West Virginia University history professors Elizabeth Fones-Wolf and Kenneth Fones-Wolf will travel to Washington, D.C. this week to present their latest book to one of the country’s biggest and oldest labor unions.
The two will present ideas from “Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South: White Evangelical Protestants and Operation Dixie” for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations on Friday, Oct. 30.
The book documents the role religion played as pro-union and anti-union forces tried to appeal to workers in the South after World War II. While much of the workforce in the northern states was organized by 1946, the South was a haven for companies looking to distance themselves from collective bargaining and higher wages.
“Operation Dixie” was a campaign launched by the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the group that had successfully unionized the steel, auto and electrical industries in the North, to bring organized labor to the industrializing South.
“To have a major institution in our society, the AFL-CIO, to invite us to talk about the significance of the book today, is probably very gratifying for us because historians talk to other historians frequently,” Ken said. “But we don’t often get to talk to people that are doing what we’re writing about today.”
They will discuss the lessons of the book, how those lessons apply to the current mood toward organized labor and the role religion plays in shaping public opinion. The United States has declined from a peak of 35 percent private sector representation in the 1950s to 6.6 percent today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“In that period in 1946, there was a mobilization against unions just the same as we have today,” Elizabeth said. “Labor responded by saying ‘we need to be aggressive.’ Parallel things are happening today. Organizers are wondering how to speak to religious people.”
Earlier this month, the book was selected by the Newberry Seminar in Labor History to be part of its Big Book Symposium in Chicago.
For more information about the book, click here.
CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Director of Marketing and Communication, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, 304-293-6867, Devon.Copeland@mail.wvu.edu
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.