There 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
by Jerome Brown
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.
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
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.)
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.
Filed under: Busting the union busters, Employee Free Choice Act, Organizing, Politics, Union Reform | Tagged: Employee Free Choice Act, Gov Mitch Daniels, Gov. Scott Walker, NLRB, public employees, Rand Wilson, Steve Early, Wisconsin | Leave a comment »
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
by Steve Early
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has given our timorous, unimaginative, and politically ambivalent unions a much-needed ideological dope slap. Some might describe this, more diplomatically, as a second injection of “outside-the-box” thinking and new organizational blood.
Top AFL-CIO officials first sought an infusion of those scarce commodities in labor when they jetted into Wisconsin last winter. Without their planning or direction, the spontaneous community-labor uprising in Wisconsin was in the process of recasting the debate about public sector bargaining throughout the U.S. So they were eager to join the protest even though it was launched from the bottom up, rather than in response to union headquarters directives from Washington, D.C.
This fall, OWS has become the new Lourdes for the old, lame, and blind of American labor. Union leaders have been making regular visits to Zuccotti Park and other high-profile encampments around the country. According to NYC retail store union leader Stuart Applebaum, “the Occupy movement has changed unions”—both in the area of membership mobilization and ”messaging.”
It would be a miraculous transformation indeed if organized labor suddenly embraced greater direct action, democratic decision-making, and rank-and-file militancy. Since that’s unlikely to occur in the absence of internal upheavals, unions might want to focus instead on casting aside the crutch of their own flawed messaging. That means adopting the Occupation movement’s brilliant popular “framing” of the class divide and ditching labor’s own muddled conception of class in America.
At a recent fundraising event for a city councilor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was drawn toward two UNITE-HERE staffers by their easily identifiable red and black shirts. I broke the ice by asking if they knew a friend of mine whom worked at UNITE-HERE, my former supervisor at 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU). This sparked a discussion about National Union of Healthcare Workers (formerly SEIU United Healthcare Workers West), SEIU, and UNITE-HERE, all of which have been involved in major internal struggles among major labor unions. One of the trade unionists gave an optimistic spin on the situation: UNITE-HERE came out stronger because of their battle with the purple giant, SEIU.
I pointed to Steve Early’s new book The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor, to provide a counter-point. While his book focuses mainly on SEIU, Early also writes about Elvis Mendez, a fellow Massachusetts resident inspired to join the labor movement. At first attracted toward UNITE-HERE because it was more worker-led, Mr. Mendez found himself leafleting a workplace where SEIU was on the ballot, instead of mobilizing the unorganized. His union had no intention of running an election there, but merely wanted to punish SEIU for its transgressions against UNITE-HERE. Mendez said “I was essentially union-busting in a place where workers needed a union.” I brought this story to them and said “was all this union in-fighting really worth it?”
by Duane Campbell- a review of a review.
The Steve Early review below is an important essay on some of the books on Cesar Chavez and the UFW.
I disagree with Early on using Miriam Pawley as a major source. She came to California in about 2001. She really knows little about the struggle in the UFW, except for having interviewed people. Her interviews are excellent resources. Her listening to UFW executive committee tapes began in about 1972. I have read her book and listened to her talks. She is a major conveyer of the Chavez as “crazy” thesis. This is not a plausible for much of the time of the UFW. Her own research is on the current status of the farm worker support organizations conducted in Chavez’s name- not of the union. I will leave that debate up to others.
To me there is a major missing story in these books. For those who worked with, in and around the UFW, we know that there was a major issue of the rise of Chicano/Mexicano self determination and labor union activism. When someone writes the story – as if Chicano self determination was not an important issue, they clearly missed that point. Continue reading
by Paul Garver
Carl Finamore already reviewed Steve Early’s The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor for Talking Union. I’d like to comment further on this important book, focusing on the issue of the organizational structures needed to rebuild the workers’ movement in the current context.
Should we be reflecting on our own weaknesses and sources of disunity while an implacable external enemy is threatening our very existence? We are in a war for the very survival of public sector unionism, as right wing ideologues financed by billionaire foes of all working people are assailing this bastion of any conceivable progressive revival in the USA. We are encouraged that private and public sector unions stand united, while communities and campuses are mobilizing in their support. But even in a hot phase of the class war there are lulls in the battle that permit some reading and reflection. Reading Early’s book help us understand that our own weaknesses and dysfunctional behavior contributed to our current crisis. Continue reading
Filed under: Book Reviews, Employee Free Choice Act, Labor History, Organizing, Union Reform | Tagged: ACFTU, Andy Stern, Change to Win, Employee Free Choice Act, NUHW, SEIU, Service Employees International Union, Steve Early, Unite Here | Leave a comment »