Know Your Enemy: What Was the CIO?

Know Your Enemy: What Was the CIO?

Tim Barker and Ben Mabie join to tell the story of American labor militancy in the 1930s—and how the right responded.

Supporting CIO Local 211 during a strike in Pittsburgh circa 1937 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Know Your Enemy is a podcast about the American right co-hosted by Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell. Read more about it here. You can subscribe to, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, and receive bonus content by supporting the podcast on Patreon.

Historian Tim Barker and editor/organizer Ben Mabie join to discuss a thrilling episode in the history of American labor. Barker and Mabie are two co-hosts of Fragile Juggernaut, a Haymarket Originals podcast exploring the history, politics, and strategic lessons of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (or CIO). Along with Alex Press, Gabriel Winant, Andrew Elrod, and Emma Teitelman, they’ve been telling the story of organized labor in the 1930s, the radical possibilities of that decade, and the eclipsing of those possibilities in the postwar years—with the onset of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and anti-union legislation like Taft-Hartley.

In a sense, this episode is a pre-history of the story we tell on Know Your Enemy. What was it that so terrified reactionary businessmen about the New Deal era? How did they come to believe that revolutionary upheaval was a real prospect in America, that Communists were everywhere, threatening the social order, and that this peril demanded the creation and funding of a new conservative movement? Part of the answer is: the CIO. From a certain angle, the right-wing fever dream was real, at least for a time: the CIO really was filled with Communists, labor militants really did take over factories and shut down whole cities, and it really did seem possible, if only briefly, that the American working class—including immigrants from all over Europe, black workers, and women—might find solidarity on the shop floor, consolidate politically, and threaten the reign of capital. That didn’t quite happen. And this episode will partially explain why.


Further Reading:

Andrew Elrod, Fragile Juggernaut: What was the CIO? n+1 (2024)

Bruce Nelson, Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Longshoremen, and Unionism in the 1930s (1988)

Robert H. Zieger, The CIO, 1935-1955 (1995)

Landon R.Y. Storrs,  The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left (2012)

Eric Blanc, Revisiting the Wagner Act & its Causes, Labor Politics (2022)

Rhonda Levine, Class Struggle and the New Deal: Industrial Labor, Industrial Capital, and the State (1988)


Further Listening:

The podcast: Haymarket Originals: Fragile Juggernaut, 2024


…and don’t forget to subscribe to Know Your Enemy on Patreon for access to all of our bonus episodes!