Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Outrage over ebooks! Stop the Madness! (And we can show you how...)

HarperCollins's recent decision to monitor ebook usage and re-charge for the e-titles is reverberating throughout the entire library world; and it is spawning a great deal of not just commentary, but action, which includes boycotts of Harper titles. The purchasing model for trade ebooks in libraries is a crucial issue for all involved, and we will be watching this one closely to see how libraries leverage their influence throughout the proceedings.

But while this is going on, it might be surprising for some to learn that trade publishing is only one part of the entire publishing world. Trade certainly gets outsized coverage in the media, but some estimates size trade publishing at about a quarter of the entire industry. By and large, trade has been very slow to pay much attention to ebooks.

Meanwhile, there is a subset of Academic and Educational publishers that exclusively cater to libraries and have been selling ebooks for a number of years already. ABC-CLIO is one these. And, we think you'll like what you see from our imprints: award-winning titles focusing on current events by expert authors from Praeger Publishers, industry-leading reference titles geared to support student research needs from ABC-CLIO and Greenwood Press, and even titles that will help librarians do their jobs better from Libraries Unlimited and Linworth. We offer some 7,000 titles to choose from, and our ABC-CLIO eBook Collection is a 2010 CODIE Award winner. The clincher just may be the purchase model--one-time purchase price with free hosting for the first five years (and a very small fee thereafter), lifetime access, and unlimited simultaneous use. Trials are free, too. So check us out at http://ebooks.abc-clio.com.

--Kevin Ohe, ABC-CLIO, Director of Editorial, Electronic

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Uncommon Valor – Marine Medals of Honor at Iwo Jima

Many people mistakenly believe that the Battle of Iwo Jima ended on February 23, 1945, when U.S. troops raised the American flag at the top of Mount Suribachi. That iconic moment, captured in a famous photograph by Associated Press reporter Joe Rosenthal, symbolizes victory to most Americans, but in reality the fierce fighting for control of Iwo Jima lasted several more weeks. No one knows that better than the U.S. Marines, who played a key role in that bloody battle. This excerpt from John T. Kuehn appears in ABC-CLIO's America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan (March, 2011) and discusses some of the heroic actions on Iwo Jima that led to 22 marines receiving the Medal of Honor.

In the annals of Marine Corps history, Iwo Jima holds a place of almost mythical honor due to the fact that more Medals of Honor (MOH) were awarded there than for any other comparable campaign that the Marines fought during the War. A total of 27 Medals of Honor were awarded, half of them posthumous. Twenty-two were awarded to Marines.

The first of the medals awarded for Iwo Jima was presented for action that occurred two days prior to D-Day, February 17, 1945, to a landing craft commander, Lt. Rufus G. Herring. Herring’s LCI, supporting an underwater demolition team, got into a hot engagement with the coastal guns on Mount Suribachi. Lt. Herring was wounded after a direct hit to the ship, but was able to con the ship and crew to safety. For this action, he was later awarded the Medal of Honor. Once the landings began in earnest on February 19, the intensity of the action can be traced by the numbers of awards. Including Lt. Herrings’ medal, one third of the MOHs awarded for Iwo Jima were earned in the first five days of fighting.

Representative of the heavy fighting was the action that earned Private First Class Jack Lucas his award on February 20. Lucas, of the 26th Marines, found himself and his buddies in support of a tank crew assaulting a pill box. As Lucas’ squad advanced, 11 enemy soldiers came up behind them from a tunnel. Lucas killed two before shielding his buddies from two grenades that had been thrown by the attackers. Miraculously he survived due to the heroic efforts of on scene Navy hospital corpsmen.

The remaining two thirds of the medals were awarded for the vicious fighting against the teeth of the Japanese defenses in the plateau north of the airfield. By March 14, the battle had been officially declared over, but the bitter fighting continued and two Medals of Honor were awarded that day to two more marines. The fighting continued even after the Army’s 147th Regiment had arrived to take over from the marines; however, all formal resistance was assumed at an end on March 25 when the last Japanese stronghold in “Death Valley” was taken. Nevertheless, the next day a group of 300 Japanese survivors launched an early morning Banzai attack on the airfield. Marine First Lieutenant Harry L. Martin organized a hasty defense and then led a key counterattack until he was felled and mortally wounded by an enemy grenade. Martin’s posthumous award would be the last Medal of Honor given for the battle on Iwo Jima.

