Jeffrey Haydu’s work Making American Industry Safe for Democracy (Amazon) is effectively two comparative studies spliced into one book. The first part focuses on comparisons among the labor industries after World War One in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. Part Two explores differences in industry within America itself. Ken Fones-Wolf of the University of West Virginia described the book as “outstanding.”
Part One of the book looks closely at American “exceptionalisms”; however, the term is never clearly defined and is used also in reference to British industries. Haydu uses open shop reforms, collective bargaining agreements, and the relationship between government and industry in America as examples of the exceptionalism to which he frequently refers. Germany seems to be the odd-man-out in comparisons throughout Part One; it is further progressed in terms of socialism and social reform than either the United States or Britain. It therefore offers a different but no less enlightening comparison to the changes being experienced than does Great Britain.
Haydu presents a compelling argument for exceptionalism, and his work is clearly a significant contribution to comparative labor history. However, if the United States’ experiences are indeed “exceptional,” which is by definition different or extraordinary, but so are Great Britain’s different than the United States or Germany, then does not the term lose some of its significance? Whether because of social or political currents, or a combination of the two, each of the three countries compared came about their industrial changes differently. Now this may just be arguing semantics, but if a term that is a central part of one’s argument is rendered meaningless by ambiguity or too-broad usage, then either the term should be redefined or the argument needs adjusting.