- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: University of Illinois Press (Jan. 1 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0252064399
- ISBN-13: 978-0252064395
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 476 g
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #634,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-60 Paperback – Jan 1 1995
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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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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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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.
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.