Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class

Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class

Jefferson R. Cowie

Language: English

Pages: 488

ISBN: 1595587071

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A wide-ranging cultural and political history that will forever redefine a misunderstood decade, Stayin’ Alive is prize-winning historian Jefferson Cowie’s remarkable account of how working-class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s. In this edgy and incisive book—part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American music, film and television lore—Cowie, with “an ear for the power and poetry of vernacular speech” (Cleveland Plain Dealer), reveals America’s fascinating path from rising incomes and optimism of the New Deal to the widening economic inequalities and dampened expectations of the present.

Winner of the 2011 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians for the Best Book on American History

Winner of the 2011 Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians for the Best Book in American Social History

Winner of the 2011 Labor History Best Book Prize

Winner of the 2011 Best Book Award from the United Association for Labor Education


















people who were not organized enjoyed a nice spillover effect. Working-class people had a collective voice and sharp enough elbows at the political table to demand a larger slice of the economic pie. Those wages spurred savings and consumption that, circulating in a preglobal context, helped create good-paying jobs for other working people.14 There were, however, costs associated with such success. One was rigidity, as unions staked their legacy not on racial justice, not on gender equity, not on

up continuing for another two years. As Margie Talavera explained, “for all the 3,000 of us that went out on strike, there were about two people waiting in line for the jobs. So you can imagine how hard it was to go out on strike, because there is always a replacement right away. People from across the border, people from everywhere, they are ready to scab on us right away.”68 The strike and the boycott were immensely successful, as the public, in Fortune magazine’s terms, came to see “the

guarded his position on the left that he never noticed no one else was there—except his staff.” Campaign strategist Frank Mankiewicz later admitted that the basic mistake of the campaign was that “We were always subject to this pressure from the cause people. We reacted to every threat from women, or militants, or college groups. If I had to do it all over again, I’d learn when to tell them to go to hell.” The activists also hamstrung McGovern’s ability to make a pitch to the party regulars with

It’s awfully easy for even a plumber to understand those figures,” he exclaimed, taking a jab at one-time Bronx plumber George Meany. At a place like Lordstown, McGovern found the young, lively, anti-war workers to be the working-class that he wanted. McGovern pointed to a button he saw in the office of Gary Bryner, the local union president—“Freeze War Not Wages” it said—referring to Nixon’s attempt to freeze wages in order to curb inflation. “If you stop to think about it,” reflected the senator,

culture. As so often in populist movements, the Wallace movement had more than a hint of the promise of a restoration of a lost golden age. As Hamill argued, There was little mystery to them. They were my own people, lower middle-class people who worked with their backs and their hands, who paid dues to a union that was remote to them, people who drove a cab or tended bar one night a week to make ends meet, people who went hunting with the boys on vacations, people who handed their infant

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