Labor economists wrote the first histories of the labor movement in Texas, producing organizational profiles of unions, working class organizations, and political parties. Beginning in the 1960s, the field reflected a new generation of historians who broadened the scope of labor studies in the Lone Star State, rescuing the “invisible” members of the working class: women, minorities, immigrants, and the rural poor. Although acknowledging the pioneering work of Ruth Allen (who deserves more recognition for her efforts, which began in the 1930s), this collection focuses its attention on previously published articles since the 1960s, reflecting the work of social historians that began that decade. Beginning with James V. Reese’s 1968 survey of labor organizations in Texas prior to 1880, there are four essays from the 1970s, three that appeared in the 1980s, four from the 1990s, and six published since 2000, with the most recent appearing in 2007. Five of the articles cover the period 1838–1901, while nine examine Texas labor from the early 1900s through the end of World War II, and four focusing upon organizing efforts beginning in the 1960s.
The majority of the eighteen essays originally appeared in the pages of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly (nine), while journals outside the state published seven and the West Texas Historical Association Yearbook published two. These numbers suggest one of the values of this collection: calling attention to the lack of scholarly journals within the state for historians interested in the history of the Texas working class. Another benefit of the collection is a reminder of the important work accomplished by a new generation of historians whose use of new methodologies resulted in a more nuanced portrait of labor activities in the state. Thus, [End Page 429] previously overlooked individuals, groups, and radical organizations received recognition, including the courageous communist Emma Tenayuca, Texas socialists, domestic workers, and the labor and civil rights efforts of the Mexican and African American communities. Finally, the collection provides evidence of the sustaining organizing efforts in Texas and, at times, the biracial partnership among Texans who understood that their class was more important than the color of their skin.
In most collections of essays, a continuous narrative and thematic consistency is difficult to sustain. Continuity is not a problem with this collection, however, as the editor’s selection of topics and individuals, and their chronological organization provides the reader with a thoughtful profile of the writings of labor historians of the Lone Star State; however, there is one inherent weakness in collecting previously published articles. Some of the essays are dated and while they reflect the scholarship of the period, the inclusion of more recent works would have enhanced the importance of the collection. The solution to this problem actually appears in the book’s bibliography of 296 titles. A number of articles among those listed in the bibliography might have been included, such as recent works by Theresa Case and Monica Perales. Finally, the inclusion of a historiographic essay would have placed the collection within a historical framework for interested scholars.
This collection, however, demonstrates the changing focus of Texas historians who realize that Texas has a more complex and interesting history as the majority of Texans were not oil tycoons or cattle barons, but the working poor, who through class identity and sense of community sought to maintain what Texans so often boast of—economic independence. This collection should act as a catalyst for a new generation of historians to continue the pioneering efforts demonstrated by these scholarly essays.