Edited by James H. Willbanks
(ABC-CLIO, 2011)

This book features the stories of 200 heroic individuals awarded the Medal of Honor for their distinguished military service while fighting for their country, from the Civil War to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Alarm Bells from Fukushima: The Risks of U.S. Nuclear Energy

In the year marking the 25th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, another nuclear crisis has been unfolding in Japan—and escalating in severity. A record-breaking earthquake and powerful tsunami not only wrecked the northeastern coast of Japan and claimed thousands of human lives but also compromised the cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, instigating partial meltdown in some of the reactors and consequently causing the venting of radioactive materials. As Japanese engineers, military members, and emergency crew scramble to keep the high temperature fuel rods of the reactors submerged in water through the use of firehoses and helicopter waterdumping, they face fluctuating radioactive leakages that endanger workers' health and threaten a full meltdown should the radioactivity escalate to such portentous levels to call for evacuation and abandonment of these last-ditch efforts.

As the world keeps its eyes glued to media updates on the scenario, industrialized countries around the world are reassessing the safety of their current and proposed nuclear energy operations. The United States, in particular, is showing concern, as several of its nuclear facilities mirror the model of the Fukushima plant. On March 16, two congressional hearings were held to discuss what lessons can be applied from the catastrophe in Japan to improve the safety of the 104 U.S. nuclear facilities, especially in the event of natural disasters. Although Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko assured that "U.S. nuclear facilities remain safe" in testimony before Congress, many retain concern. Recently, U.S. energy policy has trended toward promoting nuclear energy because it does not emit any greenhouse gases, unlike fossil fuel-based power plants. But events at Fukushima are revealing that even in a country considered to be the technological equal of the United States, the potential hazards of nuclear energy still present an indubitable risk.

---Ashley Hyder, ABC-CLIO Writer/Editor, American Government and Issues

Additional Resources

To read more about the assets and risks of nuclear energy in the United States and across the world, check out these recent ABC-CLIO titles and resources:

This database helps students develop an in-depth understanding of how society shapes and is shaped by controversy, providing authoritative historical context, expert perspectives, and carefully selected primary and secondary sources on today's most important issues.

In this eye-opening book, author Lloyd J. Dumas argues that our capacity for developing ever more powerful technologies and the unavoidable fallibility of both machine and man will lead us towards a disaster of an unprecedented scale.

Encyclopedia of the U.S. Government and Environment: History, Policy, and Politics, edited by Matthew J. Lindstrom (ABC-CLIO 2010)

A timely new comprehensive resource on the history of the U.S. government's approach to environmental policy.

Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Social Issues, edited by Michael Shally-Jensen (ABC-CLIO 2010)

This single-source reference will help students and general readers alike understand the most critical issues facing American society today.

Beyond the Age of Oil: The Myths, Realities, and Future of Fossil Fuels and Their Alternatives, written by Leonardo Maugeri and translated from the Italian by Jonathan T. Hine Jr. (Praeger 2010)

This book offers a revealing picture of the myths and realities of the energy world by one of our most renowned energy experts and managers.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Purpose and Values of Storytelling

Storytelling has been called the oldest and the newest of the arts. Though its purpose and conditions change from century to century, and from culture to culture, storytelling continues to fulfill the same basic social and individual needs. Human beings seem to have an innate impulse to communicate their feelings and experiences through storying. We tell stories in order to make sense of our world. We express our beliefs, desires, and hopes in stories, in an attempt to explain ourselves and to understand others. In The Completed Gesture, a book about the importance of story in our lives, John Rouse writes, “Stories are told as spells for binding the world together.”(2)

According to Ruth Sawyer, “The first primitive efforts at conscious storytelling consisted of a simple chant, set to the rhythm of some tribal occupation such as grinding corn, paddling canoe or kayak, sharpening weapons for hunting or war, or ceremonial dancing. They were in the first person, impromptu, giving expression to pride or exultation over some act of bravery or accomplishment that set the individual for the moment apart from the tribe.”(3)

In this early period everyone was a storyteller just as every young child today is a storyteller. The three-year-old tells a story using gestures, mime, dance, sound, and language, as in an earlier age when the expressive arts were one. As human societies became more complex, art specialties—drama, dance, music—developed. Song separated from narration. Those persons who possessed charisma, a greater command of language, a good memory, and a fine sense of timing became the community’s storytellers.

