Retrato do autor

Ray Ginger (1924–1975)

Autor(a) de The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene Victor Debs

16+ Works 486 Membros 3 Críticas

About the Author

Includes the name: Ray Ginger

Obras por Ray Ginger

Associated Works

Labor History, Vol. 5 No. 3, Fall 1964 — Contribuidor — 1 exemplar


Conhecimento Comum



A great read for those interested in the struggles, self-sacrifice, and determination of a man who dared to believe that life is more than making someone else rich. A great historical view of the struggle to establish political representation not for just the skilled/unskilled workers, the poor, but everyone in the U.S.
btbell_lt | 1 outra crítica | Aug 1, 2022 |
I was finishing this book right as the Wisconsin union protests were starting up, and the historical allegories gave this book added resonance, both in good ways and in bad. One of the most frequent things you hear from people who don't like unions is that maybe they were valuable once, back in those bad old days, but now that we have weekends and no child labor they're unnecessary. Reading this book both reminds you how difficult it was to get those reforms passed, and how fragile they are. You don't have to be any flavor of Marxist to ponder that, absent any kind of countervailing force, employers have strong incentives to wring the most work out of their employees as they possibly can, due to sheer competition if nothing else. Maybe that doesn't ring many alarm bells in the age of air conditioning and data entry, but back when work was brutal and physical, a 14 hour workday for 6 days a week actually meant something, and it certainly doesn't take much imagination to consider what could happen without institutional pressure keeping those reforms in place. Additionally, by mandating the 40 hour week a lot of people were able to use their newly free time to educate themselves and create the comfortable world we take for granted today; without those reforms it's entirely possible that manual labor would be a much bigger portion of our economy and we'd all be a lot poorer, and that further union-inspired movements to spread prosperity more broadly can have similar benefits for the future.

In any case, The Bending Cross is a reprint of what's widely considered to be the definitive biography of Eugene Debs, one of the most singular individuals in American history. Debs went from being a railroad worker to a union leader to the head of the Socialist Party during what was an unbelievably violent time. Whereas Fox News is forced to cobble together clips of people yelling in Wisconsin to generate the illusion of violent leftist protest, back then a strike stood a good chance of being broken with gunfire, and proto-union members frequently got themselves killed. Debs, who comes off as almost impossibly saintlike, was among the most savvy of those labor leaders, with soaring eloquence and a much better judgment of when to strike and when to return, when to negotiate and when to refuse. It seems like he might have gone much farther in life, but for the fact that he was selflessly devoted to helping out his fellow workers no matter the personal cost to himself. One of the most frustrating things to read in the book is the endless repetitions of organize -> coagulate -> bicker -> evaporate that Debs and all the union leaders went through. You remember the Judean People's Front scene in Monty Python's The Life of Brian? It is no joke whatsoever. It boggles the mind how so many different groups devoted to class solidarity and the brotherhood of man could be unable to agree on even the most basic of agenda items, and though Ginger tries to put a brave face on it, it's clear that Debs was trapped and blocked by all this infighting just as much as anyone else. Should Debs favor the Socialist Party? How about the Socialist Labor Party? Why not the Social Democrats?

It's madness, and after a while you want to punch these guys in the face for wasting so much time and effort, especially if, like me, you're not a socialist and don't have much interest in these doctrinal disputes over trade unions vs. craft unions vs. industrial unions. I can only imagine how much more successful the American labor movement would have been if there had been fewer leaders, and in fact it's very interesting how much these different factions came to depend on one single man to unite them, even though Debs had little interest in ideology per se. But in addition to his tireless efforts to improve the working life of the average person, Debs also became an important figure in the history of civil liberties. He not only went to jail for his efforts at unionizing and striking, but also for his lonely stance against World War One. It's eye-opening to read how arbitrary and repressive government power was back then, and even now in many ways, and to ponder what it would be like without guys like Debs. These days socialist parties (yes, still plural) are a joke in America, and yet Debs polled nearly a million votes in both 1912 and 1920 - the latter time from jail! After finishing the book it was tough to know if I was more impressed at Debs' character, grateful for his contributions, or fascinated at how far we both have and haven't come as a country. The fact that the entire concept of collective bargaining is being rolled back means that there's still work to be done.
… (mais)
aaronarnold | 1 outra crítica | May 11, 2021 |
The Nationalizing of American Life is one of a series of primary source material collections relevant to the study of american history. It's not a bad collection — there are voices from industry and unions, journalists and politicians, economists and salespeople. There are a few excellent contemporary analyses of the time. Cutting the time period off at 1900 eliminates the assassination of McKinley, and Emma Goldman as a public figure — it would have been nice to hear from more women.

A lot of these pieces are oddly relevant. Deflation, economic crisis, military involvement in other nations (Philippines/Cuba, Iraq/Afghanistan) are all familiar chords. But there's a note in these pieces that I think is missing in a lot of modern discourse — a sort of earnest urgency. Before the century of American dominance, leaders seemed to think a lot more about the origins of the US and how actions were or were not in keeping with those origins. These are the reflections of a nation just getting started with its legacy.
… (mais)
bexaplex | Feb 14, 2010 |


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