Award Recipients

2019 Award Recipients

Peter Cole and Joshua B. Freeman

The Philip Taft Prize in Labor and Working-Class History has been an award for forty-one years now, with the last eleven being a joint effort of LAWCHA and the Cornell ILR School.  The Taft Prize Committee this year consisted of Ileen DeVault (Chair, ILR – Cornell), Lawrence Glickman (Cornell), Matthew Basso (University of Utah, LAWCHA), LaShawn Harris (Michigan State University, LAWCHA) and Maria Montoya (NYU, LAWCHA). 

The committee notes that this year was a particularly challenging.  Choosing just one winner proved difficult because of the vast array of excellent scholarship in the field.  Of the 45 books nominated for the prize, many were excellent works of history; this serves as a testament to the continued importance of labor and working-class history in today’s difficult world. Some of these books were impressive monographs on specific topics while others were sweeping overviews.  Ultimately, the committee chose two books as the co-winners of this year’s Taft Labor History Prize.  Interestingly, both are transnational works of very different types.  Both therefore encourage us to think about the dialectics of world events.

Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World provides us with an impressive synthetic survey of the large factory, in the U.S. and throughout the world.  Joshua B. Freeman’s magisterial work puts the massive transformation of the workforce into both historical and transnational context, making connections where appropriate without over-reaching.  Beginning with the dark satanic mills of England and moving through the auto factories of Detroit and Stalingrad to the stifling control of present-day FoxConn in China, this book reminds us of the ways in which histories across the world are both connected and yet distinct.

Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area offers a powerful story while detailing a lesser-known chapter in American labor history. Peter Cole supplies us with an innovative comparative study examining dockworkers in Durban, South Africa and San Francisco, California, illuminating their similar struggles as waterfront laborers and the different ways they worked as union activists to improve labor conditions under the threat of containerization.  Simultaneously, Cole points out how the two groups participated in transnational political and social movements, fighting against apartheid and American racism while also struggling for racial equality within their unions.