“Time-line of Selected Highlights of Maine Labor History: 1636-2015”

Author: Charles A. Scontras

Publisher: Bureau of Labor Education, University of Maine, Orono, 2016

Price: $18.95

From colonial times to the present day, Maine’s working people have struggled tenaciously to obtain gainful employment, improve their working conditions and wages, curb economic and societal injustices, and expand democracy.

Whatever their industry or occupation (shipbuilding, agriculture, fishing, shoes, textiles, nursing, construction, papermaking, forestry, public sector and service jobs), Maine workers have made history by joining together in pursuit of a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. Much of this is faithfully documented in Charles A. Scontras’ engrossing “Time-Line of Selected Highlights of Maine Labor History: 1636-2015.”

The book’s chronological organization makes it easy for the reader to zero in on time periods of interest. Its 47 photographs and illustrations give these concise stories added impact.

Topics covered include women workers, migrant/child/convict labor, French Canadian and Irish workers, strikes, voter intimidation, campaigns to wreck unions and campaigns to build unions, deindustrialization, and more.

Some of the book’s most intriguing nuggets of information deal with visits to Maine by such well known personalities as Mother Jones (1904), Eugene V. Debs (1912), Samuel Gompers (1916), Eleanor Roosevelt (1943), Jimmy Hoffa (1961-62) and Cesar Chavez (1974).

While Mainers may now be accustomed to deciding ballot questions at election time through referendums, they may not know where this practice of “direct democracy” came from. Dr. Scontras informs us that Initiative and Referendum rights were won in Maine in 1908, largely through the efforts of the Maine State Federation of Labor, which “sought to circumvent the legislature which often frustrated it in its efforts to achieve reform.”

Whether you’re someone with a general interest in Maine history, a student looking for interesting topics for class papers, or a researcher looking into specific events, this book should prove to be a valuable resource, plus it’s an enjoyable read.

 John Curtis is retired from the U.S. Postal Service and lives in Surry.