- Editor’s Introduction
Middle America, like its kissing cousin, the “silent majority,” is commonly taken as the clever if devious creation of Republican—be they Nixon- or Trump-era—strategists intent on building a right-populist coalition and, specifically, on detaching white working-class voters from the Democratic base. A careful genealogy of the term, however, suggests Christopher Cimaglio, reveals a more plural and bipartisan parentage. Northern white resistance to civil rights laws and mobilization in the 1960s, he observes, required of journalists and academics an explanation of those “most opposed to the trajectory of change.” Even as conservative politicians leaped to name and claim the new constituency with a variety of labels, including Middle Americans, analysts like journalist Joseph Kraft worried that professional-class liberals, like Kraft, were losing touch with the communities and sensibilities of lower-middle-class and working-class whites. Indeed, an entire literature, reaching across disciplines and political convictions, attempted to excavate this newly discovered social gulf by the mid-1970s.
The rise of state intervention in Western societies during the Great Depression sometimes arrived like an iron fist in a velvet glove. Such, according to historian Ángela Vergara, appears to have been the case with unemployment relief in Chile, [End Page 1] 1930–34. While the stress of massive economic breakdown occasioned a consensual call for a national program of unemployment relief, questions of what kind of relief and for whom created bitter social and political divisions. In Chile as in other societies, the crisis initially called on a rising class of social scientists and social workers to properly “identify” the poor and to separate deserving from undeserving aid applicants and the “real” from the “volunteer” (i.e., shiftless) unemployed. Inevitably, the categorization process also invoked other inequalities in Chilean society—between men and women and between blue- and white-collar employees—and particular hostility toward the itinerant laborer and even child vagrants. Social tensions and resentment were sufficient to effect a draconian labor code under the Liberal-Reform Alessandri regime in 1933, and clinical suspicion of the poor and unemployed hobbled progressive welfare policies even through the Popular Front government elected in 1938.
Arts and Media editor Richard Wells brings to light a wide-ranging set of labor conflicts recently besetting the realm of digital journalism. As he explains, a wave of union organizing has affected both “legacy” (formerly print-based) digital outlets like Newsweek-cum–Daily Beast and “native” digital outlets like Gawker and the Huffington Post. With efforts centered around campaigns by the Writers’ Guild of America East (WGAE) and the News Guild (affiliated with the Communications Workers of America), the unions are contesting a severe loss of control by skilled writers and editors in the industry that began with financialization and has only been exacerbated by the shift from print to online publication.
Our Bookmark entry this issue features Lane Windham’s Knocking On Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide. [End Page 2] To help readers who have not yet engaged the work, Liesl Miller Orenic initiates the forum with a terse synopsis, which is followed by four short commentaries and the author’s response. Anne Ladky draws on her own experience with Women Employed, an alt-labor organizing group similar to several that Windham addresses in her book, to underscore Windham’s emphasis on employer hostility (as opposed to worker apathy or resistance) as a primary source of union decline in the era. While not disagreeing, Dan Graff faults the book for underplaying racial divisions and, especially, “when and how much white privilege coalesced with managerial prerogative, whether in antiunion strategies or in workers’ minds.” Katherine Turk also believes that the work “downplays . . . the roadblocks thrown up by wage-earning white men.” Turk suggests that a fuller picture of working women’s agency in the period may be afforded by looking outside the unions rather than within. Using quantitative evidence of a relatively weak union showing in National Labor Relations Board reports, Alex Lichtenstein questions the larger thesis of a labor “renewal” in the 1970s: why, he wonders, did “so many workers—white, male, native-born workers...