During the summer of 1968, hundreds of black bus drivers initiated two wildcat strikes in Chicago. These actions crippled the city's bus routes and left hundreds of thousands of people without service. The strike was unusual because the drivers demanded more of their union than of the company. These Chicago Transit Authority employees protested the antidemocratic structure of the Amalgamated Transport Union, which they believed favored white employees and retirees despite a majority black workforce. As the strike made headlines and worried Mayor Richard J. Daley (and his plans for the Democratic convention), drivers formed alliances with community groups. Fusing the cause of economic justice with that of the Black Power movement, these drivers and their allies formed the Concerned Transit Workers (CTW) as a vehicle for their demands. In this article Erik Gellman addresses the following questions: How did Black Power advocates address economic injustice at work? And how does this case study change previous understandings of black and labor protests during the late 1960s? Historians have only begun to account for the late 1960s stream of black activism by focusing on affirmative action's history from the local level, and Chicago is a vital case study for this approach because it has come to symbolize how whites in the urban North stymied southern civil rights activists when they tried to apply their nonviolent activism above the Mason-Dixon line. Many of these activists saw transit as a key urban space and sought to reverse deindustrialization and persistent job discrimination through black working-class nationalism, which provides a more complex and more contested vision of working-class Black Power as a potential remedy to the growing urban crisis in modern American cities.
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Erik S. Gellman; In the Driver's Seat: Chicago's Bus Drivers and Labor Insurgency in the Era of Black Power. Labor 1 September 2014; 11 (3): 49–76. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-2687732
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