A collective bargain Unions, organizing, and the fight for democracy

Jane McAlevey

Book - 2020

"For decades, intractable social and economic problems have been eating away at the social fabric of the United States. The crisis is now so deep it's threatening democracy. Income inequality has reached epic proportions, resulting in a lopsided political system that bestows tax breaks on the rich while the rest of the country has been economically abandoned. There's a single, obvious solution to these problems, one with a long, successful history, but one that too many have forgotten: unions. In A Collective Bargain, longtime labor, environmental, and political organizer Jane McAlevey makes the case that unions are the only institution capable of fighting back against today's super-rich corporate class. Since the 1930s,... when unions briefly flourished under New Deal protections, corporations have waged a stealthy and ruthless war against the labor movement. Today, McAlevey argues, it's time for unions to make a comeback. Want to reverse the nation's mounting wealth gap? Put an end to sexual harassment in the workplace? End racial disparities on the job? Negotiate climate justice? Bring back unions. Alongside McAlevey, we travel from Pennsylvania hospitals, where we're thrust into a herculean fight in which nurses are building a new kind of patient-centered unionism; to Silicon Valley, where tech workers, fed up with the illusory promise of a better world, have turned to old-fashioned collective action; and inside the most promising anti-austerity rebellion in years, the one being waged by America's teachers. A rousing and electrifying call to arms, A Collective Bargain shows us why we must strengthen and defend the only force capable of fighting back against social injustice and the alarming right-wing shift in our politics: a strong, democratic union movement."--

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New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers [2020]
Main Author
Jane McAlevey (author)
First edition
Physical Description
288 pages ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 253-272) and index.
  • Introduction: Twelve years of freedom (almost)
  • Workers can still win big
  • Who killed the unions?
  • Everything you thought you knew about unions is (mostly) wrong
  • Are unions still relevant?
  • How do workers get a union?
  • How to rebuild a union : L.A.'s teachers
  • As go unions, so goes the republic.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Labor activist McAlevey (Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell)) delivers a persuasive argument that the power of "strong, democratic" trade unions can fix many of America's social problems this timely cri de coeur. Sketching the history of the labor movement from the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which guaranteed the right to collective bargaining; through the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which banned sympathy strikes, legalized corporate campaigns against unionization, and created "right-to-work" laws; and the "union-busting effects of globalization" beginning in the 1970s, McAlevey contends that the weakening of private- and public-sector unions over the past 80 years is directly responsible for increased income and political inequality. Yet unions can be successful even in a diminished state, McAlevey notes, pointing to recent strikes in the education, health-care, and hospitality industries that led to improved contracts. She offers a useful primer on how labor organizing works, and effectively refutes common assumptions about unions, including that they discriminate against women and are inherently corrupt. Well-run unions, she contends, can achieve better schools, stronger environmental protections, and increased racial and gender equality. McAlevey's caustic humor ("We don't need robots to care for the aging population. We need the rich to pay their taxes") and contagious confidence in the efficacy of organized labor give this succinct volume an outsize impact. (Jan.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Labor activist McAlevey (No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age) pairs her urgent, impassioned account of the current state of labor unions with her optimistic recipe for their future success. She bluntly contrasts the sad state of unions at the end of the 20th century with two earlier periods of growth when they gained support from not only workers but also government acting to foster union membership. Focusing on both public and private sector unions, McAlevey identifies factors that caused the decline of unions. While she places much blame on the changing economic and political climate that allowed the rise of fierce employer resistance, she also faults unions for failing to recognize the need for a new militancy and organizational tactics. The author's remedies take the form of several case studies of successful labor organization in recent decades, which she attributes to willingness to merge the cause of labor organization with efforts to address gender and racial harassment and inequality, wealth disparity, and other current challenges facing society. VERDICT This book will appeal to readers seeking inspiration to address problems facing both organized labor and individual workers.--Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A battle cry for union rights in a time hostile to labor organizations.Longtime union organizer McAlevey (Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement, 2012) is nothing if not a tough talker; her first chapter closes with the provocative phrase, "As the Parkland youth say, I call bullshit." The objection is to the prevailing narratives about unions and the causes of their declinethe notion, say, that unions are immaterial in an age of robotics and globalism or the charge that unions are racist, sexist, and corrupt. "Of course," writes the author, "some unions are sexist for the same reasons that they are racist: union formation is a product of a sexist society." She adds that women and people of color fare better economically with unions than without them. Even as she points out some inconvenient truths about certain elements of unions and the tactic of striking, she ably demonstrates how there is nothing quite like a strike to get the juices flowing, as when the 20,000 teachers of West Virginia recently went out on strike and, in the end, emerged with higher pay not just for themselves, but also for 14,000 nonteaching staffand, still more, gave "the state police, roads workers, and everyone else on the state payroll a raise those workers could not have won because they did not strike." Union busting is a big business, she writes, because unions are the capitalist's greatest fear: Whole Foods may appear fresh and organic, but its methods in this regard would please John D. Rockefeller, and even the Democratic Party, she writes, has cast its lot with the enemies of their base: "When it comes to public education and teachers' unions, Democrats don't look much different from red-state Republicans."Tough talk for tough times and a welcome guide for labor activists. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.