Fightin' for the Union.

AuthorGunn, Erik

Fighting Times: Organizing on the Front Lines of the Class War By Jon Melrod PM Press 320 pages Publication date: September 27,2022

Amid the slow-motion horrors of these times--an inexorable and seemingly intractable pandemic and equally persistent coup efforts that began long before the U.S. Capitol attack--there are occasions for guarded optimism. One is the resurgence of American unionism, reflected in the rolling victories of Starbucks workers and an emboldened workforce willing to strike in industries ranging from health care to food processing.

All of that makes Jon Melrod's Fighting Times a timely bit of history from a half-century ago. Melrod, a veteran of one of the United Auto Workers unions most militant locals who went on to become a human rights lawyer, offers up an activist memoir that reflects all the particularity of the time and place it chronicles: the 1970s and 1980s in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a small industrial city. But the book is also a window into an inflection point in the modern U.S. labor movement that has the potential to offer lessons for a new generation of workers and union activists.

The child of a middle-class, white, Jewish family who grew up in a deeply segregated Washington, D.C., in the 1950s and 1960s, Melrod took an unexpected path to the factory floor and union activism that wound through boarding school and attendance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But he was just one of hundreds of New Left student organizers in those days who entered the blue-collar world, producing a crop of local union leaders who helped bring generational change to the labor movement.

Melrod was part of a cadre of young UAW Local 72 firebrands at the American Motors plant in Kenosha who stood up to imperious supervisors and management while also putting pressure on union leaders they found too accommodating. The book takes its name from an underground union newspaper that Melrod and co-workers published, which earned a footnote in labor and journalism history when it overcame a potentially ruinous $4 million libel suit (the judge directed a guilty verdict, but the jury awarded no damages), and the National Labor Relations Board subsequently ordered American Motors to pay out $238,000 after a finding that the company's role in...

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