Kim Kelly headshot and black Fight Like Hell book cover

Fight Like Hell: under told stories of the union movement

What is culturally and statistically counted as work is a political battle. Housework and prison labor remain murky parts of economic records and worker rights efforts.

That’s a big theme from the 2022 book “Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor” by Kim Kelly, a progressive freelance journalist with a specialist on labor movements (and a fellow Philadelphian). Kelly has called it a “people’s history” of the labor movement. Each chapter is dedicated to a key historical period told through the narrative of lesser-known leaders, with a special focus on women, immigrants and Black and indigenous people. The book added context to my understanding of the country’s labor history.

Below I share my notes from the book for future reference.

My notes:

  • New England 1840s labor leader Sarah Bagley: “We must have money; a father’s debts are to be paid, an aged mother to be supported, a brother’s ambition to be aided and so the factories are supplied. Is this to act from free will? Is this freedom? To my mind it is slavery.”
  • 1824: Pawtucket first factory strike
  • The Lowell Offering was a monthly magazine of literature by women textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts.
  • 1842-44 public opinion soured on mills, previously thought opportunity for young women, so then they began hiring immigrants
  • “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too” Rose Schneiderman
  • In 1972, Selma Jones started a “wages for housework movement” and communist Silvia Federici wrote in 1974 “Wages against Housework “
  • “The unwaged condition of housework has been the most powerful weapon in reinforcing the common assumption that house work is not work, thus preventing women from struggling against it“ Federici wrote. “We are seen as nagging bitches, not workers in struggle.”
  • “The Bronx slave market” in 1950 about daily housework
  • Stonewall used white gay men as public face not queer trans sex workers of color
  • APAG Alana Evans: “occupational discrimination” for online platforms pushing off sex workers
  • “Incarcerated people have always been a part of the workforce, and as such, a part of the labor movement, even if the movement itself has largely failed to recognize that”
  • Sí se puede (Yes it can be done) has been the motto of the United Farm Workers of America and been taken up by other activist groups since its origin in 1972

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