Date of Degree

5-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

History

Advisor

Robert Johnson

Committee Members

Joshua Freeman

Thomas Kessner

Subject Categories

Labor History | Oral History | Political History | Social History | United States History

Keywords

New York City, Working Class, Unions, Rank and File Rebellion, Political Polarization

Abstract

Between 1965 and 1975, New York City’s workers fomented a powerful yet inchoate movement that challenged the entrenched power of employers, union officials, and politicians. In the words of Central Labor Council head Harry Van Arsdale Jr., “strike fever” gripped the city; workers refused to follow their leaders, rejecting contracts, wildcatting, and organizing insurgent electoral campaigns. While historians have explored the rebellion as a national phenomenon, New York City’s wave of upheaval was a locally bound movement with its own unique dynamics, culture, and timeline, both powerfully shaping and shaped by the local political and social environment. Significantly, workers’ rebellious activity circulated across the city, overcoming barriers of race, occupation, skill, and political persuasion. New insurgent energies—black militancy and youth revolt—fed the rebellion, as did growing political polarization under Mayor John Lindsay. New York’s workers wanted more than better contracts; they contested control of the work process, racism on the job, the workers’ place in America’s socioeconomic hierarchy, and implicitly and explicitly demanded greater democratic control of their representative organization and lives. Some initial challenges were effective, delivering better contracts and unseating undemocratic leaders, but employer recalcitrance and union attacks on militant workers proved too powerful. In the face of this resistance, workers retreated into a survivalist attitude of accommodation and resignation, contributing to the decline of social democratic New York and working-class power in the city.

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