This page focuses on political strength, or strength in numbers fortified by unity. Among the most moving examples of this was the march on Washington in August of 1963, when Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Leaders and would-be leaders aspire to that example to this day.
Union movements from across the world offer one of many illustrations of the power of unity and cohesion. Mainly, the story of labor is a study in raw power through organization. Labor movements have been tainted by internal corruption and have been single-minded in their pursuit of countervailing power for the workers in their sector of the economy.
The American labor movement has fallen on hard times in recent decades: national unions could not counteract the forces of a global economy and were not willing to assess the effects of those developments on their future. Perversely, as union power has declined in the United States, a division has emerged between union and non-union labor: this division is both economic and political, as corporations and their political allies have successfully pitted workers against each other.
All the same, without labor movements, a strong and vibrant middle class may never have arisen anywhere in the developed world. Without it, capitalism’s natural tendency toward excessive concentrations of wealth would have been accelerated. Labor movements are case studies in the accumulation, sustainability and ethical consequences of power-seeking. So I offer the story of organized labor and the working class, flaws and all, as an important part of our narrative.
Lyndon Johnson was an exceptionally effective President, until the war in Viet Nam destroyed his credibility and sapped his political strength. He utilized his knowledge, skill and relationships with members of Congress to enact some of the most significant legislation in United States history: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, open housing and antipoverty legislation. Robert A. Caro has written a four-volume biography tracing Johnson’s rise to and exercise of power.
- Robert A Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).
- Robert A Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991).
- Robert A Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002).
- Robert A Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).
Histories of the March on Washington on August 28, 1963:
- Charles Euchner, Nobody Turn Me Around: A People's History of the 1963 March on Washington (Beacon Press, 2010).
- Patrick Henry Bass, Like a Mighty Stream: The March on Washington, August 28, 1963 (Running Press, 2002).
- video: I Have a Dream speech
- video: march on Washington for jobs and freedom, 1963
- video: the people arrive and assemble
Histories of the labor movement:
- Philip Dray, There Is Power In a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America (Doubleday, 2010).
- Jefferson R. Cowie, Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New Press, 2010).
- Thomas F. Reed and Karen Brandow, The Sky Never Changes: Testimonies from the Guatemalan Labor Movement (ILR Press, 1996).
- Gerald Friedman, State-Making and Labor Movements: France and the United States, 1876-1914 (Cornell University Press, 1999).
- David Montgomery, Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United States with Democracy and the Free Market During the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1993).
- David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 (Cambridge University Press, 1987).
- David Montgomery, Workers' Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles (Cambridge University Press, 1979).
- Carl R. Weinberg, Labor, Loyalty, and Rebellion: Southwestern Illinois Coal Miners & World War I (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005).
- Philip Yale Nicholson, Labor's Story in the United States (Temple University Press, 2004).
- Nelson Lichtenstein, State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Princeton University Press, 2002).
- Jack Metzgar, Striking Steel: Solidarity Remembered (Temple University Press, 2000).
- Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (Quadrangle, 1969) (see these links for previews from the abridged version).
- Robert H. Zieger, The CIO, 1935-1955 (University of North Carolina Press, 1995).
- Fred Rose, Coalitions Across the Class Divide: Lessons from the Labor, Peace, and Environmental Movements (Cornell University Press, 2000).
- Tom Buchanan, The Spanish Civil War and the British Labor Movement (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
- David Brody, Labor Embattled: history, power, rights (University of Illinois Press, 2005).
- James Brennen, The Labor Wars in Córdoba, 1955-1976: Ideology, Work, and Labor Politics in an Argentine Industrial City (Harvard University Press, 1998).
- Gregory S. Kealey and Bryan D. Palmer, Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 1982).
- Patrick Heller, The Labor of Development: Workers and the Transformation of Capitalism in Kerala, India (Cornell University Press, 2000).
- Nathan Lichtenstein, Labor's War at Home: The CIO in World War II (Temple University Press, 2003).
- Desmond Morton, Working People: An Illustrated History of the Candian Labour Movement (MacGill-Queens University Press, 2008).
- Iowerth Prothero, Radical Artisans in England and France, 1830-1870 (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
- Jan Kubik, The Power of Symbols Against the Symbols of Power: The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994).
- Timothy Garton Ash, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity (Scribner, 1984).
- Roland Erne, European Unions: Labor's Quest for a Transnational Democracy (Cornell University Press, 2008).
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Julius G. Getman, Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement (Yale University Press, 2010).
- Beverly J. Silver, Forces of Labor: Workers' Movements and Globalization since 1870 (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
- Hoyt N. Wheeler, The Future of the American Labor Movement (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
- Eileen Boris and Nelson Lichtenstein, eds., Major Problems in the History of American Workers: Documents and Essays (Wadsworth Publishing, 2002).
- David Brody, In Labor's Cause: Main Themes on the History of the American Worker (Oxford University Press, 1993).
- Karen Orren, Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law, and Liberal Development in the United States (Cambridge University Press, 1992).
Film and Stage
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
John Philip Sousa’s stirring marches convey strength through unity of purpose. Politically, people who are right of center are more likely than people on the left to find these works stirring or inspiring. I urge my friends who are on the left as I am to rethink their reaction. We build ethical systems one step at a time, and while gung-ho patriotism has done worlds of damage, reining in the excesses and drawing appropriate distinctions is up to us. This is inspiring music, which – like all music – invites our participation.
- complete marches, performed by “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band, volumes 1-5; volume 6
- The Stars and Stripes Forever
- The Washington Post
- Americans We
- El Capitan
- Semper Fidelis
Dvořák piano trios: strength in unity of purpose
- Trio No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 21, B 51 (1875)
- Trio No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, B 56 (1876)
- Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65, B 130 (1883)
- Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 166, B 90, “Dumky” (1891)
- Borodin, Polovtsian Dances: “In the Steppes of Central Asia”; “Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens”; “Prince Igor”
- Prokofiev, Alexander Nevsky
- Tchaikovsky, String Quartet in D Major, Op. 11 (1871): the work proceeds as though the players are driving urgently toward a common goal.
- Liszt, Prometheus (Poème symphonique No. 5), S. 99 (1850)
- The Lonnie Brooks Blues Band, “Bayou Lightning” (1979): “. . . powerhouse vocals, a personal and forceful guitar attack and a potent blend of swampy Louisiana vibes . . .” [Downbeat magazine, September 2021, p. 39.]
- Kaisai Allstars, “Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound” (2021), “centers around the very idea that was the basis of their success all those years ago: that unity is strength.”