“Kelly unearths the stories of the people-farm laborers, domestic workers, factory employees—behind some of the labor movement’s biggest successes.” —The New York Times
A revelatory and inclusive history of the American labor movement, from independent journalist and Teen Vogue labor columnist Kim Kelly.
Freed Black women organizing for protection in the Reconstruction-era South. Jewish immigrant garment workers braving deadly conditions for a sliver of independence. Asian American fieldworkers rejecting government-sanctioned indentured servitude across the Pacific. Incarcerated workers advocating for basic human rights and fair wages. The queer Black labor leader who helped orchestrate America’s civil rights movement. These are only some of the working-class heroes who propelled American labor’s relentless push for fairness and equal protection under the law.
The names and faces of countless silenced, misrepresented, or forgotten leaders have been erased by time as a privileged few decide which stories get cut from the final copy: those of women, people of color, LGBTQIA people, disabled people, sex workers, prisoners, and the poor. In this assiduously researched work of journalism, Teen Vogue columnist and independent labor reporter Kim Kelly excavates that history and shows how the rights the American worker has today—the forty-hour workweek, workplace-safety standards, restrictions on child labor, protection from harassment and discrimination on the job—were earned with literal blood, sweat, and tears.
Fight Like Hell comes at a time of economic reckoning in America. From Amazon’s warehouses to Starbucks cafes, Appalachian coal mines to the sex workers of Portland’s Stripper Strike, interest in organized labor is at a fever pitch not seen since the early 1960s.
Inspirational, intersectional, and full of crucial lessons from the past, Fight Like Hell shows what is possible when the working class demands the dignity it has always deserved.
Journalist and union organizer Kelly debuts with a rousing look at the contributions of marginalized groups to the U.S. labor movement. She begins by placing the "middle-aged Black warehouse workers" who tried to unionize an Amazon fulfillment center in Alabama in 2021 within a "long lineage of working class heroes," including the 19th-century female mill workers who fought for a workday shorter than 16 hours. Kelly also recounts how an 1881 strike by Black laundresses in Atlanta brought the city's laundry services to a halt on the eve of the International Cotton Exposition, and profiles U.S. labor secretary Frances Perkins, who helped enshrine workplace protections in New Deal legislation after having witnessed the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Elsewhere, Kelly examines how convict leasing helped prop up the South's "faltering post-Confederate economy" and sketches the history of the 1891 1892 Coal Creek War in Tennessee, when "involuntary, incarcerated laborers" were brought in as strikebreakers but were freed repeatedly by the miners they were meant to replace. Shedding new light on key players and episodes within a diverse range of industries from textile and trucking to sex work this invigorating labor history is also a powerful call for today's workers to fight for their rights. Agent: Chad Luibl, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc.