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

by Jerome Brown

Jerry 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.

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Joe Burns Reviews Rising Expectations

by Joe Burns

Raising Expectations, by Jane McAlevey is a memoir of a progressive activist and non-profit foundation official who gets recruited into the labor movement and thrust very quickly into leadership positions. The book relates McAlevey battles with employers, other labor officials, and ultimately with her own membership.

Raising Expectations purports to tell the tale of how McAlevey was “bounced from the movement, a victim of the high-level internecine warfare that has torn apart organized labor.” The reality, however, is far more complex. For Raising Expectations raises interesting questions about the relationship between middle class labor leaders and the workers they seek to lead.

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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


 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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Bidding Adieu to SEIU: Lessons for Its Next Generation of Organizers?

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

By Steve Early


A review of Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, by Jane McAlevey with Bob Ostertag. New York/London: Verso Books, 2012. 318 pp. $25.95 (hardcover)

Few modern unions have done more outside hiring than the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), America’s second largest labor organization. Beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing unabated today, SEIU and its local affiliates have employed tens of thousands of non-members as organizers, servicing reps, researchers, education specialists, PR people, and staffers of other kinds. While most unions hire and promote largely from within (i.e. from the ranks of their working members), SEIU has always cast its net wider.

It has welcomed energetic refugees from other unions, promising young student activists, former community organizers, ex-environmentalists, Democratic Party campaign operatives, and political exiles from abroad. (One prototypical campus recruit was my older daughter, Alex, a Latin-American studies major who became a local union staffer for SEIU after supporting the janitors employed at her Connecticut college.)

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How Organizing for Change Is Very Different Than Winning Elections

McAleveybook“Raising Hell” is what the title of Jane McAlevey’s new book says she spent her time in the labor movement doing, and she isn’t joking.

In the book, Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement, out now from Verso, McAlevey names names and shares secrets about organizing within the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. The book ranges from the mess that was the 2000 election in Florida, to winning battles for public housing with workers in Connecticut, to her years in Las Vegas fighting for healthcare workers, to battling her own higher-ups and union members in the power struggle that eventually drove her out of SEIU. But what she really wants to talk about is organizing: how to do it right, how the Democratic Party gets it wrong, and why there’s no substitute for face-to-face conversations with workers.

McAlevey sat down with AlterNet to talk about organizing in so-called “right-to-work” states, the too-close relationship between unions and Democrats who leave them high and dry, the brutality of fighting the boss, and why the worst thing to happen to labor in the U.S. might just have been purging the Communists from the movement.

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