Stories changed from first-person to third-person narratives. One theory is that deeds were so exaggerated that modesty required the teller to attribute them to a third party, and thus the hero tale was born. Storytellers became the genealogists, historians, and keepers of the culture, as well as its entertainers.

The first written record of an activity that appears to be storytelling is found in an Egyptian papyrus called the Westcar Papyrus (recorded sometime between 2000 and 1300 b.c.e.) in which the three sons of Cheops, the famous builder of pyramids, take turns entertaining their father with strange tales. The earliest known heroic epic, Gilgamesh, was first told by the Sumerians, the inventors of the written word, and was taken over by the Babylonians when the Sumerian civilization collapsed in 2000 b.c.e. There are evidences of Gilgamesh in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, in the Greek mythologies, and in Hebrew scriptures. The tellers of the Greek myths created supernatural beings with the power to rule the terrifying forces of nature, and yet these gods had human frailties. Abraham and his descendants, the Israelites, preserved the stories within the Sumerian epic, changing them as storytellers do, and so, out of the story of the great flood came Noah and the ark. Scholars see a relationship between the bull painted by the cave artists, the Bull of Heaven in the Gilgamesh tale, Zeus transforming himself into a white bull to seduce Europa, the Greek myth of Theseus and Minos’s minotaur (who was half man, half bull), and the buffalo dance of Native American tribes.

Storytelling was also looked upon as a way of teaching social and moral values. Both Plato and Aristotle mention storytelling to children in this connection ... Among Native Americans, children were present during storytelling and were expected to listen. Among the Xhosa and Zulu peoples of Africa, storytelling was considered training in listening and telling; children were expected to learn the stories they heard from their elders.

Storytelling is no longer just for children. Adults have reclaimed it for themselves. Perhaps storytelling fills the need for intimacy not easily found in our mobile society (and not offered by the electronic storyteller that invaded the family living room in the 1950s). Perhaps, as former student Tina-Jill Gordon (now curriculum director, Wall Township Schools, New Jersey) wrote in her doctoral dissertation, “It may be that as our world has metaphorically shrunk, we have had to confront the fact that we are part of a global community. As we seek to understand one another, what binds us together is beginning to seem more significant than what makes us different. Just as we have begun to recognize that the ecosystem of the earth is one interconnected system, perhaps we are beginning to realize that the human experience is similarly connected.”(16)

Web Resources
History of Storytelling
Reading Is Fundamental, Inc.

Origins of Storytelling
Inez Ramsey, Professor Emeritus, James Madison University

Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute: The Oral Tradition:
Professional articles about different oral traditions.

2. John Rouse, The Completed Gesture (Unicorn/Skyline Books, 1978).
3. R uth Sawyer, The Way of the Storyteller (Viking, 1942, 1962), pp. 45–46. (Penguin
edition, 1977)
16. T ina-Jill Gordon, “Teachers Telling Stories: Seven-, Eight- and Nine-Year Old
Children’s Written Responses to Oral Narratives” (Ed. D. diss., Rutgers University,
1991), p. 2.

Excerpted from "Purpose and Values of Storytelling" from Storytelling: Art and Technique, Fourth Edition by Ellin Greene and Janice M. Del Negro

Thoroughly revised and updated, the fourth edition of the classic Storytelling: Art and Technique is an essential guide for beginning and experienced storytellers alike.

