Fighting Times: Organizing on the Front Lines of the Class War
Author: Jon Melrod
Series: PM Press
Subjects: Autobiography / Political & Social Activists • Labor & Industrial Relations
Deeply personal, astutely political, Fighting Times: Organizing on the Front Lines of the Class War recounts the thirteen-year journey of Jon Melrod to harness working-class militancy and jump start a revolution on the shop floor of American Motors. Melrod faces termination, dodges the FBI, outwits collaborators in the UAW, and becomes a central figure in a lawsuit against the rank-and-file newsletter Fighting Times, as he strives to build a class-conscious workers’ movement from the bottom up.
A radical to the core, Melrod was a key part of campus insurrection at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He left campus for the factory in 1972, hired along with hundreds of youthful job seekers onto the mind-numbing assembly line. Fighting Times paints a portrait of these rebellious and alienated young hires, many of whom were Black Vietnam vets.
Containing dozens of archival photographs, Fighting Times captures the journey of a militant antiracist revolutionary who rose to the highest elected ranks of his UAW local without compromising his politics or his dedication to building a class-conscious workers’ movement. The book will arm and inspire a new generation of labor organizers with the skills and attitude to challenge the odds and fight the egregious abuses of the exploitative capitalist system.
“An eloquent voice from the frontlines of the hard, bitter, exhilarating struggles for freedom and justice that have made the world a better place, and an inspiring guide for carrying the crucial struggle forward.”
“In Fighting Times, Jon Melrod shares his personal experiences in historical context about his human rights battles against social injustices. Jon was an early supporter of the Black Panther Party and the struggle for black liberation. As you will read, he became a target of the FBI after landing on the Bureau’s radar when he called the Chicago office to coordinate sales of The Black Panther community newspaper in Madison, WI. A must-read for all freedom-loving peoples.”
—Emory Douglas, social justice artist and minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, 1967–1981
"Jon Melrod's Fighting Times blends the riveting personal history of a dedicated class war veteran with important lessons in building multiracial, multigender working-class solidarity on the shop floor, in the streets, and especially when confronting the boss. As a lifelong activist and unapologetic revolutionary, Melrod's efforts to democratize the UAW during the 1970s and ’80s foreshadowed today's battles for union democracy, and his story offers a handy blueprint for the next generation of fired-up workers, labor organizers, and hell-raisers."
—Kim Kelly, labor journalist and author of Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor
“Melrod's Fighting Times isn't a memoir that talks about halcyon days when revolution was in the air; it's a fighting manual for people today who want to change society. The revolutionary doesn't just think the masses into action, but acts alongside them, lifting their fellow worker up and leading by example. If you're a young worker or student who wants to get things moving, Fighting Times shows you what it means to do just that.”
—Brace Belden, cohost of the True Anon podcast, volunteer with YPG Kurdish Militia in Syria, ILWU Local 6 organizing committee at Anchor Brewing, San Francisco
“To organize communities and workers, you have to listen to them. Jon Melrod’s many stories show he did just that—and had a blast, too, as they turned their creativity and solidarity against the boss. Yes, there’s a lot to be learned from Melrod’s tales, but they’re also a joy to read.”
—Ken Paff, cofounder of Teamsters for a Democratic Union
“Brother Melrod’s book Fighting Times provides firsthand insight into the valiant struggles waged in the early to mid-1980s in the contentious struggle between rank-and-file auto workers and the four US auto manufacturers. Concession fever, pushed by both the auto companies and their partners in the UAW International union, swept the industry and threatened to decimate decades of hard-fought gains won by the rank and file since breaking down the nonunion shops in the 1930s. For any young activist just entering the labor movement, Fighting Times offers inspiration, guidance, and insight on how to motivate the rank and file to identify its own interests and stand up to corporate attacks, and in some cases, union sellouts who do the bidding of the owning class. The book is a must-read for all aspiring labor activists.”
—Peter Kelly, former president, UAW Local 160 GM Tech Center, UAW National Bargaining Committee 1985
“Long before Kenosha, WI, became a flashpoint in Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, this blue-collar city was the scene of intense shop-floor campaigns against racism and for militant unionism in the auto industry. Jon Melrod’s account of his workplace organizing and reform caucus building in the 1970s and 80s is full of useful lessons for younger radicals trying to revive organized labor today. Fighting Times illustrates the importance of resisting contract concessions, defending free speech on the shop floor, and democratizing the United Auto Workers, a key rank-and-file struggle to this very day.”
—Steve Early, labor journalist, former international representative at Communications Workers of America, author of Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City
“Jon Melrod’s Fighting Times tells the story of a ’60s-era student radical who was one of thousands of young revolutionaries who left the campus and headed for mills, mines, factories, and battered neighborhoods. It was a learn-as-you go migration that was as challenging and exciting as it was chaotic and dangerous. Much ink has been devoted to Weatherman’s stuttering attempts to attack the system. What’s missing from those accounts is the organizing these onetime SDS activists did in the coal miners' right-to-strike movement, the postal workers' wildcat strikes, and—in Melrod’s case—Kenosha's American Motors factory. American youth everywhere were inspired by the freedom fighters of the Black Panthers, Vietnamese NLF, and the Chinese Revolution. It was an exciting time, and Jon Melrod’s extraordinary book puts you there.”
—Tommy Amano-Tompkins, English professor at LA Harbor College and onetime arts editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Fighting Times is an excellent example of a militant rank-and-file caucus taking up the battle for women’s equality. The Fighting Times caucus at the American Motors auto plant in Kenosha, WI, took up the battle against discrimination of women on the shop floor, within the union, and in the broader community. When Jon was elected chief steward his election slate consisted of newly energized women activists. Under his leadership, half the steward body were women. I recommend any young person looking to become active in the union movement read this book, which is vital for building today’s movement in support of women’s fight for equality and the fight for social justice.”
—Laura Drake, senior organizer at Chicago AFSCME Council 31
“Jon Melrod, now in his seventies, has been an activist all his life, starting in second grade. His book, Fighting Times, is a remarkable document that shows us how one dedicated person became a leader who helped build a movement that improved the lives of industrial workers. Fighting Times is a blueprint for anyone who seeks to bring justice to the workplace.”
—Stephan Shames, photographer
“For too long the dominant narrative of Sixties radicalism has been one of unrealistic idealism giving way to desperation, capitulation, or despair. Missing are stories of those who became radicalized in that time and went ‘to the working class’ as a means to effect fundamental change. Now Jon Melrod brings us one of those stories, one that is both unique—his having been a catalyzing force in key struggles—and far more representative than what we have been led to believe. His is an essential story of someone who emerged from the Sixties maelstrom intent on taking things in further liberatory directions.”
—Aaron J. Leonard, author of Heavy Radicals and The Folk Singers and the Bureau
About the Author
Born into the political and cultural quiescence of the 1950s, Jon Melrod grew up in apartheid-like Washington DC. Active in the student movement that opposed the Vietnam War and a supporter of black liberation, Jon embraced the ideology that the working class held the power to radically transform society. He left the campus for the factory in 1973. For thirteen years, he immersed himself in the day-to-day struggles of Milwaukee’s working class, both on the factory floor and in the political arena. Despite FBI surveillance and interference, Jon organized a militant rank-and-file caucus and rose through union ranks to a top leadership position in UAW Local 72. After a mass workforce cutback imposed by AMC’s joint venture partner Renault, he left to attend Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco in 1985. Graduating cum laude with a JD, he opened a law firm in San Francisco, successfully representing hundreds of political refugees.
See and hear interviews, book reviews, and other news on Jon Melrod's page HERE
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