The International Labor History Association (ILHA) is pleased to announce its
“Book of the Year Award”
The award this year is presented to two separate labor history volumes that the ILHA Board
agreed deserved recognition for outstanding labor history: Chad E. Pearson, Capital’s Terrorists.
Klansmen, Lawmen, and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press,
2022), and Ahmed White, Under the Iron Heel: The Wobblies and the Capitalist War on Radical Workers
(University of California Press, 2022). The ILHA offers the following brief reviews for interested readers
and the public.
>Chad E. Pearson
In his book Capital’s Terrorists, Pearson seeks to elaborate the scope of labor exploitation at the hands of
Klansmen, vigilantes, regional employer terror groups, and the official enablers of such labor repression
in the United States during the 19 th and early 20 th centuries. By unearthing the records of the Klansmen as
well as the Law and Order Leagues, Pearson reveals the use of torture, murder, and vigilante violence
throughout the post-Civil War South to repress union members of the Knights of Labor and other
organizations in a drive to make the U.S. labor force compliant and docile while suppressing Black labor
Pearson’s work covers at least 17 different states and regions where organizations actively sought to
eliminate, destroy, or otherwise terrorize labor supporters. By deploying tactics of management
militarization, illegal kidnapping, incarceration, and brutality, leading figures of labor suppression are
shown to be allied with employer groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
Pearson documents the anti-labor roles played by judges, police, city and state politicians in anti-labor
violence and strike-breaking, while pointing to anti-union organizations across the United States that
engaged in confrontations and anti-strike actions, such as Citizens’ Alliance.
U.S. ‘popular literature’ was even utilized by anti-union, anti-socialist, and pro-terrorist advocates and
practitioners. One such writer, Owen Wister, produced novels and writings in the late 19 th century that
extolled vigilante violence against any movement that challenged corporate power, thereby influencing
public opinion in a way to justify extra-judicial murder and repression.
Pearson’s documents in detail the scope of illegal employer techniques such as whippings, kidnapping,
arson, hangings, shootings, blacklisting, book burnings, and imprisonment to suppress labor organizing,
to intimidate African American workers and any others fighting for worker rights, with an ultimate aim to
increase employer profitability and control.
The historical aftermath of such anti-union activities echoes down to our own time in U.S. culture that still
too often tolerates anti-union campaigns, the firing of union organizers, and the victimization of those who
seek union protections on the job. The ILHA is honored to recognize Pearson’s solid and diligent research
in his work, Capital’s Terrorists.
The Industrial Workers of the World, as Ahmed White’s deeply important Under the Iron Heel: The
Wobblies and the Capitalist War on Radical Workers (University of California Press, 2022) shows,
mounted impressive efforts to educate rank-and-file workers across languages and skills. The
organization’s songs, cartoons, pamphlets, and stickers, as well as its flexible tactics and plain heroism,
terrified employers and governments from the local to the local to the national level.
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The drama begins with the activities of the workers themselves, showing how brutalities against them
resulted in significant measure from an appreciation of the power, unity, and creativity they achieved. The
movement’s agitational materials showed a great awareness of the role of the state in, as White puts it,
“protecting the business people,” by suppressing speech, terrorizing organizers, dominating the courts,
fostering deportations, and filling the jails and prisons. World War One and the subsequent “red scare”
served, White’s study demonstrates, both context and pretext to such attacks.
Under the Heel thus gives readers a great drama and deep tragedy, in which union militants understood
that they were in a contest with capital over power, in both the workplace and the society, but could not
overcome sustained and combined assaults from capital, the state, and sometimes vigilantes as well.
White writes as a legal scholar, teaching at University of Colorado’s School of Law, but masterfully
captures dramas well beyond the courtroom as well. The research for Under the Heel is multi-sited and
prodigious, unearthing especially new materials on Kansas, a place of both conflict and repression.
The International Labor History Association is proud to honor this riveting work, one that is critically
important in showing that our own profoundly anti-labor system is one shaped not simply by weakness of
unions, but rather by the successful collaboration of capital and the state to, as the late historian and
lawyer Staughton Lynd put it, outlaw solidarity.
>Questions about the ILHA and its previous >Book of the Year< awards, may be directed to Ronald C. Kent,
Editor, ILHA, 6802 Raymond Road Unit 206, Madison, WI 53719; firstname.lastname@example.org.