By Sidney Lens
The rise of the American labor movement was characterized by bloody and revolutionary battles. From the first famous martyrs, the Molly Maguires in the Pennsylvania coal fields in the nineteenth century, to the crucial workers’ victory of the 1930s in the sit-down strikes against General Motors, it has a history of pitched battles that frequently erupted into open warfare.
This is also the story of the factional wars within the American labor movement itself and of the great leaders it generated: Eugene Debs, Samuel Gompers, William Z. Foster, Bill Haywood, John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, and many more—some of them Sidney Lens’ personal friends. There have been no revolutions in the United States since the first one in 1776. The closest America has come to revolution has been the Labor Wars, each one of which has been, in a sense, a revolution-in-microcosm. The strikers in these industrial flare-ups confronted not only the power of their employers but, ultimately, that of the State and in the process there was always the possibility of a widening and escalating conflict bordering on insurrection.
Sidney Lens (1912–1986) was the author of many books about labor and radical movements in the United States, including The Forging of the American Empire (republished in 2003 by Haymarket Books and Pluto Press). He was a candidate for the Senate for the Citizens Party and an editor at The Progressive.