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North Castle Books

Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in America
Authored by: Daniel Jacoby

Cloth ISBN: 978-0-7656-0251-0 Paper ISBN: 978-0-7656-0252-7
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USD: $91.95 USD: $30.95
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Information: 224pp. Bibliography, index.
Publication Date: April 1998.  


Description: Laboring for Freedom examines the concept of freedom in the context of American labor history. Nine chronological chapters develop themes which show that "liberty of contract" and "inalienable rights" form two contradictory traditions concerning freedom: one tradition insists that liberty involves the expression of individual will with regard to one's property (i.e. one's labor); the second tradition holds that there are fundamental rights of man that must neither be taken away by the state nor surrendered by the individual. The tensions between these two concepts are traced in the book. Topics covered include republican independence, corporate paternalism, the compromises of collective bargaining, and human rights in a global economy. The book argues that ultimately freedom is best analyzed as a changing set of constraints, rather than an attainable ideal.

Selected Contents:

1. Republican Soil
2. Contracting Liberties
3. The Properties of Labor
4. A Skillful Control: Managing the Labor Process
5. Incorporating Paternalism
6. Free Education
7. Union Compromise
8. ``Rights'' of Passage
9. Playing the Global Piano
Epilogue: Memories and Challenges

Comment(s): "Jacoby presents a clear, compelling, and morally just account of the uneven and sometimes contradictory struggle for labor rights in America that does not overburden the reader with dogmatic or technical jargon. Laboring for Freedom is an eminently readable account of labor's primary impediments, periodic gains, and frequent setbacks in American history. A valuable guide to American labor history for new students and an excellent resource for labor scholars." -- Immanuel Ness, Brooklyn College/CUNY

Review(s): "Most general histories of labor in the US concentrate on a chronological recounting of the struggles of organized workers to gain better wages, working conditions, and a measure of dignity on the job. Jacoby paints a broader picture by organizing his study around the concept of freedom. ... An interesting ... work based on a wide range of standard secondary resources." -- Choice

"Useful for students in courses in economic history and history generally as well as in courses in labor history. ... A significant achievement ... that should be read widely by historians and all social scientists." -- H-Net

"Jacoby provides a stimulating interpretation of the history of the U.S. labor movement. Beyond being insightful, the book is well written and adds interest to the activities and issues examined. In all, this is a good book to read and discuss." -- Monthly Labor Review

"Connects labor history with a breathtaking array of topics. ... All of [the] ... sketches are thoughtful and provocative. ... The author's engaging approach should open fruitful discussion." -- Michigan Historical Review

"Engaging and challenging. ... Jacoby ... enlivens his text with eye-opening references to classical works of political economy and even fiction ...[and] animates the conservativism of Milton Friedman's school of modern economics. ... He is at his best in demonstrating the tensions and contradictions that inhered in the competing doctrines of contract and collective rights." -- The Journal of American History

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