Confronting American Labor traces the development of the American Left, from the depression era through the Cold War, by examining representative intellectuals who grappled with the difficult question of labor's role in society. Since the time of Marx, leftist individuals in the West have raised time and again the question of how the intelligentsia might play a role in a movement carried out by the working class. Their modus operandi has been to champion those who suffer injustice at the hands of the powerful. From the late nineteenth through much of the twentieth century, this meant a focus on the industrial worker. Jeffrey Coker examines the ways in which leftist intellectuals confronted the labor question after 1945 through the lives and works of four individuals who represent a cross section of postwar radicalism. Each came of age on the socialist Left, expecting that an anticapitalist movement would emerge from the ranks of labor. Seymour Martin Lipset and C. Wright Mills were professional sociologists. Sidney Lens spent his early life working within the labor movement, and then became a political commentator for a variety of leftist magazines and journals in the postwar era. Historian Herbert Gutman created a ""new labor history"" that reflected broader transformations within the intellectual Left. In tracing their various approaches to the problem of labor, Confronting American Labor explores the diverse nature of the postwar Left in America. This important work will be of value to anyone interested in labor, class, and American thought.
Jeffrey W. Coker is Assistant Professor of History at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of The President's Position: Debating the Issues in Primary Documents, Zachary Taylor-U.S. Grant.