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The Evolution of Industrialized Workers in Chicago Term Paper

Before the 1930’s, industrial workers within Chicago lived in isolation. Residing in closely-knit ethnic societies, cultural and racial tension remained manifest amid these communities. The tensions deemed it quite impossible to form working class movements.

However, in spite of their strong ties to their diverse ethnic groups, the Great Depression established grounds by which industrial workers would unite. In her publication, ‘Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939’, Lizabeth Cohen examines the possibility of the industrial workers to form union movements during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Cohen’s purpose in writing the book

Cohen endeavors at examining the possibility of industrial workers to form effectual unions. The book covers the reinterpretation of the manner in which industrial workers deeply engaged in the 1930s’ union organizing coercions. She brilliantly outlines the gradual transformation of industrial workers within Chicago portraying why and how they changed.

The main purpose in writing this book is to explore how these transformations allowed the industrial workers to be makers of, as well as participants in their New Deal. Hence, she portrays how the working class individuals experienced a gradual transformation in behavior and attitudes between 1920s and 1930s owing to an extensive range of cultural and social experiences. Throughout the edition, Cohen reveals that the evolution was not a simple task, but it was rather complicated.

She shows how workers in Chicago had tried in vain to organize permanent unions before 1930 (Cohen 4). To portray clearly that the developments aimed at forming unions were not immediate, she addresses the resistance that the workers faced. Hence, she enables the readers to familiarize with the actuality that the developments helped workers unite, and thus the unions endowed them with a logical answer to their problems.

Book’s thesis

The chief hypothesis in Cohen’s book is evolution of industrialized workers in Chicago for the period between World War I and World War II. Cohen’s principal endeavor is to explore the possibility of the industrial workers to unite in national politics during the mid 1930s. She explicates this when she writes ‘this book is devoted to explaining how it was possible and what it meant for industrial workers to become effective as national political participants in the mid 1930s (5).

Organization of material

Cohen organizes the material in a sequential manner. She begins by explaining the background information leading to the transformation. She then focuses on the disappointments that workers encountered in 1919, laying her key concern on the barricades to united effort (13).

She goes forth to explain the subsequent incapability of the unions to attain a foothold during the succeeding decade. Subsequently, she shows how the working class managed to unite during the Great Depression. The chapters are long enough to incorporate all the vital information.

Cohen has organized the material in her book in a manner influential to the audience. To revolve effectively around the thesis, the author incorporates different topics within the chapters. This organization makes the reader explore the theme with imagination and vitality.

Equally, she has arranges the chapters in an approach that intertwines the aspects of cultural and ethnic history. Even though each chapter appears independent, it offers information that readers can relate to the preceding and subsequent chapters. Therefore, the entire publication is an interrelationship of ideas and concepts. For instance, the first chapter describes the dreadful fragmentation and failure of a labor movement that emerged after World War I.

Then, the subsequent chapters focus on the modifications in the labor movement’s approach and structure as well as policies of the New Deal. They deeply elaborate on the workers’ gradual transformations in behavior and attitudes due to a broad variety of cultural and social experiences. In this context, the organization of material is vital in understanding the book’s theme. It is apparent that readers cannot understand the theme without knowing how the industrial worker’s lives changed over time.


Cohen focuses on political, social, and cultural history within the twentieth century to explore how the working class people’s cultural and social characteristics and experiences formed their political points of reference. The Marxist theory guides Cohen in writing this edition. She finds ethnic identities that have been subverted by patterns of class-consciousness and mass consumption. Equally, the book bases on capitalism, revolving around the working class populations.

Primary sources

Cohen derives information from an outstanding assortment of primary sources explicitly advertising memoranda, private papers, radio scripts, company archives, and commercial and banking documentations. Equally, she backs her points with evidence from industrial workers’ manuscripts and letters.

She emphasizes that there is a prime need to consider the workers perceptions in making the historical analysis to make a full assessment of the limitations and strengths of workers’ incorporation into American politics (5). Moreover, she has explored expansively through the rich archives to endow the readers with brilliant insight into the lives of the industrial workers. She has used a broad array of sources to show the interrelationship between different episodes.

The interrelationship provides a detailed picture of the life of industrial workers in the 1930s and the preceding period. The use of diverse sources helps Cohen accomplish her chief objective in exploring the cultural and social transformation among the industrial workers that enabled their involvement in the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations).

Similarly, the sources offer a considerable contribution to the readers’ understanding of American history during the era between World War I and World War II. Moreover, they assist the author in proving her overall point, which assets that apart from jogging around historical tides, industrial workers were mediators of their fortune during an era that opened with dismay and ended in potency.

The subfield of history to which the book belongs

This publication belongs to a subfield of history known as American history. The book dwells exclusively on American history. It links historical materialism to American progressivism. It bases entirely on occurrences in Chicago, a metropolitan city in America. It has managed to create a mental picture of the culture in Chicago between 1920s and 1930s and beyond. In this context, the book offers a clear view of American history for the era between World War I and World War II.

How well the author’s purpose is accomplished

Cohen’s work is insightful, engaging, and wide-ranging. It has provided a novel way of looking into an old era and old problems. Cohen has successfully bridged the systematic barricades between industrial workers’ community and political experiences, and the quiet 1920s. Cohen has moved flawlessly from labor history to ethnic history, and then to cultural history devoid of losing the reader. She has included illustrations such as charts and figures in her publication to augment readers’ understanding of the concepts.

Cohen’s work is well done allowing the reader to create a mental image of all the occurrences among industrial workers in Chicago for the era between 1920s and 1930s. Cohen has realized a logical and convincing explanation for the loyalty of the working class to the New Deal and the CIO. The major strength of the book is the author’s ability to move the readers from the overall range of predicaments to the new era. Accordingly, the reader can efficiently relate how the industrial workers problems paved way to their ability to form unions.

On the other hand, Cohen’s book has some limitations. To begin with, she has paid very negligible attention to the workers who were outside the CIO. Moreover, she concludes the book at an odd timing. The book ends when the splendor moment of organizing created way for the imminent ambiguous decades.

Cohen’s piece of writing is a hefty and remarkable work. It marks an enormous achievement in American history. Ultimately, I deem that the abundance in Cohen’s book makes it a valuable resource for research libraries as well as a helpful item in academic collections. Indeed, readers who are curious about the subjects on mass culture, ethnicity, and American politics ought to read this book, as they must discover something stimulating in it.

The book is particularly appropriate for people interested in working class affiliation to organized labor. Additionally, most chapters within Cohen’s publication could form a basis for other author’s works. For instance, authors can draw useful ideas from the chapters Encountering Mass Culture, Adrift in the Great Depression, Workers make a New Deal, and Workers Common Ground.


Cohen, Lizabeth. Making A New Deal: Industrial Workers In Chicago, 1919-1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Evolution of Industrialized Workers in Chicago." January 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/industrial-workers-in-chicago/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Evolution of Industrialized Workers in Chicago'. 12 January.

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