Knocking on Labor’s Door

Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide

By Lane Windham

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 14 halftones, 6 figs., 1 table, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3207-0
    Published: September 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3208-7
    Published: August 2017

Justice, Power, and Politics

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Awards & distinctions

2018 David Montgomery Award, Organization of American Historians

The power of unions in workers’ lives and in the American political system has declined dramatically since the 1970s. In recent years, many have argued that the crisis took root when unions stopped reaching out to workers and workers turned away from unions. But here Lane Windham tells a different story. Highlighting the integral, often-overlooked contributions of women, people of color, young workers, and southerners, Windham reveals how in the 1970s workers combined old working-class tools--like unions and labor law--with legislative gains from the civil and women’s rights movements to help shore up their prospects. Through close-up studies of workers' campaigns in shipbuilding, textiles, retail, and service, Windham overturns widely held myths about labor’s decline, showing instead how employers united to manipulate weak labor law and quash a new wave of worker organizing.

Recounting how employees attempted to unionize against overwhelming odds, Knocking on Labor's Door dramatically refashions the narrative of working-class struggle during a crucial decade and shakes up current debates about labor's future. Windham's story inspires both hope and indignation, and will become a must-read in labor, civil rights, and women’s history.

About the Author

Lane Windham is Associate Director of Georgetown University's Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and co-director of WILL Empower (Women Innovating Labor Leadership).
For more information about Lane Windham, visit the Author Page.


"Windham is one of those rare academics who has worked professionally as an organizer, and the intellectual advantage that this experience has provided is hard to overstate."--Gabriel Winant, The Nation

“Lane Windham takes a fresh look at a phenomenon that many of us thought we understood--the decline of U.S. trade unionism. With meticulous research and graceful prose, she challenges our outworn preconceptions. Her narrative of labor's recent past deepens our understanding of its present challenges and helps us imagine its future. Rarely have I felt as great an urge to stand up and cheer when reading a work of history as I did while reading this one.”--Joseph A. McCartin, author of Collision Course

“Anyone who cares about work and workers in today’s America should read this book. Overturning myths that are widely believed, Windham arouses both hope and outrage as she makes fresh sense of the staggering rise of inequality since the 1970s.”--Nancy MacLean, author of Freedom Is Not Enough

“This is labor history at its sharp and sparkling best. Windham puts working people on center stage as she resurrects the hard-fought organizing battles of the 1970s. If you want new insight into the origins of unions’ present dilemma and their future, read Knocking on Labor’s Door.”--John Sweeney, President Emeritus, AFL-CIO

Knocking on Labor’s Door challenges most of what we know about the decline of unions and its consequences. Most importantly, the book leads us to reconsider possibilities for the revival of unions. At a time of renewed concern about economic inequality and the plight of the working class, this is required reading.”--William P. Jones, author of The March on Washington