Labor’s Unrest: A Review of American LightningBy
Arguments about concentrating power and wealth in the rich, running unions out of existence, the existence of plans to ruin the unions by business, crushing unions advanced in American Labor Unions in their continuing saga against repealing laws requiring non-union employees to pay union dues are similar to those recounted in Howard Blum’s American Lightning. Blum retells in narrative non-fiction, rather in academic prose, the story of the 1910 bombing of the L.A. Times building. It was literally blown to smithereens.
For those who don’t know, narrative non-fiction (that I have read) does not cite lots of sources, at least not in the traditional style of copious footnotes or end notes. Nor, does this type of literature include an exhaustive Works Cited or References section. Narrative non-fiction also reads like a novel, but with more informational dumps than in fiction, surpassing most literary or historical fiction.
Although some critics contend that Blum’s narrative jumps or that certain characters, including film producer D.W. Griffith, took away from the narrative, I disagree. At first, I could see their point. But, when, both sides started capitalizing on the value of PR (public relations) to the outcome (in other words trying their case in the press), the moving picture became a significant weapon in each side’s arsenal. The films (and newspaper articles), as described by Blum, appear to be bombastic propaganda pieces like the anti-Western media the governments of China, North Korea, or Russia direct at their citizens.
The time period that Blum wrote about was inherently more violent, if on a larger scale. 45 years had passed since the end of the American Civil War and still life had not settled down. America had been in one after another uprisings since the American Revolution. Movements were spawned; groups formed. These movements and groups clashed with each other and with the law and corporate America. Each faction, whether business, law, or special interest had a radical, a fighter itching to engage.
And, engage they did. This is why “security” was, and is now, a hot button word, why courthouses and government offices stay mindful of lurkers, anarchists in the days gone by. Blum goes into this, pointing out the similarities between the actions of the McNamara brothers (John J. “JJ”-life sentence and James “JB”-15 years ) and other union officials who were later prosecuted. It is a book worth reading if for no other reason.
Additional Reading: The McNamara Brothers Trial
[…] For those who like history mixed in with tightly woven suspense and mystery, Clive Cussler’s The Chase fits the bill. Better known for his present day thrillers, Clive Cussler goes back to the early 20th century (around 1906) to tell the story of the butcher bandit. Robbing banks and leaving no witnesses is the bandit’s hallmark. His other distinguishing feature is leaving no trace of arriving or departing the towns in which the banks are located. A custom made freight car is his means of escape. And, he is no ordinary bandit–he walks around in San Francisco society, hobnobbing and generally thought to be a pillar of society, caring for the poor. A detective agency in the style of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency is enlisted to put a stop to the butcher bandit. This plot line, though fictional, is similar to that in American Lightning, which I reviewed in a prior post. […]