Ellin Greene, EdD, is an internationally known storyteller, lecturer, workshop leader, and conference director.
Janice M. Del Negro, PhD, is assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, River Forest, IL.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bahrain: Pearls and Politics

By Elizabeth Faier

The natural pearl, rich in luster, sensuality, and value has long punctuated Bahraini history, culture, economy, and politics. Pearling—diving for and collecting natural pearls from the waters of the Arabian Gulf—occurred throughout the region but was particularly associated with settlements in what is today Bahrain. When the al-Khalifa family, which currently rules Bahrain, arrived in the mid-18th century, they quickly established their presence and control in the area partly through the thriving pearl trade.

During pearl season, which ran during the excruciatingly hot months of late spring until early fall, divers and pullers (men who literally hauled divers to the surface) would leave their homes to embark on the arduous task of collecting pearls. Their work not only kept them away from their homes for long periods of time but also was dangerous, subjecting them to grueling physical conditions and indebting their families to boat owners. As the divers set off from shore, their oars slapped at the sea in rhythmic unison. "The naham, or performance leader, led the men in fidjeri, or sea-faring songs, particular to pearl divers. Punctuating the rhythmic songs were the drum and hand clapping. The songs provided the divers with motivation as they called out together, singing songs of their toil" (Culture and Customs of the Arab Gulf States, 135). Diving was a difficult lifestyle for both the divers and their families; although the divers themselves did not profit much from their toil, it was the significant contributor to the economy at that time.

Around 1930 the pearl trade collapsed when new technology from Japan allowed for the cultivation of relatively inexpensive pearls, or "cultured pearls." Fortunately for the al-Khalifa family, the collapse of the market occurred around the same time oil was discovered in Bahrain, eventually affording the al-Khalifa family resources to modernize the country. By the time the British decided to leave in the 1960s, their influence on both the economic and political development of the region was clearly evident; the tribes with whom the British had partnered on various treaties moved into leadership positions during processes of nation-state building. In the case of Bahrain, the power given to the al-Khalifa family by the British authorities combined with the British import of ethnic Arabs as a way to counter Persian influences in the Gulf, gave way to a split Sunni-Shia demographic that still informs the organization of society today. Thus, in 1971 when the al-Khalifa family declared independence, not only did they establish the nation-state of Bahrain (since 2002, the "Kingdom of Bahrain") but also the dominance of Sunni rulers over a predominantly Shia population.

Today the pearl, or lulu in Gulf Arabic dialect, remains a trope of Bahraini culture. "People … tell stories about the origin of the pearl. In Bahrain, parents tell their children that a mermaid's teardrop fell into an oyster shell and created the pearl" (Culture and Customs of the Arab Gulf States, 135). The meaningfulness of the pearl emerges not only in folk stories but public folk art, as the pearl is a common symbol throughout the Gulf. In downtown Manama, "Pearl Roundabout," an enormous piece of sculpture, testifies to the importance of the pearl and the maritime past. The roundabout, or square, is a major landmark at a busy intersection in central Manama. From a pool of water in the middle of the square rises six enormous dhow (boat) sails atop which rests a pearl; the size of the sculpture dwarfs everything in its presence.

In mid-February 2011, just a few days after the collapse of Mubarak's government in Egypt, world media focused its attention on the Pearl Roundabout and the tiny island-state of Bahrain. Despite warnings and an offer from King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to pay Bahraini families to stay home and forgo participating in any unrest, people gathered at the roundabout to demonstrate against the rule of the al-Khalifa clan. Throughout the Gulf, nationals (citizens who can claim national identity) regularly receive part of state oil revenues, trading political representation for financial subsidy in a complex web of patron relations. Still, outbreaks of violence are not unknown in Bahrain and within the Gulf context, occur rather frequently. Middle East pundits suggest that protests result from religious divisions and sectarianism, as the Sunni elite exercise greater power and receive more opportunities than Bahrain’s Shiite majority population. Still, many demonstrations as well as the current uprising point to deeper societal unrest over jobs, political representation, civil and human rights, and citizenship, moving beyond religious sects and permeating all aspects of society.

