Steve Early on Labor Reporting: ‘Unions Can Be Thin-Skinned About Criticism’

by Mike Elk

Steve Early

Steve Early

Since the 1970s, Steve Early has produced more than 300 pieces of labor journalism for publications as varied as the New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, LaborNotes and In These Times. Throughout his career, Early has covered stories of dysfunction and corruption within unions that many labor reporters are afraid to touch out of fear of upsetting high-level union sources.

At time when the labor beat was disappearing from mainstream publications, Early’s writing formed a valuable body of work that inspired many young writers—myself included—to stick with the profession through its highs and lows.

Early sat down with me to discuss his new book, Save Our Unions: Dispatches From a Movement in Distress, out this spring from Monthly Review Press. Continue reading

A Review of Save Our Unions: Dispatches from A Movement in Distress

by Carl Finamore

SOUThere is still time during the holidays to purchase labor journalist Steve Early’s very readable and quite reflective latest book, Save Our Unions, published by Monthly Review Press.But books on labor are notoriously misunderstood and conspicuously undersold. This is really too bad. Like other books describing how people live and what they struggle for, Save Our Union records a very human story – a running narrative from an author who was directly reporting, and often directly participating, in the unfolding human drama as it occurred. In 335 pages, Early analyzes the leadership, organization and strategy of the most significant labor struggles, debates and controversies of the past 40 years, right up to now.It was during this period that “overall employee compensation—including health and retirement benefits—dropped ‘to its lowest share of national income in more than 50 years while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share over that time. Thus, as the low-wage and benefits period we are now suffering through today would indicate, most of the strikes, struggles and union reform movements in those decades were not successful – but not because of lack of passion or determination by the workers at the bottom, as Early describes it, but by a combination of serious mistakes made by otherwise honest militants and/or by the failed conservative leadership at the top. Continue reading

Jerome Brown Reviews Two Reviews of Jane McAlevey’s Rising Expectations

by Jerome Brown

Jerry Brown

McAleveybook

Talking Union previously featured Sarah Jaffe’s interview with Jane McAlevey. Joe Burns’ review of McAlevey’s book can be found here. Steve Early’s review of McAlevey’s book can be found here. McAlevey’s response to Early can be found here. We encourage further discussion.–TU

I am submitting this as a review of Joe Burns’ review of Rising Expectations and of Steve Early’s critique of McAlevey which in many ways is parroted by Burns.

I am writing as someone who was directly involved in the unusually effective changes led by Jane McAlevey in Local 1107, SEIU Las Vegas and as someone who watched with real sadness the subsequent undermining and failure of that Local. I am the retired president of 1199 New England, a union with a proud history of militant rank and file activity and high standards in the public and private sector. The growth of Local 1199 in Connecticut from 900 members when I assumed staff leadership in 1973 to 23,000 members when I retired required the dedicated efforts of many leaders and members. McAlevey identifies me as one of her mentors in the labor movement and I am happy to wear that description.

I disagree with some of the examples of SEIU skullduggery recited by McAlevey–most particularly her description and demonization of Sal Roselli and UHW under Sal’s leadership. But on most of the facts supporting her narrative, McAlevey is right on target. Yes, SEIU made private deals with national hospital chains, deals that gave away worker rights to strike and even rally. And these deals were never explained to or ratified by the members. Yes SEIU undermined and then disrupted member activism,threatening Jane and the Local with trusteeship if it dared engage in job actions against these employers. And yes, the SEIU and the AFL-CIO failed in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and failed in any number of other crises because they did not motivate, support or really believe in militant membership activity.

Continue reading

Response to Steve Early’s Review of Raising Expectations

Talking Union recently featured Sarah Jaffe’s interview with Jane McAlevey. We followed with Steve Early’s review of McAlevey’s book.  Here is McAlevey’s response to Early. We encourage further discussion.–TU

McAleveybook

 By Jane McAlevey

The editors have graciously offered me the opportunity to respond to Steve Early’s review of Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell). I want to respond to Early’s review, which focuses primarily on about ten percent of the book, but also to give people some idea of what the other ninety percent is about.

