Working ClassThompson, E. P.Chomsky List
The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights
The Only Thing that Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement
113The Polish Revolution Book Depository
The Red International Of Labour Unions (rilu) 1920 – 1937
 Book Depository
115The Sewing MachineNatalie FergieGoodreads
The State of the Union: Century of American Labor Politics
117The State of Working America 1996-97Mishel, LawrenceChomsky List
118The Turbulent YearsIrving BernsteinFive Books
119The War on Labor and the Left: Understanding America’s Unique ConservatismSexton, Patricia CayoChomsky List
120These HandsMargaret H. MasonGoodreads
121Through Jaundiced Eyes: How the Media View Organized LaborPuette, William J.Chomsky List
122Trade Union Education Book Depository
123Trade Unions in the Green Economy Book Depository
124Trade Unions in Western Europe Book Depository
125Uneasy Terrain: The Impact of Capital Mobility on Workers, Wages, and Union OrganizingBronfenbrenner, KateChomsky List
126Union Proof Union Proof
Union-Free America: Workers and Antiunion Culture
 Union Proof
Unions Are Not inevitable!: A Guide to Positive Employee Relations
 Union Proof
129UprisingMargaret Peterson HaddixGoodreads
130Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall StreetJohn NicholsGoodreads
131What Do Unions Do?Eds. James Bennett and Bruce E. KaufmanFive Books
132Wobblies of the World Book Depository
133Women Workers And The Trade UnionsSarah BostonGoodreads
134Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United StatesChris WrightGoodreads
Workers’ Centers: Organizing Communities on the Edge of the American Dream
Working Class Politics In The German Revolution (historical Materialsim, Volume 77)
 Book Depository
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do
 Signature Reads

8 Best Trade union And Labor Movement Book Sources/Lists

Book Depository Trade Unions Books | Book Depository
Chomsky List Chomsky’s Recommended Labor History Books List
Five Books The Best Books on Labour Unions
Goodreads Popular Unions Books – Goodreads
LA Times 7 terrific books about America’s labor movement
LAWCHA Twenty Best Labor Books – First Cut
Signature Reads The History of a Movement: 10 Labor Day Books to Read Now
Union Proof 7 Books All Labor Relations Pros Should Read