Murder in the Garment District: The Grip of Organized Crime and the Decline of Labor in the United States

David Witwer, Catherine Rios

The New Press, 2020

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

The thrilling and true account of racketeering and union corruption in mid-century New York, when unions and the mob were locked in a power struggle that reverberates to this day

In 1949, in New York City’s crowded Garment District, a union organizer named William Lurye was stabbed to death by a mob assassin. Through the lens of this murder case, prize-winning authors David Witwer and Catherine Rios explore American labor history at its critical turning point, drawing on FBI case files and the private papers of investigative journalists who first broke the story. A narrative that originates in the garment industry of mid-century New York, which produced over 80 percent of the nation’s dresses at the time, Murder in the Garment Districtquickly moves to a national stage, where congressional anti-corruption hearings gripped the nation and forever tainted the reputation of American unions.

Replete with elements of a true-crime thriller, Murder in the Garment District includes a riveting cast of characters, from wheeling and dealing union president David Dubinsky to the notorious gangster Abe Chait and the crusading Robert F. Kennedy, whose public duel with Jimmy Hoffa became front-page news.

Deeply researched and grounded in the street-level events that put people’s lives and livelihoods at stake, Murder in the Garment District is destined to become a classic work of history—one that also explains the current troubled state of unions in America.

"A cast of ruthless mob bosses, crooked politicians, corrupt journalists, conniving contractors, and gutsy working-class heroes springs vividly to life in these pages. Witwer and Rios uncover a fierce yet all-but-forgotten battle for the soul of the union movement—a battle whose ambiguous outcome haunts us still."
Joseph A. McCartin, author of Collision Course
"Combining masterful storytelling with rigorous research and analysis … this isn’t a story with clear heroes and villains, but one where characters must react to the flawed realities in their operating environment, sometimes with historically tragic consequences."
David Rolf, Founder and President Emeritus, SEIU 775, and author of The Fight for Fifteen  
"This unflinching analysis of “mobbed-up” unions reveals that they flourished in contexts where corrupt police forces looked the other way, and where employers rejected honest unions in favor of sweetheart contracts. A must-read for anyone interested in labor's future."
Ruth Milkman, author of Unfinished Business and Gender at Work
"A powerful page-turner that completely reshapes how we think about the connections between unions, corruption, and organized crime, and a critically-important work for anyone interested in reviving the power of the American working class."
Erik Loomis, author of A History of America in Ten Strikes and Out of Sight
"Witwer and Rios highlight the dark side of organized labor’s decline from public influence since the 1950s.  A compelling account of mob threats and violence regularly visited on garment and teamster union organizers, Murder in the Garment District reminds us of the defining power of coercion in American labor-management relations."
Leon Fink, author of The Long Gilded Age and Workers in Hard Times