It will be no surprise to knowledgeable readers that Steve Early’s review is heavily focused on the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).  In Early’s The Civil Wars in US Labor, he declares himself as not only a partisan, but as among the biggest cheerleaders of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).
However, in his review of my book, Early keeps his sympathies under the table. This does a disservice to readers who try to make sense of all this. Readers of his review of Raising Expectations might get the impression that my book is all about his interest, NUHW. Not at all. My book is about organizing, and how to rebuild the US labor movement in a time of tremendous difficulty and multiple setbacks.

In my book, I clearly identified myself as someone who tried to steer an independent course amidst complicated turf wars–the issues that matter most to Early.  That’s apparently enough for Early to direct a lot of criticism at me, some of it directly on NUHW matters, some of it spillover about somewhat related points.  (I am not, it might be noted, alone as an object of Early’s criticisms.)

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Bread & Roses STRIKE Centennial “Double Feature!”

The Lawrence History Center will be hosting what is calls “an academic symposium on the Bread & Roses Strike of 1912” on April 27-28, 2012 in Lawrence, MA. But it should be of great interest to more than academics.  Union activists, 99 percenters, and occupiers should check out  two exciting panels.  One on “Labor Today” and another on  “The Importance of Strikes in Building New Unions.”

The symposium will feature a concert on Friday night April 27th at the Everett Mill (15 Union St.) on the 6th floor in the exhibit space. Saturday the 28th will be a full day of panel presentations, music, artwork, and walking tours. Click here for a schedule of Saturday’s programs, events, and registration information.

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Back to the Future: Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America

by Steve Early and Rand Wilson
 
The rupture of labor-management relationships that may have been “comfortable” in the past, plus the accompanying loss of legal rights in a growing number of states, have triggered membership-mobilization activity reminiscent of the original struggles for collective bargaining. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, labor’s recent defensive battles demonstrate that a new model of union functioning is not only possible but necessary for survival. As a first step in this process of union transformation under duress, workers must definitely shed their past role as “clients” or passive consumers of union services. In workplaces without a union or agency shop and collective bargaining as practiced for many decades, they must take ownership of their own organizations and return them to their workplace roots, drawing on the experiences of public workers in the South whose practice of public-sector unionism has, by necessity, been very different for the last half century.
 
When the history of mid-western de-unionization is written, its sad chroniclers will begin their story in Indiana. That is where Governor Mitch Daniels paved the way, in 2005, for copycat attacks on public-sector bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan — and for a successful assault on privatesector union security in his own state earlier this year.

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Trampling Out The Vintage?

Cesar Chavez and Duane Campbell -1972

Trampling Out the Vintage ?

by Duane Campbell

A  dissident’s view of the rise and the fall of the United Farm Workers union.

Frank Bardacke’s Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. (2011, Verso). is the view of a well- informed observer  who  worked in the lettuce fields near Salinas for six seasons,  then spent  another 25 years  teaching English to  farm workers  in the Watsonville, Cal.  area. His views on the growth and decline of the United Farm Workers union – some of which I do not share–  offer  important points of history and reflection  for unionists today, particularly those working with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Trampling Out the Vintage, provides several insights not previously developed in well informed books on the UFW  including  important  differences between grape workers and  workers in row crops such as lettuce; the length of time workers were in the UFW,  the more settled family nature of grape workers, the strength of each  type of ranch committees,  the leadership of ranch crews  ( and thus the potential differences in creating democratic accountability), and the differing histories of worker militancy in  different  crops.  The author correctly argues that each of these led to somewhat different organizing environment in building the  union. He also details problems of administrative mismanagement in the hiring halls in the grape areas and alleged  mismanagement of organizing within the union sponsored health care insurance and clinic systems .

Based upon his own experiences and the histories of workers   in the Salinas valley, Bardacke  makes the case  that farm workers- not Cesar Chavez – created the union.  They built their union on a long history of previous collective work stoppages and strikes.  The union was created on the ground in Delano,  Salinas, Watsonville, and surrounding towns- not in the union headquarters of  La Paz.  The author reveals his strong viewpoint in the  title apparently referring  to Chavez “Trampling out the Vintage” where a union had  been created.  Continue reading

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