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The Assault on Labor


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Table of Contents

1. Setting the Stage: Pre-Strike Events 2. Lost Chances: Unintended Consequences of Improved Conditions 3. Things Worsen: Carl Icahn Enters the Picture 4. Labor Deals with Icahn: White Knight or Predator? 5. Off the Line: Strike! 6. Strike Solidarity and Labor Discord 7. Permanently Replaced and the Long Struggle Back 8. Legal Challenges and the Development of Labor Law

About the Author

Sandra L. Albrecht is associate professor of sociology at the University of Kansas.


The erosion of the size, visibility, and power of the labor movement is one of the central developments in late-20th-century US history. From a high of one-third of workers in the 1950s, union density dropped to just over 10 percent by the early 21st century. Scholars have often explained this dramatic decline by citing some combination of global economic forces, employer resistance, and the weakness of US labor law. Rarely has one book brought all of those elements together. Sociologist Albrecht (Univ. of Kansas) charts the growing employer resistance to organized labor through a study of the origins, conduct, and consequences of the 1986 strike by 6,000 flight attendants against Trans World Airlines (TWA). Eschewing simple critiques of stolid, bureaucratic union leadership or unabashed corporate greed, Albrecht shows how a combination of industry deregulation, financial and corporate restructuring, and gendered conceptions of work helped provoke a stoppage. Left vulnerable by a legal regime that allowed TWA to hire replacement workers, the ten-week strike collapsed in failure. It took nearly five years for the strikers to resume their old jobs under a new concessionary arrangement-a stinging but telling indictment of workers' diminished power in the late-20th-century US. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students/faculty. * CHOICE *
Albrecht transports us back in time to the airline industry of the 1980's and its tumultuous labor relations, telling the story of a valiant struggle by TWA's flight attendants against a corporate raider intent on breaking their spirit and their union. The author re-constructs the events surrounding this strike and provides us with an unusually detailed account of the principal actors, the negotiation process, the complicated relationships within the flight attendants union and with other labor groups, and the significant legal rulings that emerged from the strike. This is not a tale of resounding victory; the best that can be said is that the flight attendants upheld their dignity, kept their union intact, and lived on to fight another day. But even highly equivocal "victories" can inspire, especially when they occur in the face of such long odds. Albrecht's sympathetic account of the (mostly) women who carried on this struggle should appeal to those interested in an inside look at labor relations, airline industry buffs, and more generally, readers who will be heartened by seeing labor stand up to the powers that be. -- David Walsh, Miami University
This book will be a positive addition to the small number of fine books that tell labor's story by focusing on particular strikes. Its legal and policy conclusions are sound. It starkly illustrates the basic unfairness of the Mackay doctrine permitting the permanent replacement of striking workers. The story is fascinating and the main characters Icahn and Frankovich are well drawn. The battle of the flight attendants for dignity and fair treatment is unique and stirring. The strikers were battling not only against corporate power but against widespread sexist assumptions that were held by TWA, and also by fellow unionists, thereby preventing needed labor solidarity. This story has never been adequately told prior to this book. -- Julius Getman, University of Texas at Austin

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