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Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-60 [Paperback]

Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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"A book of enormous import ... a wealth of evidence to demonstrate the extent to which the American business community sought to discredit New Deal liberalism and undermine the power and legitimacy of organized labor." -- Business History Review

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During the winter of 1945-46, a strike wave of massive proportions swept the United States. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Corporate Power Sept. 30 2000
Format:Paperback
A wonderful and well researched study of the origins of corporate power in America. It began with the Big Business reaction towards the gains made by the American labor movement in the 30s with the FLSA. That reaction was embodied in the most anti-labor law passed in the history of America, the 1947 Taft/Hartley Law. This is a must read for all labor activists out there. The book goes into the strategies and propaganda used then to sway the American people against organized labor. Many of the strategies of the past are still used today by American Business and this book will help you recognize them, answer them and effectively rebut them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important contribution to understanding the US Aug. 13 2002
Format:Paperback
This book was recently strongly endorsed by Noam Chomsky and for good reason. There is an extreme scarcity of books that address the mechanics of propaganda in the US. For people interested in the details of how the US became the most propagandized society on earth, this book is an invaluable resource.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Different View of 1950s America June 24 2013
By Daffy Bibliophile TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When most people think of American society in the 1950s they think of "Leave It To Beaver"; an age of consumer abundance, good jobs and political consensus. What Fones-Wolf has shown in this book is that business and labour fought a protracted and intense propaganda struggle for the hearts and minds of American citizens. Starting in 1944, even before the end of the Second World War, the business community, especially the very conservative National Association of Manufacturers, realized the threat that New Deal values represented to corporate interests and they began to prepare themselves for the post-war world and the struggle with labour unions. Both sides in this struggle between the corporations and the unions used any and all media to get their message across. At stake was the shape of American society in the years after the Second World War.

Fones-Wolf has written a very readable account of this struggle, an ideological struggle that engaged Americans throughout the late-forties and the fifties and bears little resemblance to the TV version of society epitomized by "Leave It To Beaver". The book is well-written, well-annotated and opens a new view on the struggle between corporate interests and the interests of wider society.

An interesting quote caught my eye. On page 258 Fones-Wolf quotes National Association of Manufacturers chairman Charles Sligh in 1955 wondering if the AFL-CIO might "become a ghost government, in which a handful of people not elected, not authorized by the American people would pull strings behind the scenes to direct the destinies of the nation". Sligh was right, except it wasn't the unions which became his "ghost government" it was, and is, the corporations. Sadly ironic.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Turgid, a book of little consequence March 7 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book attempts to prove what everyone already knows. Fones Wolf proves she has no depth and no real understanding of Twentieth century cultural and intellectual history. Her book is pitched toward the lamest of knee jerk liberals.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Corporate Power Sept. 30 2000
By Douglas E Champiny - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A wonderful and well researched study of the origins of corporate power in America. It began with the Big Business reaction towards the gains made by the American labor movement in the 30s with the FLSA. That reaction was embodied in the most anti-labor law passed in the history of America, the 1947 Taft/Hartley Law. This is a must read for all labor activists out there. The book goes into the strategies and propaganda used then to sway the American people against organized labor. Many of the strategies of the past are still used today by American Business and this book will help you recognize them, answer them and effectively rebut them.
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important contribution to understanding the US Aug. 13 2002
By Ken McCarthy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was recently strongly endorsed by Noam Chomsky and for good reason. There is an extreme scarcity of books that address the mechanics of propaganda in the US. For people interested in the details of how the US became the most propagandized society on earth, this book is an invaluable resource.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The true origins of McCarthyism Sept. 28 2012
By R. L. Huff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I agree with reviewer Wood that the writing is rather dense, but this is an indispensible take on mid 20th-century capitalist culture clawing its way back to post-war prominence. That Ronald Reagan played his role as spokesman for the Restoration, and became its symbol of victory, underscores the continuity of this long, bitter class struggle.

We see here the true reasons for McCarthyism: just as Stalin's blood purges used fascism as excuse, so did the US business world misuse Communism in their muted civil war to reclaim Washington and city hall, the universities and mass media. Ms. Fones-Wolf raises an important point that "business humanism" - as well as name-calling and repression - was instrumental in rivaling unions for worker loyalty, and neutralizing community attitudes. Yet I see another equally vital reason for the decline of unionism at this time: the rise of the suburb, sundering the urban working class community that made mass strike action viable. The suburban worker, rising to fight his way through rush hour traffic, surrounded by neighbors with totally different occupations and life histories, became an atomized cipher in the postwar world and thus powerless to meaningfully affect it. (Hence the rise of "postal rage" as ersatz outlet.) The anomie of the modern citizen of the "Western democracies" seems to have been consciously created by elites, to beat back their all-too-brief scare between the Depression and WW II.

This led to the alienation between liberalism and labor. Fones-Wolf touches on the origins of this split: its working class base eroding, liberalism turned to the civil rights movement; "culture issues" became the linchpin of intellectual progressivism. Workers left behind, in old factory towns or new developments, were lulled by a postwar boom economy into alliance with former enemies like Richard Nixon. The betrayal of "conservative labor" by its new "friends" has been the coup de grace of the struggle. Never again will labor - and possibly liberalism - enjoy such solid social power, and that defeat began in the desperate years outlined in depth here.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't put it down. Feb. 28 2011
By Rich Barber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great book. The Business Class in America will stop at nothing when it comes to the war on America's workers. Turn on the radio today and you can hear the same BS right wing propaganda from 50 years ago. Americans need to wake up.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Engineers of Human Souls July 5 2012
By S Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Elizabeth Fones-Wolf 1996 publication "Selling Free Enterprise" is a comprehensive look at the efforts of the business community, between 1945 and 1960, to marginalise organised labour and retard any further development of the progressive politics that gained ground during the period from the 1930's Depression through to the end of the war.

The result is a dense well sourced book that details the conflict, primarily between organised labour and the business associations, over the United States political-economic development. Other protaganists include religious organisations and the media who were to varying degrees subverted by the business community as part of their efforts to turn their "free enterprise" credo into the common wisdom that constrains debate and decisions about political-economic life in the United States. Organised Labour and others efforts to defend and extend the gains of the New Deal era are examined closely, and the author doesn't shy away from identifying those defeats that were far from inevitable, despite the cards stacked against them.

On the downside some may find Fones-Wolf's prose more than a little dry, certainly it is not a racy read, but she is nothing if not thorough end-notes to each chapter testify. On the context within which the events examined occurred, such as the first third of the Cold War and the period of political repression known as McCarthyism, Fones-Wolf is perhaps not as thorough as she might have been. Certainly the phenomena of McCarthyism during her period, and its role in creating a congenial environment for the advancing of businesses agenda, deserves a chapter in itself.

Despite these shortcomings the book is an interesting look at how the Business community fought to re-engineer the outlook of America in its own interests, and the efforts of Unions and others to block this development. Readers interested in McCarthyism can find a short and readable introduction in Ellen Schreckers The Age of McCarthyism.
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