Labor’s Great War

The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912-1921

By Joseph A. McCartin

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., 2 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4679-7
    Published: February 1998
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-1703-9
    Published: November 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6898-5
    Published: November 2017

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Awards & distinctions

1999 Philip Taft Labor History Prize

Since World War I, says Joseph McCartin, the central problem of American labor relations has been the struggle among workers, managers, and state officials to reconcile democracy and authority in the workplace. In his comprehensive look at labor issues during the decade of the Great War, McCartin explores the political, economic, and social forces that gave rise to this conflict and shows how rising labor militancy and the sudden erosion of managerial control in wartime workplaces combined to create an industrial crisis. The search for a resolution to this crisis led to the formation of an influential coalition of labor Democrats, AFL unionists, and Progressive activists on the eve of U.S. entry into the war. Though the coalition's efforts in pursuit of industrial democracy were eventually frustrated by powerful forces in business and government and by internal rifts within the movement itself, McCartin shows how the shared quest helped cement the ties between unionists and the Democratic Party that would subsequently shape much New Deal legislation and would continue to influence the course of American political and labor history to the present day.

About the Author

Joseph A. McCartin is associate professor of history at Georgetown University.
For more information about Joseph A. McCartin, visit the Author Page.


“A book well worthy of the attentions of any serious student of twentieth-century labour and industrial relations history. . . . It certainly demands a reconsideration of the nature and importance of the transformation of the social relations of work in the second vital decade of the ‘American century’ and, in particular, of the role of the Wilsonian wartime state in these developments.”--Journal of Industrial Relations

“[Highlights] the war years as a cauldron in which a new labor relations arrangement in America was forged. . . . A superb historical narrative.”Business History Review

"This is the best book ever written about American labor in the era of World War I. McCartin illuminates how workers and their adversaries battled over the meaning of 'industrial democracy' and how the outcome of that contest shaped our labor politics for decades to come. This bold and vigorous narrative is just the kind of synthesis of changing ideas and social forces we need."--Michael Kazin, author of The Populist Persuasion: An American History