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The Rise and Fall of the United Farm Workers

Miriam Pawel, The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), 372 pages, $28.00, hardcover.

After reading The Union of Their Dreams, Miriam Pawel’s exceptional account of the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), I reread an article I wrote for The Nation in November 1977. In “A Union Is Not a Movement,” I leveled some harsh criticism at the UFW and its famous leader, Cesar Chavez. In response, the Union’s chief counsel, Jerry Cohen, one of the major characters in Pawel’s book, threatened suit against the magazine. At the time I was upset, thinking that maybe I should have been more careful in what I had said. However, as The Union of Their Dreams makes clear, I need not have been concerned, since everything I said was true. And then some. | more…

What Needs To Be Done: A Socialist View

Today the capitalist economies of the world are in deep trouble. Some economists have theorized that the linkages between the United States and the rest of the world had been weakened as other nations gained more economic autonomy. A decoupling thesis was presented claiming that a crisis in one part of the system (say, North America) would not affect other major parts (say, Europe and Asia). We now know this is not true. Toxic assets were sold around the world, and banks in Europe, Asia, and Japan are in trouble too. Housing bubbles have burst in Ireland, Spain, and many other countries. In Eastern Europe, homes were bought with loans from Swiss, Austrian, and other European banks, payable in European currencies. As the economies of Hungary and other nations in the region, which financed their explosive growth with heavy borrowing from Western banks, have gone into recession, their currencies have suffered a sharp deterioration in exchange rates. This means that mortgage payments have risen sharply, as it now takes many more units of local currency to buy the Swiss francs or euros needed to pay the loans. In some cases, mortgage payments have doubled. | more…

A Freedom Budget for All Americans: Recapturing the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Economic Justice Today

A Freedom Budget for All Americans: Recapturing the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Economic Justice Today

Paul Le Blanc and Michael D. Yates explain the origins of the Freedom Budget, how it sought to achieve “freedom from want” for all people, and how it might be reimagined for our current moment. Combining historical perspective with clear-sighted economic proposals, the authors make a concrete case for reviving the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement and building the society of economic security and democratic control envisioned by the movement’s leaders—a struggle that continues to this day. | more…

Don’t Pity the Poor Immigrants, Fight Alongside Them

David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), 261 pages, $25.95, hardcover.

In this compelling and useful book, David Bacon lays to rest the anti-immigration arguments of the xenophobes and racists who bombard us every day in the press, on television, and on radio talk shows with the vicious assertion that immigrants, mainly those from Latin America, are the cause of all our economic and social problems. | more…

Why Unions Still Matter

The first edition of Why Unions Matter was published in 1998. In it I argued that unions mattered because they were the one institution that had dramatically improved the lives of the majority of the people and had the potential to radically transform both the economic and political landscape, making both more democratic and egalitarian. I showed with clear and decisive data that union members enjoyed significant advantages over nonunion workers: higher wages, more and better benefits, better access to many kinds of leaves of absence, a democratic voice in their workplaces, and a better understanding of their political and legal rights. What is more, unions benefitted nonunion workers through their political agitations and through what is called the “spillover” effect—nonunion employers will treat their employees better if only to avoid unionization. | more…

Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back

Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back

In early 2011, the nation was stunned to watch Wisconsin’s state capitol in Madison came under sudden and unexpected occupation by union members and their allies. The protests to defend collective bargaining rights were militant and practically unheard of in this era of declining union power. This timely book brings together some of the best labor journalists and scholars in the United States, many of whom were on the ground at the time, to examine the causes and impact of events, and suggest how the labor movement might proceed. | more…

The Injuries of Class

We live in a complex, divided society. We are divided by wealth, income, education, housing, race, gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. These divisions are much discussed; in the last two years, there have been entire series in our major newspapers devoted to the growing income divide. The wealth-flaunting of today’s rich was even the subject of a recent Sunday New York Times Magazine article (“City Life in the New Gilded Age,” October 14, 2007). | more…

More Unequal: Aspects of Class in the United States

The glaring increase in economic inequality evident in the United States over the past thirty years has finally made it into the pages of the major media. In the past three years, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have each published a series of articles on the subject of class. The growing economic divide has also caught the attention of a few prominent economists, like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Even Treasury secretary Henry Paulson has admitted that inequality is on the rise | more…

The Long Shadow of Race

I have always lived in the long shadow of race. Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Portland, Miami Beach, in every city racist remarks and racist actions were commonplace. You didn’t have to look for them; they were hard to escape. And on our road trips, no matter where we went or for how few days, it was not at all unusual for a white person to offer a racist comment. It is almost as if there is an understanding among whites that they are all fellow conspirators in the race war | more…

Class: A Personal Story

I was born in 1946 in a small mining village in western Pennsylvania, about forty miles north of Pittsburgh, along a big bend in the Allegheny River. The house in which I lived during my first year of life had neither hot water nor indoor plumbing. It was a company house, and my grandmother had purchased it for $1,000 from the mining company after the town had ceased to be a company town, thanks to the United Mine Workers. A small coal stove in the living room heated the entire house | more…

Capitalism Is Rotten to the Core

Immanuel Ness, Immigrants, Unions, and the New U. S. Labor Market (Temple University Press, 2005), 230 pages, cloth $59.50, paper $21.95.
Howard Karger, Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy (Berrett~Koehler Publishing, 2005), 252 pages, cloth $24.95.

The widening and deepening of capitalism, which many economists misname globalization, has had traumatic impacts on workers. Sped up by what has been called neoliberalism (basically, the political program of modern global capital), the growing penetration of capitalist production and consumption relationships around the globe has literally pitched workers from pillar to post. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants and wage workers to abandon their home country and migrate to the United States. Similarly, government austerity and “free market” programs—curbing food and health subsidies to the poor, closing and selling state enterprises, suppression of worker and peasant protests, and the like—in countries like India and China have deprived many workers of what security they had attained and pushed peasants from their land into cities | more…