Initially, the February 2011 protests called for increased jobs and economic opportunities. However, when the royal family endorsed the use of live ammunition on its population, bringing tanks, mercenaries, and soldiers to the tent encampment that had grown in Pearl Roundabout, a new chapter in Gulf politics opened. Demonstrators were caught off guard in the middle of the night as the military descended upon them, firing indiscriminately on both Sunni and Shia individuals, clearing the square, and preventing emergency care from reaching injured individuals. Since then, both the character of the demonstrations and the royal family response has changed—the royal family has admitted that attacking its population was a mistake, and demonstrators have called for greater reform through complete regime change.

It remains to be seen whether Bahrain will follow in the footsteps of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. At the end of February, after a lull following the killings, demonstrators returned to the street, filling Pearl Square with numbers upwards of 100,000, a very sizable amount in any city but especially in a relatively small state such as Bahrain. Today, Pearl Roundabout is both a protest and memorial space, and the pearl remains a part of and symbol for the transition and development of Bahraini society. As the folk legend suggests, the birth of the pearl stems from tears. The question remains, what pearls will today's tears produce for tomorrow?


Dr. Elizabeth Faier holds a PhD and an M.A. in anthropology from Indiana University and a B.A. in anthropology from Cornell University. She focuses her research and scholarship on issues of gender/feminism, urban space, rights and regulations, power, modernity, globalization, and social theory. Previously she taught at the University of Richmond's Jepson School of Leadership Studies and served as an administrator and faculty member at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates. Her books include Cultures and Customs of the Arab Gulf States (co-authored), for Greenwood Press.


Additional Resources

Rebecca L. Torstrick and Elizabeth Faier
Greenwood, 2009

Exciting, exhaustive, and essential coverage on the Arab Gulf States, this work is ideal for high school students and general readers.

Sebastian Maisel, John A. Shoup
Greenwood, 2009

This invaluable set provides broad coverage of countries that are little known in the United States and even less written about in English.

World Geography: Understanding a Changing World provides online tools that develop students' global literacy, focusing on the geographical, political, social, economic, and cultural forces that are increasingly important in our globalized world.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Attacking American Vessels Is Bad Business for the Somali Pirate-Syndicates

By David F. Marley

A little less than two years ago—on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009—the most infamous incident until that time involving Somali pirates ended joyfully for America when Captain Richard Phillips of the container-ship Maersk Alabama was rescued from captivity at the hands of four gun-toting Somali pirates. U.S. Navy SEAL sharpshooters concealed on the guided-missile destroyer Bainbridge had expertly killed three of his captors with a single well-aimed volley, allowing for the fourth to be arrested without resistance. Captain Phillips and the rest of the Mersk Alabama’s brave crew were then flown home to a euphoric reception, and eight days later the lone surviving gunman was paraded off a helicopter—past an array of waiting TV cameras—to be arraigned on 10 counts of piracy, punishable by death.

Since that time, interest in the thorny issue of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean has faded out of the consciousness of America’s media and the public at large, to be supplanted by other more current stories and news-cycles from different corners of the world. Yet reports of ship hijackings continued almost weekly, with hundreds of foreign sailors being held hostage off the bleak, lawless, sun-baked stretch of shoreline in central Somalia. It is a documented fact that in the year immediately following that memorable Mersk Alabama triumph—seemingly a setback for the pirates—the number of their attempted assaults increased, not decreased, and they significantly widened their operational-range, netting almost 50 vessels and more than 1,000 new hostages in 2010 alone.

Their dogged determination in such a pursuit should come as no surprise, given their lack of any other source of income. The utter collapse of Somalia’s ineffectual federal government has seen that patchwork of a nation dissolve into an even more fragmented agglomeration of autonomous regions and tribal fiefdoms, with local leaders more responsive to ancient clan ties than to any central authority. Vulnerable and defenceless within this power vacuum, the dirt-poor fishing ports along central Somalia’s coastline were callously ignored while foreign fleets swept bare the meager fish stocks and international waste-disposal firms dumped tens of millions of tons of toxic materials into their waters. Seeing their scanty livelihoods disappearing, fishermen began attacking the intruders closest inshore, then broadened their forays farther out into the international shipping lanes, eventually assaulting passing merchantmen of every nationality.

