Cover for CLARK: Disruption in Detroit: Autoworkers and the Elusive Postwar Boom. Click for larger image

Disruption in Detroit

Autoworkers and the Elusive Postwar Boom

Waking up from our American Dream of 1950s Detroit

It is a bedrock American belief: the 1950s were a golden age of prosperity for autoworkers. Flush with high wages and enjoying the benefits of generous union contracts, these workers became the backbone of a thriving blue-collar middle class.

It is also a myth. Daniel J. Clark began by interviewing dozens of former autoworkers in the Detroit area and found a different story--one of economic insecurity marked by frequent layoffs, unrealized contract provisions, and indispensable second jobs. Disruption in Detroit is a vivid portrait of workers and an industry that experienced anything but stable prosperity. As Clark reveals, the myths--whether of rising incomes or hard-nosed union bargaining success--came later. In the 1950s, ordinary autoworkers, union leaders, and auto company executives recognized that although jobs in their industry paid high wages, they were far from steady and often impossible to find.

"Exposes the myth of the prosperous postwar auto worker and deftly deals with the delicate interplay among larger national economic forces, auto industry and auto union policies, and the lives of those who labored and lived in the Motor City in the decade and a half after World War II."--Stephen Meyer, author of Manhood on the Line: Working Class Masculinities in the American Heartland

"Well-written and well-researched, this book challenges and transforms the way we understand the immediate postwar era. Daniel Clark closely examines auto work and ordinary autoworkers, people whose lives have been overwhelmed by the narrative of postwar economic expansion and overlooked by most scholars. The vaunted economic boom was not the vehicle for the making of the Detroit middle class, Clark shows. Detroit autoworkers and their families experienced the same job instability and economic insecurity that had long shaped working-class life and labor. Attentive to gender and race, Clark offers an astute and cogent argument informed by wide and deep research in newspapers and close listening to and reading of oral histories. Providing a startling, different perspective on the postwar boom and the alleged heyday of the United Auto Workers when high wages and benefits pushed autoworkers into the middle class, the book requires revision of modern American history as well as midcentury labor history."--Nancy Gabin, author of Feminism in the Labor Movement: Women and the United Auto Workers, 19351970


Daniel J. Clark is an associate professor of history at Oakland University, Michigan. He is the author of Like Night and Day: Unionization in a Southern Mill Town.

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