Friday, December 28, 2018

John Strausbaugh's "Victory City"

John Strausbaugh has been writing about the culture and history of New York City for a quarter of a century. City of Sedition, his singular history of New York City’s role in and during the Civil War, won the Fletcher Pratt Award for Best Non-Fiction Book of 2016; The Village, his epic history of Greenwich Village, has been widely praised and was selected as one of Kirkus Review‘s best books of the year (2013). His books include Black Like You, a history of blackface minstrelsy; and E: Reflections on the Birth of the Elvis Faith.

Strausbaugh applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Victory City: A History of New York and New Yorkers during World War II, and reported the following:
Victory City is a composite portrait of New York City before, during, and after World War II, the period when the city was achieving its height of power and influence in the world, just as the world was falling apart all around it. I try to show that it was an immensely more complex, messy, turbulent place than we tend to see in the GI Joe and Rosie the Riveter nostalgia. It was also a city of gangsters and hookers and war profiteers. Of bobby soxers and juvenile delinquents. A city of more homegrown fascists and Nazis than it's comfortable to think about, and communists and anarchists as well. A city of spies and counterspies, isolationists and pacifists, patriots and traitors.

On page 99 I introduce one piece of that very large puzzle: the role that the city's trade unions played, especially in the garment district. Sidney Hillman, who ran the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, was a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, militantly leftist and pro-Soviet. Yet he was also one of Franklin Roosevelt's most faithful supporters in labor through the Depression and war years.

The war was a rough time for trade unions. Employers used the demands of wartime production as an excuse to roll back many of the gains unions won in the New Deal 1930s, and Roosevelt's government complied. There were more wildcat strikes and walk-outs during the war than in any other four-year period in American history. But as leader of the CIO, Hillman kept its two million workers voting for Roosevelt, and even started the first political action committee in American history, the CIO-PAC, to help ensure Roosevelt's re-election in 1944.

Roosevelt died in 1945, Hillman in 1946, and their combined impact on the labor movement has been debated ever since.
Visit John Strausbaugh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue