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The Racketeer's Progress
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  • Page extent: 352 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.63 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 331.88/09773/1109041
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: HD8072 .C69 2004
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Skilled labor--Illinois--Chicago--History--20th century
    • Labor unions--Illinois--Chicago--History
    • Racketeering--Illinois--Chicago
    • Crime--Illinois--Chicago--History
    • Social conflict--United States--History

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521834667 | ISBN-10: 052183466X)

The Racketeer's Progress explores the contested and contingent origins of the modern American economy by examining the violent resistance to its development. It explains how carpenters, teamsters, barbers, musicians and others organised to thwart ambitious national corporations. Unions and associations governed commerce through pickets, assaults and bombings. Scholars often ignore this defiance, painting modernisation as a consensual process and presenting craftsmen as reactionary, corrupt and criminal. This is ironic, for the tradesmen's reputation derives from their successful struggle to control modernisation and the emerging consumer economy. Their resistance redirected American law. Progressive-era courts rebuked the craftsmen for attempting to govern trade. In the 1920s, the tradesmen inspired new criminal concepts, such as 'racketeering'. But the Great Depression reversed harsh laws. The craftsmen became a model for New Deal recovery statutes and a focus for constitutional debates. Meanwhile, the state began protecting unions against gangsters like Al Capone.

• Describes violence in Chicago, showing how craft workers and small businessmen resisted the rise of mass culture and a modern corporate economy • Explores the real role of gangsters like Murray 'The Camel' Humphreys in the urban economy • Illuminates the true context for American labour law, discussing the decline of conspiracy law, enactment of anti-racketeering statues, and the rise of New Deal order


1. Modernisation and its discontents, 1900; 2. Ruling the urban economy; 3. The struggle for order; 4. The progressive reaction; 5. Rhetoric into law; 6. Containing mass society and the problem of corruption; 7. From conspiracy to racketeering; 8. The new deal order from the bottom up; Epilogue: policing the post-war consensus.


Review of the hardback: 'Insisting that we look beyond the gleaming factories and department stores that have dominated the historical literature to the highly complex, unstable, and violent world of small businessmen and skilled craftsmen that dominated the early twentieth-century city and fiercely resisted the triumph of corporate capitalism, Andrew Cohen makes us look at the social organisation of the city anew and develops a bracing reinterpretation of the political economy of the Progressive Era and New Deal. Prodigiously researched and boldly argued, this is revisionist history at its best.' George Chauncey, University of Chicago

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