International Journal of Historical Archaeology

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 259-271

First online:

Won with Blood: Archaeology and Labor’s Struggle

  • Randall H. McGuireAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Binghamton University Email author 

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Traditionally when Americans went to work they expected that they would earn a reasonable wage, work in a safe environment, put in a 40 h week, collect paid vacation days, earn sick leave, have the right to organize and receive health and retirement benefits. Increasingly, however, fewer and fewer workers receive these rights and today only a minority of people in the United States work under these conditions. The decline in real wages, benefits, rights and safety experienced by twenty-first century American workers has correlated with a decline in organized labor. Corporations and the right have assailed unions to erode worker’s rights and “increase competitiveness” in a globalized, neo-liberal, capitalist, world. The attacks on unions spring from a monstrous lie, that politicians and corporations gave labor these benefits and thus workers no longer need unions. On the battlefield of public policy, these assaults on organized labor work in a fundamentally ideological way that calls the continued existence of unions into question. In this paper, I will discuss how archaeological studies of labor’s struggle can reveal that contrary to the monstrous lie, workers and their families won worker’s rights with blood and that solidarity and organization remain essential to maintain these rights. The paper begins with the present state of labor’s struggle and looks to the past to consider its preconditions. Archaeologists have studied strikes, the lived experience of working class life and class war to study history backwards and these studies contribute to the labor’s struggle for the future.


Class struggle Working class Fast capitalism