The Labor Movement in Photos

This Labor Day, our Review of the Week features a unique take on the history of the American labor movement

Eyes on labor : news photography and America’s working class

Quirke, Carol. Oxford, 2012
358p, 9780199768226 $125.00, 9780199768233 $35.95, 9780199768233 $29.95

Eyes on labor : news photography and America’s working class book cover

Quirke (American studies, SUNY, Old Westbury) examines the “symbolic battle about organized labor and its prospects,” which unions, businesses, and media corporations have historically waged using photographic imagery. Making an important contribution in its coverage, Eyes on Labor fills a gap by analyzing this ongoing struggle, focusing on the period of unions’ ascendancy from the 1930s to the early 1950s. An overview of the “static and staged” news photos of the early years of the medium is followed by chapters examining Life magazine (which initially “simultaneously celebrated and diminished” unions’ struggles but increasingly became “shrill” in its opposition to strikes); news photographs’ representations of the 1937 Hershey sit-down strike (an unsatisfying chapter because Quirke does not seem to grasp why Hershey won the public’s sympathy); photos and newsreels of the 1937 “Memorial Day Massacre” when Chicago police killed ten protestors at the gates of Republic Steel; and the use of photographs by two unions—the hierarchical United Steel Workers and an unusually active, democratic local union in New York City. She concludes that messages in news photos of organized labor fell along unexpected lines, as “union newspapers promoted consumerism for workers as much as” Life magazine acted as “capitalism’s cheerleader.”

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels of students; faculty; researchers; general readers.
Reviewer: R. M. Whaples, Wake Forest University
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – Business, Management & Labor
Choice Issue: Feb 2013