Factions fighting the relentless civil wars raging elsewhere in that strife-torn country had already demonstrated how such prizes could be anchored with impunity in Somalia’s territorial waters, as ransoms for their release were extorted from overseas. Soon, this practice became an organized business, captive vessels lying within plain sight of shore for weeks or months on end with tacit collusion from unsalaried local officials. The crews of these captive vessels were supplied on credit by struggling town merchants. The eventual payment of any large sum would be claimed by the pirate syndicate, with shares divided amongst all interested parties. These payments represented a significant infusion of capital into such a downtrodden economy. Not even public proscriptions against piracy issued by dour Muslim clerics, offended by the worldly allure of such ill-gotten wealth, could curtail the growing frequency of pirate sorties.

Today, the underlying root causes behind this predatory business, identified and confirmed by foreign observers and multinational institutions alike, have not begun to be addressed directly, much less resolved. No civil inroads are being contemplated in central Somalia. No local cooperation is being sought from chieftains or elders. No breakthrough is remotely anticipated ashore, and so the unending stream of youthful gunmen will continue to put out to sea.

To circumvent the beefed-up surveillance, defensive countermeasures, and constant ocean patrols sustained in the main shipping lanes around the Horn of Africa by a rotating squadron of West European and international warships and planes, the pirate handlers have begun directing their gunboats farther and farther afield in quest of victims, usually by commandeering a hapless, nondescript vessel to serve as a “mother ship,” which permits them to roam undetected most everywhere on the immense expanse of the Indian Ocean.

It was just such a long-range foray that four Americans unfortunately blundered into, when they were surprised and boarded by a gang of 19 Somali pirates some 270 miles off Oman, while sailing their oceangoing yacht Quest toward the port of Salalah. Again, the U.S. Navy raced to the rescue, arriving in overwhelming force to cow the cornered pirates into heaving-to. Only this time, there was to be no happy ending.

Unlike the hijacking of an oil tanker or cargo ship, in which the pirates' prime bargaining chip is the ship itself, the crew members themselves become the trump card during the seizure of a private vessel. After FBI negotiators decided to seize the first two pirates who had ventured aboard USS Sterett, informing their colleagues on the yacht to send across more willing spokesmen, the crisis suddenly exploded into murder. The pirates slaughtered the four bound Americans, and were in turn either killed or captured.

In the immediate aftermath of these senseless killings, a pirate leader named Farah, speaking by telephone from Bayla in Somalia’s northern semiautonomous region of Puntland, issued the usual vows to avenge the deaths and capture of his comrades. But he then went on to tellingly lament the loss of “the money [he] invested,” even estimating its value at $110,000 in weapons, food, and salaries.

Perhaps the only good that might come out of this sad encounter might be the lesson that attacking American vessels will always be bad business for Somalia’s pirate syndicates, possibly discouraging or at least defusing any future clashes. Since the U.S. Navy always intervenes so rapidly and forcefully—even if hostages should tragically be slain—the pirates and their greedy financiers ashore will come away with… nothing.

David F. Marley is a historian who has conducted extensive primary-source research in Latin America and Europe and currently resides in Canada. He is the author of the 1994 Pirates and Privateers of the Americas, Pirates of the Americas (ABC-CLIO, 2010) and Modern Piracy: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO, 2010). 

This book offers true stories of bloodthirsty pirates and the courageous men trying to stop them during the Western Hemisphere's golden age of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries.


This reference text explains what modern piracy is, where and why it happens, and what measures are being taken to combat it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Organized Labor: Agincourt or Waterloo?

By Robert Weir

[The opinions expressed in the following essay are solely those of the author and do not represent ABC-CLIO.]

In 1415, King Henry V found himself trapped by French forces numbering more than 25,000. Against all odds, Henry’s band of around 8,500 routed superior French forces and inflicted a 10:1 casualty rate upon them. Turn the clock forward 400 years to 1815. Near Waterloo, Belgium, the Duke of Wellington defeated 69,000 troops commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life exiled on a floating rock known as St. Helena.

Why the ancient history lesson? Jump ahead another 300 years and look at Wisconsin. The unfolding drama there may well determine whether organized labor is fighting its Agincourt or its Waterloo. If labor unions lose this one, they may well be as defunct as their ancient roots: the guild system of Henry V’s time.

Only a foolish optimist would deny that organized labor is reeling. Fewer than 12% of all American workers, and just 7% of those in the private sector, belong to unions. At present, any occupation that can be moved is practically unorganizable (and will remain so barring an unlikely Congressional vote to amend existing labor laws). The only glimmer of hope is among workers whose jobs can’t be moved: teachers, fire fighters, cops, civil servants, medical personnel, and service-industry workers. If Governor Scott Walker strips collective bargaining rights from these workers, there won’t be much left upon which organized labor can rebuild, and the only unions left with clout will be those in entertainment and professional sports.

Is Wisconsin broke? Yes. Is Governor Walker out of options? No. Budget cuts involve a choice of which cows will be led to the abattoir and Walker’s decision to place teachers and public employees in that herd is clearly an ideologically driven attempt to smash unions that didn’t support his election. Wisconsin’s projected budget deficit is $137 million; nearly double that could be raised if Governor Walker chose to slash 20% from the department of corrections. He won’t do that because police fraternities endorsed him.

It’s historical fact, not partisan rant, to associate the Republican Party with an aggressive anti-union position. Most historians trace the party’s pro-business shift to the 1896 election in which William McKinley ascended to the presidency by convincing the electorate that he’d save the nation from inflationary Free Silver advocates, socialist-leaning Populists, and labor radicals. Walker’s freedom of contract language is straight out of the open-shop movement of the 1920s, his desire to curtail union activism reminiscent of Republicans who advanced the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, and his threat to fire workers evocative of President Ronald Reagan during the 1981 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike.

Unions rallied from setbacks in the past. McKinley’s pro-business polices inspired a surge in union membership in the early twentieth century. The open shop drive weakened with the coming of the Great Depression and the labor reforms of the New Deal; Taft-Hartley led the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations to bury their hatchets and merge in 1955. Labor even halted the expansion of Reagan-era right-to-work legislation.

But the United States is a very different place now. In the past, unions regrouped because America was still a powerful industrial nation with jobs that had to get done. In the current postindustrial and globalized economy the future of work itself is uncertain, not just organized labor’s role in the economy. Those who say that the AFL-CIO’s brand of business unionism is a relic of the industrial past may have a point.

Is there hope? It could depend on what happens in Wisconsin. Labor’s one bright spot over the past few decades has been among government employees, over 40% of whom are unionized. In the past, public employees have shown more defiance of than respect for political bullying. Teachers had no collective bargaining rights until 1960, when New York City educators ignored threats and labor laws to win a contract. Ten years later post office employees launched the first-ever nationwide strike of federal workers, also despite strike prohibitions. The American Federation of Government Employees has stared down several hostile White House administrations. But if Wisconsin causes public employee unions to go the way of blue-collar organizations, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka can book passage to St. Helena. Another lesson from the past: Wisconsin state troopers should watch their backs before trusting Governor Walker. Just two major unions endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980: the Teamsters and PATCO! As Mark Twain once observed, “Gratitude and treachery are merely the two extremities of the same procession.”


ROBERT E. WEIR is a Lecturer at Commonwealth College, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Visiting Lecturer at Smith College, co-editor of the acclaimed Historical Encyclopedia of Labor (Greenwood, 2004), and a freelance writer.

Addition Reading

Robert E. Weir, ed., James P. Hanlan, ed.
Greenwood, 2004

This two-volume, A-Z resource covers the history of organized labor in all of its complexity, from the dawn of the industrial revolution to the post-industrial age.

Robert E. Weir, ed.

This A-Z encyclopedia, the first to focus on class in the United States, surveys the breadth of class strata throughout our history, cross-discipline, for high school students to the general public.

From the explorers of the Americas to the issues of today's headlines, the American History database investigates the people, events, and stories of our nation's evolution.