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Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939
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Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  513 ratings  ·  19 reviews
This book examines how it was possible and what it meant for ordinary factory workers to become effective unionists and national political participants by the mid-1930s. We follow Chicago workers as they make choices about whether to attend ethnic benefit society meetings or to go to the movies, whether to shop in local neighborhood stores or patronize the new A & P. A ...more
Hardcover, 526 pages
Published December 1st 2007 by Cambridge University Press (first published September 28th 1990)
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Joseph Stieb
I guess I have more of a thing for labor history than I previously thought. I generally enjoyed this exploration of workers' lives and the rise of unions in the 1930's.

Cohen argues that industrial workers in Chicago lived mostly in ethnic enclaves that they were heavily dependent on as social and economic networks. They experienced mass cultural phenomenon such as radio and movies, but these did not necessarily homogenize them, at least in the short term. These communities were pretty insular, a
A book I have dipped heavily into in the past, but it was good to wade full in and see the full scope of Cohen's argument. In the 20s working class Chicagoans were tied to neighborhood and ethnic organization (whether for banking/insurance, charity, religion or shopping). The large corporate employers (and she is looking at five particular neighborhoods on the South and West Side) managed to limit discontent due to these ethnic differences, as well as a small bit of corporate welfare (modest att ...more
It is hard to believe that this book is over twenty years old. I still refer to it when discussing the Great Depression and the formation of the New Deal coalition of the 1930s. I think the greatest strength of the book is the detailed description Cohen gives us of the social safety net that existed in the United States prior to the Depression. Local communities, tight knit ethnic communities, religious organizations and other local entities that would help those that were in need. By and large ...more
Jessica Injejikian
My huge issue with this book is that this question was not answered: Would the working class have had a voice at all in the CIO if Communists did not participate as CIO leaders?

Because of this, I am not convinced that the working class truly had a powerful voice due to their political activism in the CIO during the 1930s. While the working class pushed for its creation, the CIO was ultimately a national, top-down, organization. The author perpetually argues that the working class ideology of mor
Prior to the 1930s, industrial workers in Chicago were isolated in small, tightly woven ethnic communities, racial and cultural tension between these communities made any working class movements impossible. In Making a New Deal, Lizabeth Cohen explores how it was possible for this severely fragmented working class of Chicago to join together in a united movement in the 1930s. She argues that although these Chicagoans held strong ties to very different ethnic groups, the Great Depression gave the ...more
David Bates
Lizabeth Cohen’s 1990 work Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 takes this process a step further. While Brinkley incorporated regular citizens into the story of the New Deal through the approbation they gave to the ideas of populist critics of Roosevelt, Cohen’s approach is a long and deep study of the blue color workers who became the base of the New Deal order. Choosing Chicago as a case study because of its multi-ethnic and interracial workforce, industrial economy and ...more
The rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO, can be attributed to the changing attitudes and actions of industrial workers. Previously, historians have given more credit to the rise of the state and new union organizations and their leaders. 1920s laborers in Chicago were ethnically diverse. Ethnic elites and paternalistic employers created a security net for workers. The Great Depression severed these loyalties. Workers now turned to the democratic party—a clear example of mass ...more
Making a New Deal was an engrossing study concerning the working class of Chicago during the Great Depression. Cohen provides a good background about how religion, ethnic influences, media, and consumption changed the thinking of industrial workers. The underwhelming success of welfare capitalism is a prominent theme in Cohen's study and gives depth as to why unionization was successful in the 1930s.
Mark Bowles
Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal; Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 (1990)
1. Central argument is that rank and file workers made the New Deal based on the ways the working class culture had changed during the 1920s and '30s.
2. They wanted a new moral capitalism based on an interventionist state and the CIO
Nov 09, 2007 Elizabeth rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in US Social history
Cohen is a much more interesting author for me than Brinkley. The chapters are extraordinarily long, but she uses an impressive amount of anecdotal evidence about the various ethnic groups that makes it more entertaining than Brinkley's more political account. In this book, Cohen argues that it was a number of progressive changes that united the ethnic groups of Chicago, IL just before, and during, the great depression that allowed the formation of unions. Until Cohen, no one had argued many cau ...more
This is a fabulous history of working class Chicago during the period between WW1 & WW2. To Cohen's credit she gets beyond the easy ttap of the depression-as-dominant narrative to draw in work and family life, workers' leisure lives, the challenge of ethnicity to class solidarity and so much more. A powerful and insightful social history of workers' lives.
Really interesting look at the role of the working class in Chicago in the interwar period. The authors writing is very entertaining, she balances primary source narrative with statistics well. This book is a window into the various ethnic working class neighborhoods and their culture. Really well written, a good micro study of labor organization.
FANTASTIC....ok, it's about as exciting as a book about the shifting culture & ethnicity of industrial workers in the inter-war years can be, but the erudition and clarity with which Cohen presents her topic make this book extremely enjoyable (especially since I'm sure you're being forced to read it for school just like I was!)
Presents a clear, well-constructed, and I find fairly convincing argument to explain the grand successes of the 1930s organizing drives versus the failures of those in 1919. Mixes a rich stew of cultural, gender, economic, labor, and political history into a longish, but easy-to-read package.
while i was happy to gain a more thorough knowledge of the new deal and labor organization, this book was waaaaay dense and got tedious at times. i struggled to finish.
"Just speaking off the top of my ass" ~ My Prof.

... Labor history is interesting and certainly not depressing/cyclical. Srsly.
I very interesting book on the ethnic workers in Chicago. I little slow, but only because of the amount of research.
This was kind of boring, but not as bad as the Gender and Work book. (Hist 200- Univ Freshman)
David Puckett
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