Publisher: Charles H Kerr
Released: July 20, 2021
In the 1960s and '70s, class struggle surged in U.S. industrial cities. Many leftists joined these struggles by going to work in the nation’s factories; among them was Noel Ignatiev. He labored in different factories during this period, and this memoir came from his experiences as an electrician in the blast furnace division of U.S. Steel Gary Works. His first-hand account reveals the day-to-day workings of white supremacy, patriarchy, and the exploitation of labor. More so, though, we see the seeds of a new society sown in the workers’ on-the-job resistance. The stories Noel tells are gripping and humorous—and at times will bring you to tears.
Noel Ignatiev (1940–2019) was a revolutionary his entire adult life. He worked for 23 years in industry and for 33 years in academia. He was the author of How the Irish Became White; co-editor of Race Traitor, an American Book Award winner; and editor of A New Notion: Two Works by C.L.R. James and The Lesson of the Hour: Wendell Phillips on Abolition & Strategy. He was also the founding editor of Urgent Tasks: Journal of the Revolutionary Left; Race Traitor, Journal of the New Abolitionism; and Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life.
"Acceptable Men tells a tale neither of regret nor escape. Noel lgnatiev’s experiences at U.S. Steel Gary Works are offered as a key to his academic and political commitments. On full display is Noel's skill at letting the details of the daily lives and struggles of working people illuminate broader trends and teach valuable lessons. Acceptable Men is a segment of a larger work left unfinished. We should not dwell on that loss. Our task as readers is to carry Noel's spirit and insights into the struggles of our day." —John H. Bracey, Professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"In his years in the steel mill, Noel was a student—a student of the organization of production, of the profound skills that workers acquired, of workers’ deep-seated convictions and sometimes quite fantastic notions of why things are the way they are, of the foolishness of the supervisors, of the shallowness of corporate propaganda, and of the unexpected friendships that developed across the fault lines of job hierarchies, race, and gender. Noel probably knew how to tell a good story before his time in the mill, but his time there allowed him to perfect his talent. It is on rich display in this memoir." —John Garvey, editorial board member of Hard Crackers and Insurgent Notes.
"Noel Ignatiev's thick description of his life working at Gary, Indiana's U.S. Steel plant is one for the ages. His combining of the technical details of steel making, irreverent comradery, accounts of racism both in the plant and in the country as a whole, with damning matter-of-fact indictments of the company's total lack of concern for the safety of its workers, makes this a must read for all who want deeper insights into U.S. society and capitalism in general." —Michael Goldfield, author of The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s
"This book is laugh-out-loud funny and packed with conversations that appear verbatim, from a steel mill in the early 1970s. It is a snapshot of the gone world of industrial production, with precise descriptions of the blast furnace, and a step-by-step accounting of interactions among workers and between workers and bosses. It is a brilliant exposition of the daily workings of race and power with hardly a word of interpretation, that moves along like a novel while revealing the disparities between what people do and what they think they think, and showing how workers cooperate in the struggle to take back their time and dignity, prefiguring a new society ...This is the primary material that informed the Race Traitor project and How the Irish Became White and it is an enduring portrait of proletarian life in elegant, accessible language." —Beth Henson, member of the Sojourner Truth Organization and author of Agrarian Revolt in the Sierra of Chihuahua, 1959–1965
"In his posthumous memoir, in the manner of Dante Aligheri or Maxim Gorky, Noel lgnatiev takes us on a tour of the "lower depths" of U.S. Steel's Gary Works. lgnatiev shows us the various ploys with which steel workers attempted to take back some of the socially necessary labor power that US Steel had stolen from them. Some ploys were humorous. All were tragic—even when they netted workers a temporary respite in the form of a little sleep on a hard hench in a changing room or a raucous card game while still on the clock. For black workers, especially those who were skilled or semi-skilled, many such efforts were shaded by white supremacy—which made them doubly tragic. In an age where a significant portion of the national workforce has been warehoused because of capital flight, technological innovation, and now a pandemic virus, lgnatiev's memoir is a must-read." —John E. Higginson, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of A Working Class in the Making: Belgian Colonial Labor Policy, Private Enterprise and the African Mine Worker, 1907–1951 and Collective Violence and the Agrarian Origins of South African Apartheid 1900–1948
"Our comrade Noel lgnatiev died in 2019. He left with us this remarkable 110-page memoir. In it he describes his experience after being hired at the U.S. Steel Gary Works, 'the largest works of the largest steel company in the world.' At first glance the story is one of hilarious work evasion by fellow workers. In contrast to work on an assembly line, Noel and his family at work spent much of their time playing cards, shooting the breeze over coffee, and catching up on sleep. Two underlying facts pierce this surface impression. The first is the almost total irrelevance of the local union of the United Steelworkers of America to which all hourly employees belonged. As Noel explains, 'I have always been skeptical of union reform. In my view the union, at best, is a defensive organization, but something more is needed to free the working class from its subordination to capital.' The second fact is the overwhelming importance of contesting the employer's racial discrimination as the necessary first step in nurturing 'our vision of mass organization independent of the unions.' Indeed, Noel’s growing relationship with a particular black worker, Jackson, is the glue which holds together the entire fabric of work emergencies and off-duty friendship. The memoir ends abruptly and sadly. 'One of my comrades in STO [Sojourner Truth Organization], after years in factories, returned to the university.... He urges me to join him .... I take him up on the suggestion.... I manage for a few years to stay in touch with Jackson.' Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, Noel and his friend Jackson are smiling at us, in inter-racial solidarity." —Staughton Lynd, Author of Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below