Jefferson Cowie

Jefferson Cowie, associate professor at Cornell University, is the author of Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, published September 2010 by The New Press. More at

Recent Articles

The Ghost of Full Employment

In the 1970s, Americans also faced a global recession and double-digit unemployment -- but back then politicians had the courage to think big.

Sen. Hubert Humphrey, 1974 (AP Photo)
After nearly two years of bad economic news, which topped off three decades of economic insecurity, perhaps it's understandable that we've grown indifferent to labor-market pains. We shrug at long-term double-digit unemployment. We greet the news of record-breaking poverty with a national yawn. We've come to believe that unconscionable levels of inequality are something natural to the social order. The government's direct response to the jobs and poverty crisis has been simple indifference. Wedded to the idea that propping up the market will naturally lead to job growth, officials have responded with "solutions" drawn only from the narrow menu of economic fundamentalism -- tax cuts and stimulus. Now that gross domestic product is positive, the unemployment problem is mostly considered "structural" -- a skills mismatch -- and thus beyond our capacity to solve. Yet not that long ago, in the midst of another long-term economic meltdown, politicians dared to think beyond the idea that...

Pickup Line

When a white, patrician guy from a very white state starts talking about Confederate flags, he really ought to be careful. Howard Dean's clumsy recent statement that he wants to court "white folks in the South who drive trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back" is a good example of why. But though he fumbled the rhetoric, burned himself politically and failed to develop his idea in any sophisticated way, the sentiment behind Dean's statement is exactly what the Democratic Party needs. At some point during his political education, Dean -- or, more likely, someone on his campaign staff -- learned some very valuable, if oversimplified, history. "The Republicans have been talking about [race] since 1968 in order to divide us, and I'm going to bring us together," Dean has said. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he was well aware that he was pushing white southerners out of the Democratic Party for at least a generation. Then, in 1968, Republican strategist...

Solidarity Strikes Out

Three Strikes: Labor's Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans By Stephen Franklin. Guilford Press, 308 pages, $23.95 Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor's Last Century By Howard Zinn, Dana Frank, and Robin D.G. Kelley. Beacon Press, 174 pages, $23.00 From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States By Priscilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty. The New Press, 364 pages, $27.50 S omeday, when our own time is a distant memory, scholars will blow the dust off the 1935 Wagner Act, the enabling legislation for the American labor upheavals of the 1930s and 1940s, and stare blankly at some long-lost language that doesn't jibe with the pattern of history. The act promised to correct a host of imbalances and injustices by "encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and...