Labor pains: Organized labor in crime fiction
"`Mr Amrouche, my predecessor told me you were a reasonable man, a man of compromise, able to make allowances. So I am keen for you to be the first to know this: in one week, the works council will meet and the question of the last nine months' unpaid bonuses will once again be on the agenda. If the company were to pay those bonuses today, plus the arrears, its financial stability would be jeopardised. The financial situation is still precarious, as you well know, and there's a risk the factory will have to close. So, management is going to suggest – and when I say suggest, you know what I mean – that all bonuses be cancelled for this year and paid next January.'"Thanks goodness that's just fiction, from the opening chapter of Dominique Manotti's Lorraine Connection, winner of last year's International Dagger award from the Crime Writers' Association in the UK.
Mr. Amrouche is the union representative in a plant that makes cathode-ray tubes, and his presence reminded me how small a role organized labor plays in crime fiction. Evil corporations? Crime fiction has them by the score, generally of the real-estate development variety, but their adversaries and victims are usually lone-wolf private eyes, individual down-and-outers, or gentrified neighborhoods rather than unions. Even the few American proletarian crime stories I've read from the 1930s tend not to feature labor unions except as extensions of and counterparts to the mob.
The passage above is from very early in Lorraine Connection, and I have no idea how Mr. Amrouche or the union will figure in the novel's action (no spoilers, please). But he is one of the few labor-union characters I can think of in all of crime fiction, and the only one that comes to mind who is shown as a moral actor rather than a victim or villain.
And now, your thoughts. What crime stories give prominent roles to labor unions or unionists? What are those roles? Is labor underrepresented in crime fiction? If so, why?
© Peter Rozovsky 2009