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Meet Joe Copper

Masculinity and Race on Montana’s World War II Home Front

Meet Joe Copper

Masculinity and Race on Montana’s World War II Home Front

“I realize that I am a soldier of production whose duties are as important in this war as those of the man behind the gun.” So began the pledge that many home front men took at the outset of World War II when they went to work in the factories, fields, and mines while their compatriots fought in the battlefields of Europe and on the bloody beaches of the Pacific. The male experience of working and living in wartime America is rarely examined, but the story of men like these provides a crucial counter-narrative to the national story of Rosie the Riveter and GI Joe that dominates scholarly and popular discussions of World War II.


In Meet Joe Copper, Matthew L. Basso describes the formation of a powerful, white, working-class masculine ideology in the decades prior to the war, and shows how it thrived—on the job, in the community, and through union politics. Basso recalls for us the practices and beliefs of the first- and second-generation immigrant copper workers of Montana while advancing the historical conversation on gender, class, and the formation of a white ethnic racial identity. Meet Joe Copper provides a context for our ideas of postwar masculinity and whiteness and finally returns the men of the home front to our reckoning of the Greatest Generation and the New Deal era.


360 pages | 29 halftones, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Gender and Sexuality

History: American History

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work, Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations

Reviews

“The best book of the history of U.S. labor, and one of the best on masculinity, to appear in years.”

David Roediger, Contexts

"This well-written book centers on the historical experiences of workers, women, and people of color in a regional home-front context during WW II. As such, it meets the need for more scholarship on the home front during the war. Recent trends in US social history regarding the relationship between identity formation and relations of power greatly influence the book. Basso describes the formation of a powerful, white, working-class masculine ideology in the decades prior to WWII, and shows how it thrived on the job, in the community, and through union politics. Basso recalls the practices and beliefs of the first- and second-generation immigrant copper workers of Montana while advancing the historical conversation on gender, class, and the formation of a white ethnic racial identity."

CHOICE

“A sophisticated, ambitious, well-written book.”

Journal of American History

Meet Joe Copper provides a rich glimpse into the formation of masculinity in a time and place where white male prerogative came under challenge at local, state, and national levels. Basso’s analysis of the mining communities of Montana displays the interaction of race and gender and charts competing elements that formed a mutating masculinity.”

Montana Magazine

Meet Joe Copper makes an important contribution to our understanding of the home front experience in the United States during World War II by showing that the received national narrative was more complex than commonly believed, at least in some places and some industries.”

Industrial Archeology

“Matthew L. Basso’s evidence and interpretations regarding the significance of masculinity to the values, actions, and concerns of working class civilian men in Montana’s copper industry substantially revise our understandings of the middle decades of the twentieth century.”

Karen Anderson | author of Wartime Women: Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status of Women During World War II

“Rosie the Riveter, move over! Here comes Joe Copper in a theoretically sophisticated, widely researched, and ever-engaging history that uncovers the making of gender and race. In this powerful labor and community history of the mines and smelters, Italian, Croatian, and Irish men struggled with management over the hiring of nonmales and nonwhites as much as over their workload and pay. After Matthew L. Basso, ‘the greatest generation’ must include home front men—their representations as well as actions, their subjectivities along with their prejudices. World War II will never look the same again.”

Eileen Boris | author of Home to Work: Motherhood and the Politics of Industrial Homework in the United States

Meet Joe Copper is an impressively detailed labor history that engages with recent theory about whiteness and masculinity. Its importance to American mining history is clear; although women on the home front have gained much attention in popular narratives about WWII, seldom has anyone analyzed male production workers like Montana’s ‘copper commandos.’ . . . Basso manages to craft a story that is both careful in its attention to detail and sweeping in its implications.”

Mining History Journal

“Basso successfully traces a narrative of World War II gender and race politics that runs contrary to the national narrative and demonstrates that wartime and postwar power relations were rooted in decades-old gender and racial-ethnic hierarchies.”

Labour/Le Travail

“Basso has written a dense, state-of-the-art study of working-class masculinity, one sharply attuned to its many ‘contradictions and paradoxes’ . . . .  Perhaps most impressive is Basso’s use of hegemonic masculinity. The concept is frequently invoked by scholars, but Basso gives it some real empirical teeth and actually deploys the hegemony half of the equation. We see it most clearly in his discussions of ‘cross-class white male solidarity’—those moments when white and white ethnic male workers and white male bosses found common cause—which Basso treats as shifting ‘historic blocs.’ In approaching copper men from the perspective of hegemonic masculinity, Basso avoids viewing workers as ideological dupes or as suffering from false consciousness.”

Labor

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments

INTRODUCTION / GI Joe and Rosie the Riveter, Meet Joe Copper!

PART I: WHITE LABOR, 1882–1940
ONE / Butte: “Only White Men and Dagoes”
TWO / Black Eagle: Immigrants’ Bond
THREE / Anaconda: “Husky Smeltermen” and “Company Boys”

PART II: COPPER MEN AND THE CHALLENGES OF THE EARLY WAR HOME FRONT
FOUR / Redrafting Masculinity: Breadwinners, Shirkers, or “Soldiers of Production”
FIVE / The Emerging Labor Shortage: Independent Masculinity, Patriotic Demands, and the Threat of New Workers

PART III: MAKING THE HOME FRONT SOCIAL ORDER
SIX / Butte, 1942: White Men, Black Soldier-Miners, and the Limits of Popular Front Interracialism
SEVEN / Black Eagle, 1943: Home Front Servicemen, Women Workers, and the Maintenance of Immigrant Masculinity
EIGHT / Anaconda, 1944: White Women, Men of Color, and Cross-Class White Male Solidarity

CONCLUSION / The Man in the Blue-Collar Shirt: The Working Class and Postwar Masculinity

List of Abbreviations
Notes
Index

Awards

Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association: Pacific Coast Branch Book Award
Won

Cornell Univiversity ILR and Labor and Working Class Historical Association: Philip Taft Labor History Award
Won

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