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A City At War: Milwaukee Labor During World…
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A City At War: Milwaukee Labor During World War II

by Richard L. Pifer

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World War II was not fought only on battlefields and the seas by soldiers and sailors, but also in factories by workers and managers. “A City at War” is the story of this home front told from the perspective of organized labor. Author Richard L. Pifer lays the background of Milwaukee’s historic industrialization and the state of its economy and workforce as well as the economic and political milieu in which it grew. Readers learn of Milwaukee’s transformation from a processor of food to a producer of steel and machinery. Pifer also explains the ongoing rivalry between the craft unions, concentrated in the A F of L and the industrial unions of the CIO. Resulting jurisdictional disputes would continue to contribute to labor unrest during the war. With its German and industrial heritage Milwaukee was unique among American cities in repeatedly election Socialist mayors.

“A City At War” chronicles the role of organized labor in negotiating the agreements for overtime and work rules and organizing patriotic initiatives, such as war Bond Drives that enabled industry and labor to contribute to the war effort. I have read histories of industry’s role in providing tools need by the military, but this is the first book I have seen viewing the history from labor’s perspective. One topic the labor historian must address is labor’s record of striking while America’s sons were fighting and dying, a practice some regard as disloyal. Pifer confronts the issue head on. He demonstrates that both management and labor maintained a perspective extending into an era of peace when struggles over profits, wages and work rules would determine the success of companies and the security of workers. Pifer makes the case that strikes were fewer and of shorter duration during the war than they were before and would be after. World War II is shown as a time during which inflation was rampant, even though partially suppressed by wage and price controls. Workers endured economic hardships while struggling to make ends meet and preserve their post-war prosperity. Although focusing on Milwaukee, its experience overlapped that of many other communities. I finished this tome with a deeper understanding of the role domestic labor relations played in contributing to victory. It is essential to an understanding of the home front in World War II.

I did receive a free copy of this work for reading and review. ( )
  JmGallen | Jul 31, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0870207296, Paperback)

Milwaukeeans greeted the advent of World War II with the same determination as other Americans. Everyone felt the effect of the war, whether through concern for loved ones in danger, longer work hours, consumer shortages, or participation in war service organizations and drives. Men and women workers produced the essential goods necessary for victory—the vehicles, weapons, munitions, and components for all the machinery of war. But even in wartime there were labor conflicts, fueled by the sacrifices and tensions of wartime life. A City at War focuses on the experience of working men and women in a community that was not a wartime boom town. It looks at the stands of the CIO and the AFL against low wartime wages, and at women in unionized factories facing the perceptions and goals of male workers, union leaders, and society itself. Here is a social history of wartime Milwaukee and its workers as they laid the groundwork for a secure postwar future.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:34:35 -0400)

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