Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from Below During the Long 1970s

The hidden story of the 1970s insurgency from below, against employers and bureaucrats.

Often considered irredeemably conservative, the US working class actually has a rich history of revolt. Rebel Rank and File uncovers the hidden story of insurgency from below against employers and union bureaucrats in the late 1960s and 1970s.

From the mid-1960s to 1981, rank-and-file workers in the United States engaged in a level of sustained militancy not seen since the Great Depression and World War II. Millions participated in one of the largest strike waves in US history. There were 5,716 stoppages in 1970 alone, involving more than 3 million workers. Contract rejections, collective insubordination, sabotage, organized slowdowns, and wildcat strikes were the order of the day.

Workers targeted much of their activity at union leaders, forming caucuses to fight for more democratic and combative unions that would forcefully resist the mounting offensive from employers that appeared at the end of the postwar economic boom. It was a remarkable era in the history of US class struggle, one rich in lessons for today's labor movement.


  • “Truly shines ... By uncovering the hidden history of the 1970s, Rebel Rank and File reminds us that there is another path to union renewal—a path firmly rooted in the workplace and motivated by visions of transforming society.”
  • “An important collection ... honest and thoughtful.”
  • “This is an unusually high-quality effort, with an all-star cast of authors, which should attract wide interest.”
  • “The chapters in this collection take the reader on a vivid journey through battlegrounds of the 1960s and 1970s where workers and employers clashed over the future of the US workplace.”
  • “Bracing and often electrifying ... A primer and a call to arms for a radical rank-and-file politics.”
  • “Extraordinary reflections.”
  • “[A] spirited volume ... a call to arms to today's workers and potential activists.”
  • “Page after page of the remarkable militancy of rank-and-file workers.”


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    Robert Brenner firstly explains that analyzing the crisis as a short term development would be an absurdity: rather it "has deep historical roots going back more than three decades" due to "profound problems in the productive economy on a  world scale." The crisis came as the result of the long downturn that followed the long post war boom from the 1940's to 1970's. 

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  • ZNet finds seeds of Rebel Rank and File in 1967 Stan Weir article

    On ZNet, John Borsos begins his review of Rebel Rank and File with the prescient observations of militant labor activist Stan Weir, who noted in a 1967 article that “the rank and file union revolts that have been developing in the industrial workplaces since the 1950s are now plainly visible.”

    Borsos finds in Weir’s article a foretelling of the revolts that followed:

    The unrest that Weir first recognized in 1967 evolved into a massive insurgency:  the strike activity of the 1970s reached levels not experienced since the strike wave of 1946; insurgent challenges occurred in most of the country’s major unions, including the United Mine Workers, the United Steel Workers, the United Auto Workers, the Teamsters, the United Rubber Workers and other unions; workers rejected contracts by their union leaders in record numbers; and previously unorganized workers, imbued with the social movement activism of the anti-war, civil rights and women’s movement, among others, pushed labor unions into organizing previously unorganized sectors.

    Not only did Weir’s article signal “labor’s new era” of rank-and-file militancy, but Borsos finds in the article the seeds of the book Rebel Rank and File, which covers those days of “insurgencies from below.”

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Other books Edited by Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Cal Winslow