The Labor Wars

From the Molly Maguires to the Sit-Downs

The rise of the American labor movement was characterized by explosive struggles for the most basic rights. From the martyrdom of the famous Molly Maguires in the Pennsylvania coalfields in the nineteenth century to the great sitdown strikes of the 1930s, the history of the American labor movement is filled with pitched battles that frequently erupted into open warfare.

Here, celebrated historian Sidney Lens chronicles these great labor battles, the contentious struggles to lead them, and the leaders generated by the working-class movement: Eugene Debs, Samuel Gompers, Mother Jones, Lucy and Albert Parsons, William Z. Foster, Bill Haywood, John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, and more—many of them Lens' personal friends.

In Labor Wars, Lens demonstrates how, contrary to conventional wisdom, the struggle of workers for decent pay and conditions on the job, democracy, and social justice has played a far more pivotal role in shaping American life than any president or general. In gripping detail, Labor Wars rescues the rich tradition of working-class rebellion that has so powerfully defined our history.

"The strikers in these industrial flare-ups confronted not only the power of their employers but, ultimately, that of the State…and in the process there was always the possibility of a widening and escalating conflict bordering on insurrection."
—from The Labor Wars

About the author

Sidney Lens (1912–1986) was the author of many books about labor and radical movements in the United States, including The Forging of the American Empire (republished in 2003 by Haymarket Books and Pluto Press). He was a candidate for the U.S. Senate for the Citizens Party and an editor of the Progressive.


The Labor Wars was published with the support of the Jon Kelley Wright Workers' Memorial Fund. To learn more about this project, visit