Labor, Community, and Culture in Montana's Smelter City
Author: Laurie Mercier
Working-class tenacity in the city where copper was king
Paper – $32
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/2001
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About the Book

Laurie Mercier's look at "community unionism" examines the distinctive culture of cooperation and activism fostered by residents in Anaconda, Montana, home to the world's largest copper smelter and the namesake of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

Mercier depicts the vibrant life of the smelter city at full steam, incorporating the candid commentary of the locals ("the company furnished three pair of leather gloves . . . and all the arsenic [dust] you could eat"). During five decades of devoted unionism, locals embraced an "alternative Americanism" that championed improved living standards for working people as the best defense against communism. Mercier also explores how gender limits on women's political, economic, and social roles shaped the nature and outcome of labor struggles, and traces how union rivalries, environmental concerns, and the 1980 closing of the Anaconda smelter transformed the town.

A fascinating portrait of how community molds working class consciousness, Anaconda offers important insights about the changing nature of working class culture and collective action.

About the Author

Laurie Mercier is a professor of history at Washington State University Vancouver. She is the author of Speaking History: Oral Histories of the American Past, 1865-Present.

Also by this author

Learning to Be an Anthropologist and Remaining


"An important and evocative story of community unionism, the values of solidarity and mutual support, and the creative agency of men and women working together and, at times, against one another in making a living and a life. . . . The seamlessness with which Mercier weaves the tensions and possibilities of gender, class, ethnic and labor relations into the larger community story is particularly impressive."--Janet L. Finn, Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Mercier's Anaconda demonstrates the great potential of a community study-- she respectfully probes the bonds and divisions of a vibrant town and in the process places Anaconda within a broader regional and national framework."--Journal of American History

"With painstaking attention to ethnic, gender, and class dynamics, and utilizing rich archival and oral history sources, Laurie Mercier has produced a finely written and richly excavated study of the century-long relationship between the powerful Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM) and the local working-class community it helped create."--Indiana Magazine of History


"In Laurie Mercier's Anaconda, the smelter city once called the ‘City of Whispers' rings with the voices of working people whose community unionism contested corporate control and whose memories challenge corporate history. Subtle, sophisticated, passionately human, Anaconda recasts in local textures the opposing claims of class, capital, and gender in the cold war West."--Elizabeth Jameson, author of All That Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek

"Anaconda is a splendid study of one of the most neglected topics in western history. In richly textured prose laced with the voices of dozens of Anacondans, Laurie Mercier reveals the intricate twinings of gender and class that enabled this working-class community to resist the conservative and confining ideologies of cold war America. This is a work that will help rewrite post-World War II western history."--Mary Murphy, author of Mining Cultures: Men, Women, and Leisure in Butte, 1914-41


Winner of the Clark C. Spence Award, the Mining History Association, 2004.