A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society

Overview

"A Living Wage," the rallying cry of union activists, is a concept with a revealing history, here documented by Lawrence B. Glickman. The labor movement's response to wages shows how American workers negotiated the transition from artisan to consumer, opening up new political possibilities for organized workers. At the same time, however, they created contradictions that continue to haunt the labor movement today. Nineteenth-century workers saw wages as dangerous, Glickman reveals, because workers hoped to become self-employed artisans rather ...
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Overview

"A Living Wage," the rallying cry of union activists, is a concept with a revealing history, here documented by Lawrence B. Glickman. The labor movement's response to wages shows how American workers negotiated the transition from artisan to consumer, opening up new political possibilities for organized workers. At the same time, however, they created contradictions that continue to haunt the labor movement today. Nineteenth-century workers saw wages as dangerous, Glickman reveals, because workers hoped to become self-employed artisans rather than permanent employees. In the decades after the Civil War, organized workers began to view wage labor differently. Redefining working-class identity in consumerist terms, unions demanded a wage that would reward workers commensurate with their needs as consumers. Glickman brings the story of the living wage up to the present, clearly demonstrating how a historical perspective on the concept of a living wage can inform our understanding of current controversies.
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Editorial Reviews

Ralph Nader
If history is to instruct, if history is to motivate, then Lawrence Glickman's interpretative study on the nexus between the worker as employee and the worker as consumer, from the late nineteenth century to the New Deal, fulfills the promise. Active workers, unions and writers in those turbulent decades asked bigger questions about their political economy and challenged the illegitimacy of corporate control far beyond the horizons of their successors today. -- Ralph Nader
From the Publisher
"Glickman analyzes the change in labor-movement ideology from aspiring to make workers self-employed artisans to accepting their status as wage earners. Nevertheless, labor unions disdained 'wage slavery' and fought for a 'living wage' that would reward workers commensurate with their needs as consumers. In doing so, Glickman argues that working-class Americans played an important role in the transformation of America from a producer-driven to a consumer-oriented society."—Library Journal

"A Living Wage is an important book that challenges the view of pure and simple unionism as apolitical. It also calls into question where, when, and why Americans first embraced a consumer identity. . . . a fascinating study of the rise of a consumer-oriented working-class ideology."—Meg Jacobs, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Journal of American History, September, 2000.

"Glickman makes a bold contribution to the wider task of rethinking the late nineteenth century labour movement, and his findings deserve wide notice."—Labour History Review

"Glickman provides an entirely new way of understanding working-class material demands."—Walter Licht, Reviews in American History. December, 1999.

"A very fine, well-written study of changes in rhetoric and ideology, as wll as a lucid discussion of what these changes tell us about the goals of working-class leaders, thinkers, and reformers. Glickman's study is less about wage labor and consumption than about changing notions of and perspectives on these issues. As such, A Living Wage is a valuable contribution to the history of working-class culture, rhetoric, and ideology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."—Michael Ayers Trotti, Ithaca College, Industrial and Labor Relations Review. January, 2000.

"Lawrence Glickman's lively and thoughtful intellectual history of the concept of a living wage speaks both to historians of American working people and to historians of Amercan culture. . . Glickman's primary method is discourse analysis, and he does it very well. . . He writes clearly and evocatively, with sensitivity to gender and race as well as class."—Richart Oestreicher, University of Pittsburgh, Journal of Social History.

"This is a work of enormous range and brilliance that maps one of the great sea changes in recent history: the accommodation to wage labor and the reorientation of the discussion of citizenship, rights, race, and gender to the new realities it imposed. This is the kind of book that will have an enduring life because of the way in which it so fundamentally shifts the terms of the debates into which it enters, and those who read it will thereafter look at the worlds of work and consumption in a new way."—Susan Porter Benson, University of Connecticut

"A Living Wage is an original, exciting, and important book. By taking us inside the labor movement's long-term rumination on wages and the wage-relation, Lawrence Glickman shows what so few other historians have been able to demonstrate: namely, how American workers ideologically negotiated the transition between then and now, how that negotiation opened up new political possibilities for organized workingmen, and, at the same time, how it reinforced and finessed contradictions that continue to haunt the labor movement."—Jean-Christophe Agnew, Yale University

"If history is to instruct, if history is to motivate, then Lawrence Glickman's interpretative study on the nexus between the worker as employee and the worker as consumer, from the late nineteenth century to the New Deal, fulfills the promise. Active workers, unions and writers in those turbulent decades asked bigger questions about their political economy and challenged the illegitimacy of corporate control far beyond the horizons of their successors today. All who are part of today's growing movement for a living family wage, in an America of predominately declining real wages and rising fraud on consumers, can benefit vigorously from this living labor history."—Ralph Nader

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801433573
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1997
  • Series: 11/27/2006
  • Pages: 220
  • Lexile: 1530L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.29 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Table of Contents

Illustrations
Preface
Introduction: Rethinking Wage Labor 1
Pt. I From Wage Slavery to the Living Wage 9
Ch. 1 That Curse of Modern Civilization 17
Ch. 2 Idle Men and Fallen Women 35
Pt. II The Social Economy 55
Ch. 3 Defining the Living Wage 61
Ch. 4 Inventing the American Standard of Living 78
Pt. III Workers of the World, Consume 93
Ch. 5 Merchants of Time 99
Ch. 6 Producers as Consumers 108
Pt. IV The Living Wage in the Twentieth Century 129
Ch. 7 Subsistence or Consumption? 133
Ch. 8 The Living Wage Incorporated 147
Coda: Interpreting the Living Wage and Consumption 157
Abbreviations Used in the Notes 163
Notes 165
Index 215
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