...entertaining, tough-minded, and strenuously argued ... despite some carelessness here and there, A History of America in Ten Strikes, along with two rather different books in method and structure...is one of the best books to give to anyone who wants a relatively quick way into the history and prospects of unions and the working class in the United States ... Loomis has a lucid method, even if he doesn’t announce it in the book’s introduction: Following Theda Skocpol, Marshall Sahlins, and William Sewell, he builds a narrative around the classic relationship between events and the larger structures they refer to and sometimes also transform ... To cover all this ground, Ten Strikes is naturally a work of synthesis, relying mostly on the enormous secondary literature on the American working class of the past half-century. But what Loomis loses in thick description and original research, he gains in constructing a much wider canvas of disparate Americans coming together in solidarity and struggle, fighting to change their workplaces and expand the possibility of self-rule in a capitalist democracy ... Loomis also does a masterful job of weaving together the voluminous scholarly work about slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, refracting it through the prism of labor ... At every point, and whatever their limitations, Loomis ardently supports the working-class struggles he examines. He writes frankly as an advocate, not a detached academic ... Despite its many strengths, A History of America in Ten Strikes does, at times, have a rushed quality about it and could have used another edit. There are some goofy errors of fact or omission ... Still, a reader can see the possible outlines of a different future.
For nearly half a century, an air of inevitability has clung to the decline of the American labor movement. As union density has fallen to near 10 percent and strike activity has reached historic lows, labor has often fumbled in its response to political attacks...In June, the Supreme Court dealt a blow, ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that public employees cannot be required to pay fees to a union. With this decision, public-sector unions are now set to go the way of the once-great industrial unions—institutions that underwrote the creation of middle-class wealth and crystallized a still-powerful image of American prosperity ... Erik Loomis argues in A History of America in Ten Strikes, because even though the workplace is still a 'site where people struggle for power,' the memory of workers who fought for basic rights has largely disappeared, he observes, 'from our collective sense of ourselves.' Every leap forward in American labor history—from safety regulations to the eight-hour day—has been achieved by mass mobilization of workers. But if at least some, and often many, Americans have always been ready to take militant action for a better life, why have their successes proved so limited and fragile?
In each chapter, labor historian Loomis discusses the specifics of a strike followed by a section of context about the broader issues in American society undergirding the unrest ... Each chapter of this well-told saga could stand on its own, and the author broadens the value of this primer/well-documented advocacy tract with an appendix that briefly describes 150 significant moments in American labor history ... Successfully avoiding academic-ese, Loomis delivers a jargon-free, clearly written history.
This partisan account covers 200 years of American labor history, from the start of the industrial revolution to the depleted state of contemporary unions, for readers who are pro-union and opposed to the capitalist class. Loomis, a labor historian, offers clear narratives about the 10 strikes of the title, emphasizing the pivotal role of women in the labor movement and instances when government acted as an honest broker between labor and management ... The introduction and conclusion make sweeping and value-laden claims without providing even footnoted argumentation to support them; this will fail to convince, if not alienate, readers who aren’t already familiar with the evidence or aligned with Loomis’s views. But those who agree with Loomis about the economic facts of American life will find this book illuminating and inspiring.