Book Reviews


Kirkus Reviews

A son’s debut chronicle of his father’s years as a leading labor leader in World War II–era Detroit.

“In 1935, he came to Detroit with nothing but a new name and a suitcase,” the author writes in this highly detailed account of the life of his father, Ken Morris, a longtime United Automobile Workers organizer who went from being a “nobody at a huge manufacturing facility” to winning an election to a position on Local 212’s executive board four years later. The author documents the years with great skill, from his father’s days as a door-to-door salesman during the Great Depression to his protracted residence in Detroit, first working for the city’s giant auto factories and then helping to organize labor disputes against them. Bob Morris vividly captures the intricacies and struggles of a world that has long since faded from view—labor unions are currently the weakest they’ve been in half a century—and has largely disappeared from American history textbooks. The author writes of his father’s fellow activists (and their equally brave girlfriends, wives and mothers), the indifferent or corrupt Detroit city officials, and the nefarious auto giants that never hesitated to use political manipulation—or to use gangsters as off-the-books strikebreakers. (Hardly a chapter of the book goes by without an epic, violent brawl between workers and hired thugs.) At the center of it all is Ken Morris himself, who, according to the author, had a reputation as “one of the hardest working presidents of a local union,” and who served “all members of his region. There was never a hint of scandal.” The book looks at a variety of players during these crucial years in the history of American labor, from strike leaders to ordinary guys on the assembly lines. The author also enlivens the text with incredible black-and-white photos of these men, and the sometimes harrowing battles they fought.

A lost chapter in American labor history brought vividly to life.