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“New Labour History” pioneer dies

December 5, 2011

Harassed by FBI as 1950s labour organizer

David Montgomery, labour historian, Yale University

David Montgomery, the well-respected American labour historian blacklisted as a union organizer in the 1950s, died on Dec. 2, 2011.

A founder of what became known in the 1970s as the New Labour History, Montgomery is perhaps best known for his 1987 book The Fall of the House of Labor, a critical appraisal of the labour movement from the 1860s to its failure to overcome the fallout from the Red Scare in the 1920s.

The Farnam Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University was “a communist labor organizer in the darkest days of McCarthyism,” notes The Nation obituary, but quit in 1957 after the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The FBI got him fired from various jobs before he became a historian. He remained an activist and union supporter for the rest of his life.

Other books by Montgomery include Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872 (University of Illinois Press, 1981); Black Workers’ Struggle for Equality in Birmingham (University of Illinois Press, 2004); Citizen Worker (Cambridge University Press, 1994); and, Workers’ Control in America (Cambridge University Press, 1979).

“In this country, where the talents needed to run a humane society are all around us, what we need is not a single party but many self-activated centers of popular struggle and a variety of political initiatives,” Montgomery said in a Radical History Review. “And all those centers of activity need to learn from history.”

Montgomery was 84.

For The Nation obituary, visit http://www.thenation.com/blog/164954/david-montgomery-1927-2011.

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