The Memoirs of Wendell W. Young III

A Life in Philadelphia Labor and Politics

Wendell W. Young III
Book Cover

HC: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1862-3
Publication: Jun 19

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1864-7
Publication: Jun 19

296 pages
6 x 9
28 halftones

A behind-the-scenes look at a legendary Philadelphia labor leader and how he shaped local and national politics in profound ways

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).


Philadelphia native Wendell W. Young III was one of the most important American labor leaders in the last half of the twentieth century. An Acme Markets clerk in the 1950s and ’60s, he was elected top officer of the Retail Clerks Union when he was twenty-four. His program of social justice unionism sought to advance wages while moving beyond collective bargaining to improve the conditions of the working-class majority, whether in a union or not. Young quickly gained a reputation for his independence, daring at times to publicly criticize the policies of the city’s powerful AFL-CIO leadership and tangle with the city’s political machine.

Editor Francis Ryan, whose introduction provides historical context, interviewed Young about his experiences working in the region’s retail and food industry, measuring the changes over time and the tangible impact that union membership had on workers. Young also describes the impact of Philadelphia’s deindustrialization in the 1970s and ’80s and recounts his activism for civil rights and the anti-war movements as well as on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign.

The Memoirs of Wendell W. Young III provides the most extensive labor history of late twentieth-century Philadelphia yet written.

Table of Contents


1. Acme Clerk
2. I’m Betting My House on Kennedy
3. Meet the Challenge
4. The Kid
5. The Loyal Sixteen
6. Brazil to Chicago
7. Reforming the Retail Clerks
8. Organizing Pennsylvania
9. Philadelphia Liberal
10. The New Politics
11. Fighting Tiberius
12. Going Out of Business
13. Employee Ownership
14. French Invasion
15. The New Voice


About the Author(s)

Francis Ryan is director of the Masters of Labor and Employment Relations program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He is the author of AFSCME's Philadelphia Story: Municipal Workers and Urban Power in the Twentieth Century (Temple).

Wendell W. Young III (1938–2013) led Philadelphia's Retail Clerks Union (United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1776) for over forty years. Beginning in the early 1960s, he was active in the city’s Democratic Party and was elected as a Northeast Philadelphia ward leader, serving as a delegate to five national conventions and as Philadelphia manager for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. In the 1970s and ’80s, he played a pivotal role in forging a broad, city-wide coalition of progressive trade unionists, liberals, and African American voters to challenge the urban populism of Mayor Frank L. Rizzo and the administrations of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan.