A Good Job Is Hard to Find

by Michael Yates

In 2010, about 139 million people, on average, were employed in the United States. What kind of work did they do? Here is an interesting table constructed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

These occupations comprise one of every five jobs in the nation. Notice that the only one with a decent average wage is nursing. Given that low pay and less than desirable working conditions usually go together, it is safe to say that the rest of these jobs are in most respects bad ones. Even nursing is mind- and body-punishing employment, so much so that nurses have been leaving their profession in droves, the relatively high earnings notwithstanding.

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A hopeful update on union book sales from LabourStart

by Eric Lee

Eric Lee

Eric Lee

Steve Early’s article “Reading, Writing and Union Building” is an excellent overview of the state of union book sales and publishing. As he quotes from something I wrote four years ago,  I thought it might be useful to provide an update – and perhaps a glimmer of hope.

LabourStart was one of the very first trade union websites to attempt to sell books and we launched our Labour’s Online Bookstore way back in 1998. It was a partnership with Amazon.com.  We’d select books to sell, people would buy them from Amazon, and we’d get a small share of each sale. But within a couple of years, it became clear to us that Amazon was an anti-union company and that there was an alternative: Portland, Oregon’s Powells Books, which had just been unionized.   Working with Powells was the morally right thing to do, but — to be honest — was not very profitable. By the early part of this decade, many people already had accounts at Amazon and were not willing to try other online bookstores which were often more expensive.

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Randy Shaw Responds to Michael Yates about the Chavez legacy and more

The UFW’s Powerful Legacy randyshaw

It is unfortunate that Michael Yates’ deep-seated hostility to Cesar Chavez and the UFW led him to so badly misrepresent my book, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Yates not only misstates the book’s thesis, but he ignores the vast majority of the text; one would never know from his review that the book primarily focuses on how, more than forty years later, the spirit, strategies, and tactics of the UFW in its heyday still strengthen the U.S. labor movement, build Latino political power, provide a progressive grassroots electoral model and infuse a growing national campaign for immigrant rights.   Continue reading

Michael Yates reviews Randy Shaw on César Chávez

by Michael Yates

Randy Shaw, Beyond the Fields: César Chávez, the UFW, and Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 347 pp., $24.95.

michaelyatesThe thesis of this book is simple. Randy Shaw argues that most of the social movements of the contemporary U.S.—labor, immigrant rights, antiwar, worker and consumer health and safety, anti-sweatshop—are fundamentally the progeny of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Shaw attempts to prove this by showing that UFW alumni have been critical leaders of these movements, and these causes have employed tactics pioneered by Chávez and the farm workers. Shaw’s argument is deeply flawed. Continue reading

Obama and the Working Class

By Michael D. Yates

A recent New York Times article (‘Rural Swath of Big State Tests Obama,’ August 21, 2008) described life in the dead mill towns of western Pennsylvania and asked why Barack Obama’s presidential bid was not catching fire there. The article mentioned Beaver Falls, Aliquippa, Raccoon Township, Hopewell, Hookstown. It might have named dozens more. These are devastated places, where, the article points out, ‘Decades of job loss have created a youthful diaspora—you can knock on many doors without finding anyone under age 45. Declining enrollments forced Raccoon Township to close its elementary and middle schools.’ Barack Obama should find fertile ground there for his presidential bid. But he hasn’t. Hillary Clinton defeated him badly here, and his campaign has failed to gain traction since he sewed up the nomination. It seems that the white working class voters of western Pennsylvania are divided between their economic interests and their prejudice.

This account interested me. I am from Western Pennsylvania; I was born in a mining village and grew up in what is now a very dead mill town. Continue reading