Workers, Unions and Organizing in Literature

Workers, Unions and Organizing in Literature
A List in Progress
Not a list of biographies and histories of Labor Leaders and Unions, nor a List of Left or Progressive protagonists in general – which are other lists, and beyond my present capacity to put together.
  • By Bread Alone. I.K. Friedman
    • socialist revolution and its dramatic analysis of the forces at work in the Carnegie Steel strike at Homestead, Pennsylvania
  • The Jungle, Upton Sinclair 
  • Oil!, Upton Sinclair
    • Dad’s workforce goes on strike. Bunny is torn between loyalty to Dad and his friendship to Ruth and her rebellious brother Paul, who support the workers 
    • some use of Communist in later part of book, mostly as looking across to Russia, not (as far as I can tell yet) or organizers, or any actual character in the book — more like a distant (and threatening?) other 
    • p 256 my edition first time Communist appears re the Civil war and the “half-starved and ragged Communists drove back their foes.” 
  • Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett The backdrop for this detective novel is the 1917 strike by copper workers in Butte, Montana—and the murder of IWW organizer Frank Little
  • “Ernita” by Theodore Dreiser in Gallery of Women – semi fictionalized biographies
    • she is a communist; separates from the IWW
    • Praised by Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream, June 1949)
  • To Make My Bread, Grace Lumpkin 
    • Stevens, a Communist, is a shadowy, symbolic figure organizes meetings  — only a device (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream, June 1949
  • Call Home the Heart, Fielding Burke and see 1935 
    • Ishma Hensley, leaves husband, demonstrates racism and then self repulsion; communist Derry Unthank also distorted view of Negro
    • (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream, June 1949)
  • Union Square, Albert Halper
    • Communist, Leon Fisher a fragile, moderately talented painter… rootless irony (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream, June 1949)
  • Beyond Desire, Sherwood Anderson  1934  – strike, dynamiting a dam
  • Parched Earth, Arnold Armstrong, 1934  strike  dynamiting of dam 
  • The Death and Birth of David Markand,  Waldo Frank 1934  concludes to devote his life to bringing Socialism to power  p 159
  • The Shadow Before, William Rollins
    • Marvin, organizer, textile strikes of south transported to New England – idealized version of Fred Beal
  • The Land of Plenty,Robert Cantwell, 1934.
    • “A careful and solidly rendered account of a strike in a veneer mill on the Northwest coast, where Cantwell himself had grown up and worked.
  • Tortilla Flat, John Steinbeck,  1935 
  • Marching! Marching!, Clara Weatherwax
    • Mario Quillermo. without sentimentality of prudishness, early death (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream June 1947)
  • A Stone Came Rolling, Fielding Burke and see 1932
    • Isham again (from 1932)  paen to learning 
    • (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream, June 1949)
  • It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis (also see 1922)
    • On the way to a Nazi-like U.S. lots of mention and mockery of unions, workers, communists and socialists.
      • “All these corrupt and self-seeking labor unions! Money grubbers!”
  • Of Mice and Men , John Steinbeck 1937, is a tragedy that was written in the form of a play. The story is about two traveling ranch workers, George and Lennie
  • The Invaders, 1937, Stuart Engstrand, John Reed Club, early novels high praise
    • “the finest proletarian novel” by Edwin Berry, Communist critic 
  • Adventures of a Young Man, John Dos Passos  1938  communist characters are without exception despicable, weak, double-dealing and contemptible  p 157
  • Industrial Valley, Ruth McKenney  1939  – Akron rubber strike of 1934
  • South of Joplin  Lallah Davidson 1939   lead min strikes of Pickers
  • Rope of Gold,  Josephine Herbst  two develop into organizers; communist convictions  
  • Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939

  • The Girl, Meridel Le Sueur (revised in 1978 for Feminist Press)
  • The Stricklands, Edwin Lanham
    • Negro organizer, Rocky Jones, easrly martyrdom (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream June 1947)
  • Underground Stream, Albert Maltz
    • “Like most of his other work, is a search for moral sources
    • Princy, a Communist, Detroit auto worker
    • a bit of agit prop schematicism; other trainers, temptation and fear 
    • (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream June 1947)
  • Native Son, Richard Wright 
    • Two communists in book, sympathetic but presented somewhat condescendingly; Wright has so perverted the Communist position 
    • Jan a communist, awkward and insensitive 
  • Jake Home, Ruth McKenney
  • The Grand Crossing, Alexander Saxton (and see 1948) 
    • (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream July 1947)
  • The Great Midland, Alexander Saxton
    • One of the best novels ever to portray the lives of American Communist activists, The Great Midland is a story of love and radical politics set just before World War II. (Goodreads, reader)
    • (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream June 1947)
  • Home is the Sailor, Beth McHenry and Frederick N. Meyers
    • (Humboldt in Masses and Mainstream July 1947)


  • *We Fished all Night, 1951 , Willard Motley (1909-65) (Also see 1947)
      • re Progressives, Communists and labor in late 1940s
  • The Ink Truck, William Kennedy, a “comic novel about a flailing and failing newspaper strike.”
1960s – 70s Many Books re Cesar Chavez – any in novels?


Another interesting book, for some readers will be 
And another, more for leisure reading

Outside U.S.
  •  Germinal, the 1885 classic by Emile Zola, France
  • The Mother, Maxim Gorky (English in 1906)
1927 – 1940,B Traven, proletarian adventure novels
  • Man’s Fate / La condition humaine, Andre Malraux
    • Chinese civil war and revolution
  • L’espoir / Man’s Hope, Andre Malraux
    • Spanish Civil war, from Republican side; much about the anarchist unions of the C.N.T and F.A.I, Many comparisons between communists and anarchists as to discipline, courage. While not a novel of workers and their allies organizing in “normal times” as “novel time” it is a good rep of having communists in actual situations they were / or might have been in
  • The Organizer, a Movie, directed by Mario Monicelli with Marcello Mastrorianni
MORE to come