The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Book Review, Thomas Kelly, Empire Rising

Aug 15, 2005

In 1930, thousands of workers built the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world. The hero of this novel is Mike Briody, an iron worker on the building, recently arrived from Ireland.

The workers have to pay a tenth of their pay to the mob to keep their jobs. And every contractor building the Empire State Building had to pay a kickback to Tammany Hall, the headquarters of the New York Democratic Party. The money went to pay off cops, legislators and judges, who fixed cases important for the mob. In exchange for his job, Briody has to do service for Irish gangsters, headed by Tough Tommy Touhey, based in the Bronx.Mike Briody, like some other workers newly arrived from Ireland, was part of the Irish Republican Army, who fought first the British and then the newly independent country of Ireland because it accepted a nation on only a part of Ireland. Briody continues his IRA activity in America, shipping guns overseas and assassinating political enemies. The IRA group in New York is led by a slick lawyer, whom the iron workers are distrustful of as a man of a different class.

Briody finds solace high above the city streets as the new building soars, but he can't escape the hold of the IRA, the mob and the corrupt Democratic Party. This is an engaging novel that gives a good feel for this part of the working class in New York at the time.