Review of Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance

by Joe Burns

LoW fcover pf5

Many times in discussing labor issues the tendency is to focus on policy issues or major events far removed from the workplace. In Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance, a couple dozen workers from the US, Canada and Great Britain, loosely affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, seek to turn the conversation in a different direction—to tell stories of work and the workplace. Sometimes they talk about workplace struggles and resistance; sometimes they talk about their jobs and work. There is something refreshing about this approach.

The book contains over thirty chapters with stories ranging from a warehouse worker’s fight against speedup to a clerical worker’s struggle to make her liberal boss at small non-profit understand her class privilege to a liquor store worker’s organizing against sexual harassment. Some of the stories are about organizing campaigns, such as Starbuck workers, others are about personal battles with victories as small as getting workers to celebrate each other’s birthdays over the boss’ objection. All, however, are up close and personal and share a common perspective that talking about time spent at work is important.

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Cesar Chavez, The UFW, and Strategic Racism

by Duane Campbell
Cesar Chavez

On March 31, Eleven states will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino Leader Cesar Chavez. A new film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta opens in cities across the country on April 4, 2014. It is reviewed in a post by Randy Shaw.

Let us be clear. Chavez was religious, but he was not a saint. Neither were the growers, their Teamster collaborators, nor corporate agribusiness saints. Celebrations should not be about hero worship or uncritical praise, nor should we ignore the present oppression of farm workers in the U.S.

What they did accomplish along with Philip Vera Cruz , Marshall Ganz, LeRoy Chatfield, Gil Padilla, Eliseo Medina and hundreds of others was to organize in California the first successful farm worker union against overwhelming odds.

Each of the prior attempts to organize a farm worker union had been destroyed by racism and corporate power. Chavez, Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz, and the others deliberately created a multiracial union; Mexican, Mexican American, Filipino, African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Arab workers, among others, have been part of the UFW. This cross racial organizing was necessary in order to combat the prior divisions and exploitations of workers based upon race and language. Dividing the workers on racial and language lines, as well as immigration status always left the corporations the winners.

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Book Excerpt: Campaigning for Union Office

Labor Notes Staff

jumpstartOur new book, How to Jump-Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers, shows how activists transformed their union and gave members hope. This excerpt tells how the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) campaigned for top offices, and won.

It’s one of the universals of organizing—first you make a list.

Elementary teacher Alix Gonzalez Guevara remembers staying up late transferring data about each school from a district-published book into an Excel spreadsheet: region, address, how many teachers, how many students.

This became a Google document, an online spreadsheet available to everyone working on the campaign. The schools were grouped by regions. Within each, a couple of lead activists took responsibility to find people to do outreach at each school. Continue reading

Sanitation Workers: You Gotta Love Them

by Michael Hirsch

Review of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City By Robin Nagle (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2013).

pickingupRationally, we know garbage isn’t picked up by the faeries, but to much of the public, it might as well be. We “take out” the garbage, but who removes it?

To write Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City, NYU anthropologist Robin Nagle took a job with the city’s Department of Sanitation and followed, as a participant observer, those she calls “the city’s own municipal housekeepers.” A city can’t survive without regular and dependable trash removal, and her ethnography presents a detailed portrait of the 7,200 men and women willing to do it expeditiously. It’s a tough, dirty, and dangerous job.

Nagle notes that injury rates for “san workers” outstrip harm done even to cops and firefighters. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks refuse and recyclable materials collection as the nation’s fourth most dangerous job, exceeded only by commercial fishing, logging and plane piloting. Continue reading

New Book Lauds San Francisco’s Progressive Worker Benefits

by Randy Shaw

WhenMandatesWorkIt may surprise some local progressives who believe corporate interests always call the shots in San Francisco, but the city has the most progressive worker benefits in the United States. It has a $10.74 local minimum wage, paid sick leave, a living wage law for those doing business with the city, a local health care law, domestic partner benefits and much more. Conservatives claim these benefits hurt rather than help workers. A new book edited by Michael Reich, Ken Jacobs and Miranda Dietz, When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards At the Local Level, conclusively refutes such arguments.

As local and state governments plan on moving forward to address rising inequality, San Francisco has long been the model for such action. But the combination of east coast media bias and the framing of San Francisco as “quirky” rather than substantive have left many unaware of the city’s path breaking leadership in raising labor standards. That’s why When Mandates Work should prove so helpful. Cities seeking to adopt similar measures need to know San Francisco’s experience, and that such laws have proved effective. Continue reading

The Foreclosed Dreams of African Americans

by Gregory N. Heires

CullorsDreamForeclosed3The housing crisis has led to the foreclosure of the homes of 10 million people–equivalent to the population of Michigan. The foreclosures have particularly devastated the African-American community, which has lost over half its wealth because of the housing and jobs crisis that followed the 2008 financial crash.

A powerful book, “A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Right for a Place to Call Home” by Laura Gottesdiener (Zuccotti Park Press, 2013, 208 pages), details the human wreckage of this crisis while also chronicling how the victims of predatory lending, misguided public policies, and callous profit-seeking banks are fighting back. Continue reading

Ethical Eaters of The World Unite…For Workers Rights No Unions Behind The Kitchen Door?

behindthekitchendoorLast year’s multi-city protests by fast food workers focused long overdue attention on the job problems of ten million Americans employed in restaurants. Saru Jayaraman, the charismatic co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), has been assisting workers in finer dining establishments for more than a decade, an organizing career impressively chronicled in her new book, Behind The Kitchen Doorfrom Cornell University Press.

As Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser says in his introduction, ROC “doesn’t just represent workers. It seeks to empower them, gain them respect, and give them a voice at work.”

Jayaraman is a Yale-educated lawyer who directs the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She got her start, with much help from UNITE-HERE Local 100, after the 9/11 attacks destroyed Windows on the World, a swank New York City restaurant that sat atop one of the Trade Center towers. Seventy-three workers died and 250 lost their jobs. Windows workers became the nucleus of the original ROC, which provided support services for families of the deceased.

Fekkak Mamdouh, a Moroccan immigrant and former headwaiter at Windows, became a co-founder of the organization. Jayaraman and Mamdouh launched a successful campaign for re-employment of displaced workers when the owner of Windows tried to open a new restaurant elsewhere in Manhattan but initially refused to hire former union members. Continue reading

Jobs with Justice – 25 Years! Read the Book!

jwj cover                                                                                   by Paul Garver

Jobs with Justice: 25 Years, 25 Voices. Edited by Eric Larsen (PM Press, 2013)

As an occasional historian, I cannot do justice to the richness contained in these interviews and essays that reflect upon the experiences over 25 years of diverse community, labor, immigrant and student activists that have built the local Jobs with Justice coalitions at grassroots levels. Read the book!

As a reviewer, I will call particular attention to the introduction by IUE-CWA President Larry Cohen and the concluding essay by Sarita Gupta, the current Executive Director of Jobs with Justice (JwJ).

No one in the national labor movement can match the perseverance of Larry Cohen, whose vision founded Jobs with Justice, and whose commitment to building that organization never faltered when other union leaders wavered. Continue reading

Labor Books in Review: a 2013 Round-up

by Stuart Elliott

As the  year nears an end, it’s a good time for summing up and making lists. We thought  our readers might interested in a wrap=-up of books that  we reviewed  in Talking Union over the last year.  We stretched things a bit by including books discussed in the last  half of 2012.   As we looked over the list, we felt that there were a few 2013 books that also deserved to be mentioned in this post although the haven’t ‘been reviewed on Talking Union yet. We’ll start with these and follow, after the break, with the labor books reviewed on Talking Union.

If you order through the links to the unionized Powell’s books, a portion of your purchase will benefit DSA and Talking Union.

If we have missed a book feel free to add it in the comments section.

Not Yet Reviewed

Andrew Levison,  The White Working Class Today

William  P. Jones, The March on Washington

David Cogswell, Illustrated by C.M. Butzer Unions for Beginners

Steve Early, Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress

Kari Lydersen,  Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99% Continue reading

New Book Offers Training Manual for Winning Social Change

by Steve Early

shawbook_2Randy Shaw’s Activist Handbookis a book with legs. First published in the early 1990s, it has now been updated as a guide to “winning social change” in the new millennium. If you’re a long distance runner in any U.S. social movement–or trying to figure out how to become one–this is the training manual for you and your team.

The appearance of a second edition from University of California Press has given the Bay Area author and community organizer a chance to expand upon the case studies he utilized in the initial edition, adding sections about protest activity not yet stirring two decades ago. The eclectic mix of older and new material makes the information and advice that Shaw dispenses even more useful to organizers of all types. His latest Handbook examines “new strategies, tactics, issues, and grassroots campaigns, and revisits whether activists have learned from past mistakes.”

The ground covered includes fights for better housing and tenant rights, neighborhood preservation and safer cities, affordable higher education, fair treatment of immigrants and AIDS victims, “sweat-free” manufacturing, gay and lesbian rights. The author also analyzes, in very ecumenical fashion, many different arenas for political work, including state and local ballot initiatives, legislative lobbying, running for office, direct action, litigation, and media campaigns.

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